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Blooming good idea; Gardening.

Byline: Janice Casault

Gardening advice with Janice Casault of Wenvoe-based StyleGardens.

ONE of the greatest pleasures that can be derived from gardening is trying something new or different with a variety of plants.

For example, a few of my 'unwanted' conifers have now become topiary specimens, which receive one or two annual 'haircuts' to keep them in their spherical shape.

Not all of my ideas have been successful. The little oak sapling that was carefully prised out of a raised bed, survived in a bonsai pot for a number of years until I came to the realisation that oaks do not make good bonsai plants due to the difficulty in reducing leaf size!

However, I had fun trying and the pleasure of seeing the new buds emerging each spring even if it did look a little hideous.

Experimenting with plants can be enormously satisfying and challenging and, provided they don't cost a small fortune, it's worth trying your hand at something new.

For example, I'm somewhat partial to fuchsias of every description as they have to be not only one of the most adaptable plants available, but are simply gorgeous with their beautiful blooms.

They can be grown as hedging, in borders, in pots and hanging baskets and are amazingly easy to grow from cuttings.

Fuchsias, named after the 16th century botanist Leonard Fuchs, are native to Central and South America and New Zealand.

They have become one of the mainstays of British bedding although it's fair to say that not all of them can tolerate our climate all year round.

However, the hardy fuchsias, although cut down by winter frosts in this area, invariably push up new growth in the spring.

For half-hardy and tender varieties only the protection of a greenhouse (cool) or conservatory will do and this is equally true for those grown in containers although pots placed against a southfacing wall do seem to fare quite well in our now seemingly milder winters.

If you have never grown a containerised fuchsia or have only used them as trailing summer bedding , why not turn your hand to growing a standard or two?

The varieties F.'Miss California' and others can be purchased now at the garden centre and currently stand about 20cm (8'') tall but if you prefer to start from scratch choose a variety that has an upright habit such as F. 'Thalia', F. 'Estelle Marie' or F. 'White Ann'.

Fuchsias enjoy a well-drained but moisture-retentive soil and in the early stages of growth pot your young plant(s) into a 13cm (5'') pot filled with a compost such as John Innes No 1.

The aim now is to let your plant grow up to a height of approximately 15-20cm (6''-8'') leaving the main leaves on the stem but pinching out the sideshoots that appear in the leaf axils - those that begin to grow between the leaf and the main stem.

This will be a familiar process for those who grow their own tomatoes.

Tie the plant into a cane for support and pot on as required using a John Innes No 2/3.

Although there are quite a few recognised 'standard' heights, grow your own to suit.

Once your plants have reached a desired height (with a full standard height being 75-107cm (30''-42'') allow a further three sets of leaves to develop before pinching out the growing tip (the leader').

This will encourage your plants to develop sideshoots. As these sideshoots develop pinch out the top set of leaves from each sideshoot to encourage branching. Once the head has filled out stop the pinching out process and allow the flower buds to form.

Once flowering begins offer your plants a high-potash liquid feed following the manufucturer's instructions.

A full sized standard can take up to 18 months to achieve from scratch whereas miniature and quarter standards can be accomplished over a six month period.

Do remember however that standards will need over-wintering in frost free conditions.

Allow them to become dormant by keeping the environment cool and the compost barely moist.

Have fun, and good luck!
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 30, 2002
Previous Article:Shop's a real labour of love; Home front.
Next Article:Top tips; Gardening.

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