If any month needed a PR spin job, it’s February.
Still dark, still cold but the end of winter is the gardeners friend for planting shrubs and trees for great growth this year.
Bare root and root balled specimens are rarely found in your local garden centre, but traditionally, shrubs, trees and even perennials were dug up in the autumn, when dormant, transferred to sand beds and bought over the winter. These field grown plants are much more reliably moved, cheaper to grow and cheaper to buy. However once the spring comes, days lengthen and temperatures rise, growth is stimulated and plants are less likely to recover so well from the relocation. So the end of ‘bare root’ season is not a fixed date, but determined by that particular spring.
I’m a big fan of gardening in this way of course - going by the weather and your local conditions. You will usually need to be looking at small dedicated nurseries for supply or the very large wholesale commercial ones for very mature Chelsea ‘instant’ plants. Use the RHS plant finder tool on their website and you’ll be introduced to a host of suppliers and goodies you didn’t know existed. A little faith is needed to buy blind but these suppliers know what they are doing and your deliveries will be far more reliable and sustainable. Right now I am increasing my shrub stock and buying Cotinus, Physocarpus, Cornus and currants.
Bareroot plants should be ‘heeled’ in, literally stuffed in the soil, usually at an angle so you don’t dig a big hole, and pressed gently with your heel. They can stay there until early March before being planted in their final position. Rootballed plants are usually evergreen specimens. These are far cheaper bought like this but they must be planted as soon as possible when delivered. Don’t let them dry out and plant with the hessian left around the root, holding the soil together.
Why then, with the fewest plants flowering naturally in gardens, is Valentines day, the feast of depressing flower deliveries, is smack bang in the middle of February? Cynically we know it’s a global drive to drum up sales for imported flowers in the worst month for sales.
There is not a single rose in the UK that naturally flowers in February. Where are they coming from? You might not want to know, but be certain that the bunch of roses is not saying ‘I love you’ in perhaps the way you meant it to say. Consider the distance travelled, chemicals used to grow (usually banned for use in UK and EU) and worker conditions. And the worst offence, scent is bred out of them. A rose with no scent. What will they think of next.
Keep in mind that ‘bareroot’ top tip, and consider a real rose plant thoughtfully delivered to your love? A rose that blooms each and every year from excellent suppliers like David Austin, Norfolk’s Peter Beale or Hertfordshire’s Harkness Roses.
But if you really want to give a bunch of flowers this Valentines, please think about what is growing naturally now, in our climate. Support your local flower growers and supplier. ‘The Flower Project’ on Mill Road are brilliant. Not exclusively supplied with locally grown but Clare is a real trailblazer on the High Street and biked deliveries for this city. Give her enough notice and she’ll be getting in the most exquisite and most importantly scented narcissus from Cornwall, Iris, tulips, anemones, alstroemeria, iris and even dried Dahlias for everlasting love tokens.
Originally published in Cambridge Edition February 2023