Gardening jobs for the weekend: Assess soil quality and plant perennial vegetables – iNews


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Give your soil a once over. Gloxinias are an old-fashioned treat, while Virginia creepers are good for taller walls. Perennial vegetables are pleasingly low maintenance. Only female plants of some species can bear berries.1. Soil assessmentAssess soil by digging a 30cm-deep pit (right). Resistance to your spade entering the soil indicates that forking the bed would help. If few worms are seen and the soil is pale, add compost or other organic matter. Use a pH test kit, as lime might be needed if the soilis acid. Look for plant roots – if these are confined to near the surface, check the drainage. If it is poor, consider installing raised beds.2. GloxiniasGloxinias, properly called Sinningia, are tender flowering tuberous perennials, related to African violets, with purple, white and lilac flowers. They are available as summer-flowering houseplants or as dormant tubers in winter. To plant, press the tubers down into houseplant potting compost, rounded-side down. Grow in warm, humid conditions. Let them die down in autumn, then leave them dried but not desiccated over winter in a cool, frost-free place.Virginia Creepers turn a fiery red in the autumn (Photo: Hannah Curry/RHS)3. Virginia creeperVirginia creepers include several species, although strictly Parthenocissus quinquefolia is the true one. As it is invasive, allowing it to grow in the wild is prohibited. Parthenocissus tricuspidata (Boston ivy) is grown for red and purple autumn foliage and has three lobed leaves. Smaller-leaved “Veitchii” is the best. Parthenocissus henryana prefers shady walls and has red autumn colour. These handsome vines need a tall wall to clothe and, although “self-clinging”, often need some initial support.4. Perennial vegetablesAsparagus is, for many, the best perennial vegetable. Order seed or crowns for spring sowing and planting now. Jerusalem artichokes are very robust, but a square metre is sufficient for most people. Globe artichokes thrive in the south, from either seed or divisions, yielding edible summer flower buds. Perennial cauliflowers and kales tend to be short-lived, even if assiduously picked, but they are easy to propagate from cuttings and give tasty little spring heads and shoots.5. Female berriesMost garden berries form on shrubs with “perfect” (male and female parts) flowers. However, some species carry female and male flowers on separate plants, and only the former will carry berries, though males are required for fertilisation. These “dioecious” plants include Aucuba japonica, hollies, buckthorn, skimmia and yew. Sometimes hermaphrodite forms (bearing flowers of both genders) are available – Skimmia japonica subsp. reevesiana, for example. Hermaphrodites can act as pollinators for nearby female plants, but thankfully, nurseries can supply “gendered” plants.Guy Barter is chief horticultural adviser for the Royal Horticultural Society (@GuyBarter).The Royal Horticultural Society is a charity working to share the best in gardening and make the UK a greener place. Find out more at
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