AS THE ideal gardens ambassador for this year’s Ideal Home Show, TV gardening expert Alan Titchmarsh needs to stay ahead of the times.
Keeping a keen eye on gardening trends, landscaping designs and what the public will be growing in 2012 and beyond, he predicts that the ‘grow your own’ campaign will be as strong as ever this year.
“Growing your own will still be popular,” he says, “and veg can be fitted into pockets on the flower border as well as on a dedicated veg patch.
“Climbers on house walls are set to make a resurgence - who needs to look at boring brickwork? Just make sure that adequate wire or trellis supports are provided.
“And repeat-flowering roses should be in every garden - in and among border perennials and shrubs - dedicated rose beds are now out,” he says.
Despite heavy TV commitments, Titchmarsh will be out in his Hampshire garden this winter, preparing it for spring and beyond.
“Getting my garden ready for spring is something that, like everybody else, I try to fit in around work. But it’s vital and my garden is my safety valve as well as my canvas.
“My garden has good lines. Perspective, proportion and form are every bit as important to me as colour. There is lots of evergreen topiary - clipped box and yew - but within the borders there are billowing banks of perennials, shrubs and roses.
“I also have a wild flower meadow and a wildlife pond, providing great entertainment and a really good way of doing my bit for conservation. My garden is my sanctuary.”
Winter offers time for planning new borders and allows gardeners time to do jobs little by little, he says.
“The great thing about winter is that things move slowly in the garden and we have a chance to catch up. It’s not all about tidying, though there is some of that to do - border perennials to cut back (I like to leave some old foliage on in winter to help insects and birds), the last of the leaves to clear up and compost.
“I lightly fork over the earth between plants in early spring, working in a sprinkling of blood, fish and bone and then, among shrubs in particular, I mulch with chipped bark to seal in moisture and keep down weeds.”
Winter is a great time to take a long, hard look at the garden and work out where there are gaps in terms of interest, he reflects.
Deciduous trees and shrubs are best planted now (provided the soil is not waterlogged or frozen) to give them a head start in spring, while perennials should be ordered now for planting in early spring so that the year can get off to a flying start.
If the ground’s too hard or wet to work on, curl up on a winter’s evening with some seed catalogues and work out what you want to grow this year, making your order quickly for the best selection, he suggests.
If you’re creating a new veg plot, decide what you like eating and how much space such crops will take up. Then work out sowing and harvesting times so that the best use is made of your veg patch.
“Order your seeds early and store them in a shoe-box in order of sowing times,” he advises.
“Don’t sow too much of quick-maturing crops such as lettuce and radish at the same time, but make smaller sowings every few weeks to ensure a succession of tender young crops.”
Indoors in January and February, you can sow geranium (pelargonium) seeds early - they take a long while to grow and will flower sooner if they are raised on a warm windowsill.
Sprout seed potatoes so that they get off to a flying start when they are planted out later.
At the Ideal Home Show 2012, Titchmarsh will be judging the Ideal Young Gardeners of the Year competition in which six colleges go head to head to create sustainable show gardens.
“We need to do much more to promote horticulture as a career and to pass on our gardening skills. It is the most rewarding of jobs, tough at times, yes, but one which allows us to do our bit for the future of the planet.”
The Ideal Home Show at London’s Earls Court runs from March 16 to April 1. To book tickets, visit www.idealhomeshow.co.uk or call 0844 858 6763.
Best of the bunch - Mahonia
This winter shrub provides interest in both colour and form, with its deep green, glossy, holly-like leaves and clusters of fragrant yellow flowers, followed by purple or black berries.
Mahonia will grow happily in shade, providing not only scent but good architectural value and some of the upright varieties, such as M. x media ‘Charity’, which bears vivid yellow flower spikes in winter, make good barriers against intruders.
Others, such as M. japonica, which grows to 2m (6ft), make useful plants for a woodland edge or shrub border in shade. For a later-flowering variety, try M. aquifolium ‘Apollo’, which bears clusters of scented, acid-yellow flowers in spring.
All of the popular varieties are easy to grow and are not fussy about soil type.
Good enough to eat - Horseradish
If you’ve loved horseradish with your roast beef this winter, why not try growing your own for an eye-poppingly hot accompaniment?
Be warned, though, it’s an invasive perennial with deep roots that regrow when they’re broken off and, once established, can be as difficult to get rid of as ground elder.
Grow it in a bottomless bucket sunk into the ground with its rim about an inch above the surface so that the roots don’t spread up there and to keep clumps in check.
Only the root of horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) is used. Buy plants from specialist herb nurseries, or some seed companies offer roots in their autumn catalogues for planting up in late winter or early spring.
Make a hole in the soil with a dibber and push a single root into it, thickest end uppermost, leaving the tip at ground level.
Plant three roots about 60cm apart for a good clump. Let the plants grow for two years before harvesting.
Dig up one plant in September or October, using the biggest roots for the kitchen and cutting off one of the thinner roots to replant.
Three ways to... Dispose of your Christmas tree
1. Ring your local authority, which may provide a disposal service if you leave the tree out with your recycling bins, or will give you details of local household recycling centres where you can drop off the tree.
2. Invest in a good quality saw, such as Bosch’s new Keo cordless garden saw, and a shredder, to cut up the tree and then shred it into a mulch to place on top of beds and borders.
3. If you bought a container-grown tree, grown for at least one season in its pot and rarely taller than 1m (3ft), it can either be planted out with a very good chance of success or re-potted into a larger pot to continue growing.
What to do this week
Continue to take root cuttings of acanthus, Oriental poppy, phlox and verbascums.
Continue to keep bird feeders and troughs topped up with bird food and water.
Keep the strong, whippy shoots of apple tree prunings to support bulbs later in the season.
Bring container-grown shrubs such as viburnum, rose and deutzia into the greenhouse for forcing, maintaining a minimum temperature of 13C (55F).
Sow sweet peas in deep pots under glass.
Protect hairy-leaved alpines from winter wet with an open-ended cloche.
Plant bare-rooted roses as soon as they are delivered.
Firm down plants which have been lifted by frost.
Bring pots of herbs indoors for use in the kitchen.
Continue to harvest parsnips, kale and winter cabbages.
Protect shrubs of borderline hardiness with layers of fleece or netting if frost threatens.
Plant shallots and Jerusalem artichokes.
Sow celery in a heated propagator.