Storm Doris, or the threat of it, kept me indoors for a while recently, so I found the time to do some homework – literally. There is always a small piece of land somewhere on the allotment which has difficult access or is in a shady position like behind the shed, where we find it tricky to plant vegetables, or a border that is a bit too close to the public path and we prefer that our prize vegetables are not scooped up by a discerning passer by! I have such a border at the front of my allotment. Originally I left it as a ‘wildlife garden’, when it changed to a ‘weed garden’ , I received a letter from the council that I was in contravention to the Allotment Acts 1908 – 1950 which does not allow weeds to be grown freely on allotment sites, I tried to answer that the wild look keeps intruders out of my allotment – but my excuse was not really accepted – the Law actually states that only 50% has to be cultivated but it just did not look good in the eyes of the council officer [who incidentally has no idea about growing fruit and veg, and chose the job of an Allotment Inspector, so that he could walk his giant labrador during council time whilst being payed by the Council].
I have recently solved this dilemma by planting perennial plants in this problem area, most of them are native flowers that will thrive even with some shade, and once they are established need very little care.
Now how do we fill a border with perennial plants without hurting the pocket? The simple answer is sowing seed, but perennials from seed rarely flower in the first year and need a lot of time and protection in the early years. The alternative is to buy full sized pot plants but this would work out very expensive. The answer is – plug plants – very small plants that have been successfully started of in a controlled environment, nurtured in the nursery to perfection. The small plug plants are waiting to be planted in your garden or to be potted on where they will burst into growth. Each mail order company boasts bigger and better plugs but whichever you choose they have done the work and the wait for you. So my homework this past week involved looking for the best deals.
Supermarkets also tend to sell plug plants at this time of the year they are can be as cheap as 15 plants for just £1.99 (spotted in Aldi). If you have the time and patience go ahead, (always check that they are not dried out), but my advice is on a totally different wavelength as mail order plugs are usually much larger. Also, the supermarket plugs are commonly annuals, and we are trying to find something to save you the bother of planting annually. If you do not have eyes on a particular plant I would advise you to buy a perennial plug mixture.
A sample of what you can expect to find in the catalogues :
Parkers offers 72 plants for £39.88,( which they claim will fill a border 8m x 2m ) or just 24 plants for £15.96 which works out at 55p and 66.5p respectively.
Thompson & Morgan are offering 72 plants for just £19.99 which is only 27p per plant.
The size of the plugs directly determines the price, so it is difficult to make an actual price comparison. I am sure that both companies are offering top quality plugs, and both are good value for money, considering a pot plant would cost at least £3-£4 each even for a small a specimen.
Dobies are giving away a perennial lucky dip collection of 144 Value plugs for just £24.99 [ Incidentally Suttons have exactly the same price, same code, and same picture – they must work together !!]
Although this works out at less than 18p per plant it might turn out to be your unlucky dip, if they are all plants that you already have or plants that you just don’t like – with the other companies you can choose named varieties.
As close as possible to when the plants arrive through your letter box, grow the plugs on in a good quality compost and in a few weeks they should be ready to be planted out, during the first year they will need a careful hoe around them to keep down the weeds, but in subsequent years most perennials multiply quickly and they should fill the border. They should reward you with masses of flowers at different times throughout the summer and all you need to do is dead head during the season and remove the spent foliage at the end of the winter. Don’t worry if it looks a mess during winter – the Council Officers usually wrap themselves in their woollies and hibernate till March!
Boris Legarni .