Many local gardens, particularly in the more established suburbs, now have magnificent displays of magnolias.
Large areas of paler to darker pink, with blotches of crimson through to purple fill the previously bare-branched, vase-shaped trees.
These plants will be the variety that is more usually grown - Saucer magnolia (Magnolia soulangeana), which was bred about 200 years ago.
Hundreds of different cultivars have been developed from the original plants, with darker flowers, larger flowers and more prolific flowering being the most commonly sought after traits.
Magnolia liliflora (Lily-flowered magnolia) has brilliant royal purple flowers, while Magnolia denudate (Yulan magnolia) displays flowers that are creamy-white. Star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) is a small growing variety that will be covered with smaller white flowers featuring longer, thinner petals.
Magnolias prefer an open, sunny position that is sheltered from strong winds. This is because their petals will become disfigured by winds that are often present at their main flowering time.
A layer of organic mulch, such as leaf litter that has been collected during the autumn and allowed to commence its decomposition, is ideal as this will be close to the conditions in which the plant would grow in its natural state. This will help to maintain a cool root system. Only a light application of fertiliser will be required.
As magnolias are generally relatively fast growing they can be used in smaller areas, especially as they have a non-invasive root system. A rich soil will provide a source for good growth and, in our areas of clay soils, the addition of well-rotted manure will be of great benefit. Young plants should be watered every 7-10 days in periods of dry weather.
DON'T BE CONFUSED
Two flowering bulbs that are often confused and misnamed are snowdrops and snowflakes. These plants grow very well under other shrubs, such as magnolias and camellias, where they contribute very well to the winter scene.
The flowers first appear in the early winter months, producing their white flower heads that hang gracefully from their stems and move gently in any breeze.
Small green markings on the edges of the petals distinguish snowflakes and add to their appeal. They are the more commonly available of the two varieties of bulbs, but are a most worthwhile addition to the winter garden.
They are more suitable to warmer areas than snowdrops which prefer colder areas.
Snowdrops have dainty white bell-shaped flowers, with three more prominent outer petals that cover inner petals that also have a green edge.
Their long, strappy green foliage is also quite attractive. Snowdrops / snowflakes are very hardy plants and will generally reappear each year in late autumn; especially if they have been planted in a cooler section of the garden. They also grow very successfully in containers.
Over many years plants that have variegated foliage have become available. The foliage on these plants generally develops their attractive leaf patterning through cell mutations.
Although the majority of leaf variegation contains yellow, cream and white combinations, there are also many specimens available that display combinations of pink, red and cream colourings.
Sometimes a plant in the garden will "throw a sport", that is, a shoot that has foliage that is different from the main plant. Through careful propagation, these shoots can be used as cuttings to develop new plants with attractive leaf colouring. However, it can take many years to ensure that future plants bred from the variegated material will continue to produce the variegated foliage.
Camellias, particularly, can sometimes produce a variegated sport.
In fact, because the variegation in the leaves is a mutation, the plant will often try to revert to the all-green foliage because the mutation isn't very stable.
Therefore, it is important for gardeners and horticulturists to regularly check the foliage on plants with variegated foliage in order to ensure that parts of the plant are not reverting to the original leaf form. If a branch or stem that has plain green foliage is found, it is important to remove it, cutting it back cleanly against the main trunk.
The plain green foliage will be more vigorous than the variegated foliage and can quite quickly overtake the variegated plant. While some gardeners may find the contrast in foliage attractive and interesting, failure to remove the parent or species branches will eventually lead to them dominating the less vigorous cultivated branches. Continual monitoring of the plant should then be carried out.
Many gardeners prefer to grow their vegetables from seed, and this is an ideal time in which to sow the seed. A seed raising mix should be used. However, if planting out root vegetables such as carrots, parsnip and beetroot, fertilizers should be avoided as these may cause the roots to become distorted.
Seeds can be planted out earlier than normal if a cold frame is used to protect the young plants from cold winds.
A cold frame can be simply constructed by using a large foam or wooden box to contain the punnets of seeds and then placing a piece of glass, such as an old window frame, over the top.
As the young plants emerge from the soil, and the weather begins to warm, the glass can be gradually removed from the top. If multiples seedlings have emerged, then the plants should be thinned out to allow full development of remaining plants
- Place cyclamen plants outdoors at nighttime if they are being enjoyed as indoor plants as the cooler air will help revive the plants.
- Bare rooted roses, such as those from retail outlets, should have the plastic removed and then placed in a bucket of water, ensuring all the roots are covered prior to planting.
- Garden beds can be prepared for tomatoes by digging in some organic compost and pelletised manure, and then covering with a straw mulch.