Pieris is a shrub that is grown for its vivid leaf colouring in spring. It is an evergreen shrub that starts the year by putting on brightly coloured leaves. These new leaves are very striking set against the dark green leaves of the previous year.
As an added bonus they produce flowers in shades of pink or white. Pieris is an acid loving plant so it will not tolerate lime. It can be grown in a container filled with lime free compost and since it is a small plant it is ideal for container growing. Pieris ‘Forest Flame’ is a popular variety that produces bright red flowers in spring.
The new leaves then turn to pink and then to a creamy white before becoming green. The plant also produces white drooping flowers that are slightly fragrant. There are a number of varieties to choose from, the main difference between them is in the colour of the young leaves, which varies from bright red to deep burgundy. Some varieties such as pieris ‘Japonica’ only grows about 3 or 4 feet tall making it an ideal plant for the small garden or for a container. Like most acid loving plants pieris likes a soil with lots of humus added. Since they are shallow rooted do not plant them too deeply, a top dressing of well rotted manure or compost in spring is all they require. Frost on the new young leaves in April can be a problem so grow them where they are sheltered from the morning sun. They do well under a canopy of mature trees and contrast well with camellias and rhododendrons. They do not need pruning but if space is limited pruning individual branches after flowering will keep the plant in shape.
Flowering plant of the week
Pulsatilla vulgaris is a stunning plant in rockeries at the moment. It has finely dissected fern like leaves and produces silky hairy bell or cup shaped flowers in spring and early summer. The flowers are followed by spherical seed heads, silvery white in colour on stems above the leaves. Pulsatilla will thrive in most soils as long as they are well drained, get plenty of moisture in spring and have full sun. Since they only grow 8-10 inches in height, they are ideal for rockeries or scree beds. Pulsatilla vulgaris rubra produces bell shaped flowers in shades of deep to pale purple while pulsatilla vulgaris ‘Alba’ produces pure white flowers. Dead heading helps to prolong the flowering period, but stop towards the end so that the spherical seed heads can be enjoyed. When the seed heads have ripened the seeds can be collected and sown immediately to increase your collection. Pulsatillas resent root disturbance and may be difficult to establish, so plant when small and leave undisturbed. Young growth may be attacked by slugs and snails.
With the onset of showers after a pleasant dry spell the last week has been ideal for planning out of vegetables carrots, parsnips, spring onions and beetroot.
Carrots like a well-drained, sandy soil that has been well dug and broken up. If the soil is lumpy the carrots will produce deformed, forked roots.
They like plenty of sunshine. Sow the seeds thinly in drills, half inch deep and 9 inches apart, and cover them with soil. ‘Early Nantes’ is the variety we sowed, it is a quick maturing carrot with medium length roots. Cover the bed with horticultural fleece to prevent carrot fly attacking the crop and leave in place until the seedlings are well up.
Parsnips like a deep soil, sow the seed in rows 12 inches apart. Germination can be very slow if soil is cold. Covering the soil with horticultural fleece will help to increase soil temperatures. Thin out the seedlings to 4 inches apart. They take about four months to mature, they can be left in the ground over winter and lifted as required. Choose varieties like ‘Gladiator’ or ‘White Gem’ that are resistant to parsnip canker.
Beetroot is sown in rows 12inches apart and thinned out to leave 3 inches between the plants. ‘Red Ace’ is a common variety with a good dark-red colour. Spring onions like ‘White Lisbon’ are used in salads when young. Sow the seed in rows, 10 inches apart. No thinning is required if small onions are required. They are ready for picking after two months.