As winter draws to a close and spring is on its way the garden is a delight to the senses. Daffodils are blooming, magnolias are bursting into bold displays on many streets, sweet smells of daphne and brown boronias fill the air. The days are noticeably longer and there is more morning bird song.
If you haven't had a chance to appreciate the changing season then take a drive out to Bason Botanical Gardens on Rapanui Rd and have a look around this wonderful park.
Add some late winter cheer to your own garden by planting a magnolia if you have enough room, or otherwise a brown boronia or a daphne bush to add some fragrance to your surrounds.
Daphne are relatively easy to grow, preferably in a site with morning sun and afternoon shade. Good soil is a must. They are acid-loving plants, like rhododendrons and camellias, and prefer well-drained rich fertile soil. If you have had difficulties growing daphne, then the addition of Yates Hauraki Gold Peat Moss is recommended. It helps improve soil quality including breaking up heavy clay soils and improving drainage. It also adds body to light soils, retaining extra moisture and nutrients.
There are two main varieties of daphne readily available, and most highly fragrant. These are daphne odora leucanthe, which has a pink flower, and daphne odora alba, which is white flowered. There is also a relative new comer daphne 'perfume princess' which is pale pink but has a longer flowering time.
Daphne can be grown successfully in a pot. The secret to success is using a very good potting mix, such as Yates Professional Potting Mix, and positioning the pot in preferred sun/shade situation as discussed earlier.
Regular feeding with Tui Acid Fertiliser is recommended four times a year (spring, summer, winter, autumn) and generally gives good results. A top-up dose of magnesium (epsom salts) during May and June and again in August will help maintain good health and strength as the plant develops into its final stages of flowering.
Camellia Quintessence is another acid-loving fragrant plant. A sought after variety of camellia, it has two main distinctive differences which are what makes it so popular. Firstly it is a small growing groundcover and secondly it has a soft sweet fragrance. Camellia Quintessence makes an ideal specimen for a garden, or as a patio specimen in pots and containers. Its sweet fragrance becomes apparent as it starts flowering in June and continues through into September.
Boronias come in a range of colours including pink, red, yellow and purple. The brown boronia however is the most popular and is highly scented. What is intriguing is that a significant number of people cannot smell this magnificent scent. While boronias have a reputation for being difficult to grow, they are worth growing even if they only last a few years for the fragrance they offer. The ideal conditions for boronia is dappled light and well-drained soil. However, they do not like their roots drying out, so mulching is highly beneficial. They are also acid-loving plants so using peat moss, as with the daphne, is beneficial. An annual feed with osmocote native is recommended. It has a low phosphate level which suits boronias unlike most other fertiliser. A light prune after flowering will encourage new growth and prevent the plant from getting woody.
There are a few potted flowering daffodils available now in garden centres. But the best time to plant all bulbs is when they are dormant, and in the case of daffodils this means planting in March, April or May. Planting bulbs is always about thinking ahead, planning for flowering at a later time of the year.
Planning ahead While on the topic of bulbs and thinking ahead, bulbs that should be planted now include dahlias, peonies and lilies. These are all summer flowering beauties that will form increasingly larger clumps each year and provide an increasingly impressive floral display each subsequent year.
Dahlias are valued for their long lasting summer and autumn displays. Flowering on plants ranging in size from miniatures growing only 30cm up to large specimens reaching 120 cm tall. They are easy to grow and provide a rewarding display with very little effort. Plant the tubers with the main growing tips just below the surface of the soil. Firm the soil around the tubers, being careful not to damage them.
Some taller varieties may need staking and an occasional spray with a fungicide such as Yates Bravo, is beneficial to control powdery mildew. To prolong the flowering, pluck off old flowers. This encourages further flowering. Cut back spent foliage to ground level each autumn. Available in stores now, they can be planted through to the end of the year.
Peonies produce the most spectacular blooms that are a head turner in any garden.
The giant flowered peonies come in a great range of colours in both doubles and singles. The big fleshy roots are completely dormant in winter and in early spring rapidly growing stems emerge bearing one to three flower buds. These develop slowly to gigantic blooms up to 18cm across. They thrive in cooler districts while a cooler situation is best in a warmer area. A hint for improving the flowering of these when growing them in a warmer spot is to defrost your freezer and place the ice over them when they are dormant.
Lilies are easy to grow and provide a lovely display of colour over the period December to February, depending on the variety. As the clumps of bulbs get larger each year so does the display of flowers. There are tall and dwarf varieties, with the dwarf varieties being particularly great for porches and patios. Taller varieties will benefit from staking in windy spots.
So start thinking ahead to your summer garden and plant some bulbs now!
Gareth Carter is General Manager of Springvale Garden Centre.