Geoff Hicks | Lavender in full bloom during Maitland spring

INSTANT COLOUR: Lavender will guarantee and splash of blue and mauve colours for your garden.
INSTANT COLOUR: Lavender will guarantee and splash of blue and mauve colours for your garden.

Some varieties of Lavender plants will be in full bloom now, filling the surrounding air with their delightful scent, while adding colour and structure to the garden. Spanish and Italian lavenders flower in winter and spring and should be pruned lightly in late spring.

Summer flowering lavenders should not be pruned until late summer or early autumn, otherwise the flowering spikes will be removed.

Bees enjoy the flowers of lavenders, which generally appear in shades of blues and mauves. Forms with green, pink, white and red flowers are also available.

Lavenders originate from the Mediterranean area and an understanding of this will help in providing for their main growing requirements as well as avoiding a failure to thrive. Cold winters, warm to hot summers and well-drained soils are their main preferences. This means that lavenders do not generally live for many years in ourcoastal conditions.

The provision of a slightly alkaline soil at planting time will be beneficial.

New varieties of lavenders are available in nurseries and garden centres. In general, these varieties are the winter and spring flowering varieties. These are the Spanish and Italian lavenders. Flowers have taller petals that appear about the main part of the flower.

One of the more successful Spanish lavenders is “Pukehoe”, which was bred in New Zealand. It features five larger petals on the top of each purple flower. Plants grow to about a metre high and 80cm wide, in a compact form. Plants become covered in flowers during the flowering season.

Two series of Italian lavenders have been bred in Australia; the Bee series and the Bella series.

Bee lavenders, such as “Busy Bee” plants are compact and long-flowering. The flowers may be blue, pink or white. Plants flower in winter and spring.

The Bella series are ideal of use as low hedges, or in pots or planter boxes, because of their compact growth.

French lavenders have long flower spikes and flower for many months. The leaves are toothed, giving this variety its botanical name of L. dentata. Plants grow well in pots but are also very suitable for mass-planting as a hedge.

In addition to providing ideal situations for planting out lavenders, giving the plants a light trim after flowering has finished will remove the dead flowers, as well as encouraging the production of healthy new growth.

But remember that lavender plants should not be pruned back into hard, old wood as this will generally result in the plant dying.

Tasty tomatoes

Tomatoes, although strictly a fruit, are perhaps the most popular of vegetables for use in salads. Many varieties are now available, and the selection made by the gardener is mainly based on individual preferences.

Tomatoes are most suitable for growing in pots, depending on the variety, as well as placing them in the vegetable garden.

For the best results, tomatoes should be planted in a position of full sun, protected from strong winds. Prior to planting, the soil should be prepared by digging in organic matter, such as older animal manure. The soil should be watered well. Plants may be planted at a level that is deeper than they were in the punnet, as this will encourage the formation of new, stronger roots. Plants that will require staking should be planted about one metre apart, while bush-type varieties may be planted about 50cm apart.

The addition of sulphate of potash will assist in ensuring a good harvest. Used coffee grounds can also be added to the soil with beneficial results. These will acidify the soil. A handful, sprinkled over a square metre should be an ideal application rate.

Some of the taller varieties include: Apollo, Beef Steak, Grosse Lisse, Tommy Toe and Black Russian.

High-yielding varieties that are also tall growing include Sweet Bite and Sweet Grape. Roma tomatoes, which are egg-shaped, include Health Kick, which has additional health benefits, as well as Reggae Roma and San Marzano.

San Marzano are very suitable for pot culture. Other more compact varieties include Tumbler Red, Tumbler Yellow, Patio Roma and Pot Tomato.

As plants grow, the laterals (side shoots) should be removed by pinching them out, to encourage stronger, taller growth.

To ensure a continuous supply of tomatoes plantings should be staggered – some now, with a further planting in about five weeks’ time.

Asparagus tips

Asparagus can be planted as crowns, which should be placed 20-40cm apart and several centimetres deep, in well manured soil. Shoots will appear in spring. Harvesting can take place when the shoots are about 50mm in diameter. During the first season, the majority of shoots should be left to grow into tall, leafy stems about one to 1.5 metres in height. This will allow the crowns to form strong plants, giving a good harvest the following year.

In autumn the ferns will eventually die down. The red berries that may appear should be removed as they are poisonous. The dead stalks can be cut back to soil level. Placing a thick layer of well-rotted manure or compost about the plants will ensure they are well fed.

When harvesting asparagus, the stalks should be cut off close to, or just under the soil level.

Maitland and District Garden Club