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The real chariots of spring.

From late March through April it's usually a case of eyes down, spade in one hand, the other grubbing out the weeds, with little time for much else.

But I was wrenched away from my pre-occupations this month by an explosion of colour triggered by the gentle spring, accompanied by higher than average temperatures and, above all, very little frost.

Instead of leaving soggy piles of blossoms strewn across the ground, the camellias escaped almost unscathed, and the magnolias have sparkled in the sunshine, no less so on moonlit nights like ghostly sentinels.

Division is another cheap and easy way to increase your stock of favourite HOMETRUTHS John Humphries But the real chariots of spring are not these grand plants but the native bluebell and white wood anemone rolling out carpets of dazzling brilliance across woodland floors.

Given the right conditions bluebells establish quickly but not so the wood anemone which, painfully slow to spread, testifies to the age of a woodland habitat. Natural habitats, large and small, occur in every garden where conditions encourage plants to self-seed and the seedlings to flourish.

No-one should ever need to buy more than one Aquilegia, one ornamental grass, or any of the prolific self-seeders, although the tiny plantlets are easily missed in the frenzy of spring weeding.

garden plants, those with fibrous crowns like Achillea, Astser, Geum, Gypsophila, Phlox, Rudbeckia and Hemerocallis (Day Lilies) ideal candidates for prising apart with back-to-back forks.

Plants with fleshy roots - Astilbe, Helleborus, and Hostas - can be cut into portions with a knife or spade, provided each piece has at least one bud or crown of leaves.

The best way to increase woody plants at zero cost is by layering. Heather shoots form independent roots if pegged down under a covering of compost.

Larger shrubs such as Rhododendrons can be propagated from a pliable branch growing close to the ground. Bend the shoot tip upwards and tie to a bamboo cane, then wound that part of the shoot brushing the ground by scraping or cutting a tongue, before covering with compost and pegging down firmly with a stone.

After 12 months the new plant will have made sufficient roots to be severed from the parent and planted elsewhere in the garden.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 31, 2012
Words:376
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