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Keep the romance alive
7:00am Saturday 2nd February 2013 in NewsXtra
Tips on how to create a romantic garden which will last a lot longer than a bunch of flowers on Valentine's Day - plus, find out what else needs doing in the garden this week.
By Hannah Stephenson
Valentine's Day will come and go, but you can create a lover's paradise in your outdoor space, incorporating all the senses of touch, smell, sight, taste and sound.
Whether it's a woodland garden or flowing fields or a rustic cottage garden bursting with fragrant blooms, deliciously scented roses and clematis growing around an arbour, or waves of purple wisteria blooms draping over the walls of a house, all gardeners can have their share of romance.
Even on the smallest plot, you can create a touch of romance with old-fashioned plants, winding walkways, rustic arches, willow trellises and soft climbing blooms.
Choose your plants carefully and place the scented varieties where their delicious fragrance will come into its own, near to the house or bordering a well-used walkway.
Climbers including the fragrant honeysuckle or repeat-flowering roses, such as the silvery pink hybrid musk 'Felicia' or 'Old Blush China', can fill an area with sweet scent.
Informal planting creates a soft palette, with dainty plants such as violas or bell-flowered campanulas mingling in front of taller specimens such as delphiniums, lupins and the many wonderful varieties of clematis. Irises, peonies and gentle wild-meadow flowers can also be incorporated.
Group your plants together in small drifts, and you'll be rewarded with a lovely, informal display of scent and colour all summer long.
I think a soft colour palette of whites, soft and deep pinks, blues, mauves and purples is ideal for the romantic garden.
Keep the design low-key, with soft edges and curved lines. Make sure the emphasis is on the plants themselves, although you can create a focal point from a statue or tall obelisk or wigwam adorned with sweet peas or clematis and climbing roses.
One arch in my own garden is planted with Clematis 'Nelly Moser', a large pink and white-striped variety, and Rosa 'Gertrude Jekyll', which form a perfect combination of soft colour and scent.
Lavender and nepeta (catmint) can fringe borders, spilling out into winding paths around the garden, while fragrant herbs such as thyme can be planted in the cracks in pathways to soften the effect.
But try to keep heavily scented plants which are planted in abundance separate so they don't dominate the group.
Among my favourite shrubs which are easy to include in a romantic garden is the philadelphus (mock orange), which produces masses of white flowers in early summer whose scent can fill the whole garden and beyond. A good choice is the tall variety P. 'Beauclerk', which grows to 2.5m (8ft) and can make an informal windbreak.
If you have room, make a secret place in the garden which you can't see from the house, such as a hidden archway over a bench, where you can sit during those summer evenings for peace and solace while taking in the scents and sounds of the garden.
When planning your romantic garden, make sure you take note of where the sun rises and sets, so that you create your seating area to enjoy the sun as it goes down at the end of the day, or when you are likely to use that area most.
If you have room for a bed of annuals, go again for soft, fragrant plants such as night-scented stock and nicotiana, along with other cottage garden favourites such as aquilegia.
In the evening, candle light comes into its own to create a romantic setting, so place some close to the plants you want to highlight and include some citronella candles near where you are sitting to keep mosquitoes at bay.
Long after Valentine's Day, you'll have the perfect setting for romance in your garden.
Best of the bunch - Scilla
These pretty clump-formers are a common sight in springtime, providing a splash of colour in sun or dappled shade under deciduous trees or shrubs.
But there are also many winter-flowering dwarfs for the rockery which also brighten up patios if they are planted in containers.
A very early-flowering variety is S. mischtschenkoana, which has pale blue flowers with a tiny deeper blue stripe down each petal. They go well among snowdrops and winter aconites.
Good scillas for rock gardens include S. bifolia, which produces loose sprays of star-shaped blue to purple-blue flowers in early spring and will increase rapidly, and S. siberica 'Spring Beauty', whose bell-shaped rich blue flowers appear in spring.
Scilla thrive in any well-drained, moist soil. Overcrowded clumps should be divided in August or September and replanted immediately.
Good enough to eat - Dividing mint
Now is the time to dig up existing mint plants which you want to place somewhere else or which has simply outgrown its space.
Mint propagates itself by rooted runners and is really invasive if not kept in check. Cut the runner into sections, ensuring that each has some healthy root and shoot.
It's better to plant the root cuttings in a big plastic pot or bucket with drainage holes and then plunge the whole thing into the soil. That way it can be easily lifted in the future and won't invade everything around it.
You can also keep a few sections of runners in pots in the house for daily use.
Three ways to... Minimise snow damage and waterlogging
1. Lay waterlogged plants in pots on their sides. Later, if they seem to have been damaged, be prepared to repot into smaller pots using fresh compost after removing dead and rotting tissue.
2. Try to keep off saturated soil until it is workable to avoid worsening the conditions.
3. Prune out frost-damaged foliage when effects of freezing begin to appear and apply a dressing of balanced fertiliser in the spring, mulching over the root area.
What to do this week
:: Knock any remaining snow from trees and shrubs to stop them becoming misshapen and keep an area of the pond ice-free.
:: Firm in plants lifted by frost or windrock.
:: Sow quick-growing perennials such as campanulas and poppies to flower this year.
:: Order summer-flowering bulbs, corms and tubers, especially if you are planning to grow any that need starting off indoors, such as tuberous begonias.
:: Pot autumn-rooted fuchsia cuttings into small, individual pots.
:: Winter dig the vegetable garden if the ground isn't too hard or waterlogged.
:: Test your soil to see if the pH needs adjusting or if the soil is deficient in any major nutrients.
:: Put cloches in place to warm the soil for early sowings of vegetables in March.
:: Weather permitting, take hardwood cuttings of hardy climbers to save time later in the spring.
:: Prune newly planted bushes of gooseberries and red and white currants by cutting back strong new shoots by half their length to form the main branches.
:: Sow lily seed under glass, not more than 1cm deep in pots or boxes.
:: Continue to remove rubbish and debris from the garden to reduce the number of hiding spots and breeding grounds for slugs and snails.
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