CUTTINGS

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The Independent Online
Onion fanciers celebrate the New Year by sowing seed of their favourites. By the end of the summer these may have swelled to sufficiently mammoth proportions to beat the world record for onions (a mighty 11.5lb). Serious growers use deep seed trays, measuring about 15in x 9in x 4in and a loam-based seed compost such as John Innes No 1. Fill the tray with the compost and firm it down gently. Scatter the seed over the surface and cover it thinly with more compost. Water the tray and keep moist until the seeds have germinated, which they should do after two weeks. They do not need much heat. Aim for 55F - anything much higher will inhibit germination.

While the seedlings still look like little croquet hoops, no more than 0.5in above the compost, prick them out into trays of John Innes No 2 compost, setting them 2in apart. Correct watering is vital. The seedlings should not be swamped, nor should they dry out.

By mid-April, the seedlings should be strong enough to be hardened off in a cold frame so that they can be planted out by early May. Serious fanciers save their own strains of seed, but Robinson's Improved Mammoth Onion gives suitably outrageous results; 100 seeds cost pounds 2.30 from W Robinson & Sons Ltd, Sunny Bank, Forton, nr Preston, Lancs PR3 0BN (01524 791210).

The Garden History Society has arranged a series of six lectures starting on 7 February when Lord Rothschild introduces a talk by his daughter Beth Tomassini on the important Victorian gardens at Waddesdon, Buckinghamshire. On 14 February, owner Patrice Fustier talks about Courson in the Ile de France, where the English gardens were designed by the Empress Josephine's landscape architect. On 21 February the focus moves to Scotland when Lord Dalkeith introduces a lecture by Fiona Jamieson on Drumlanrig, while on the 28 February, Edward Gatacre talks about De Wiersse, his garden in the Netherlands, made in the English style. The March lectures cover La Mortola, the famous garden on the Italian Riviera made by the Hanbury family in the early years of the century, and the sub-tropical Tresco. Tickets (from Lynn Curtis, 43 Bourne St, London SW1W 8JA) cost pounds 6 each, or you can book for the whole series (pounds 30). Lectures start at 6pm on Wednesday evenings at the Scientific Societies Lecture Theatre, New Burlington Place, London W1.

Rose pruning has been revolutionised since trials at the Royal National Rose Society revealed that what hybrid tea roses respond to best is a quick haircut with a hedgecutter. Now there has been a similar upheaval in ideas about pruning fruit such as apples and pears. If you grow these as cordons, fans or espaliers, you will still have to prune them in summer to keep them in the shape you want, but standards and half standards growing in lawns can be left completely alone. Professional growers have found that tying down the branches so that they bend down in horizontal arches has a greater effect on fruiting than any pruning technique. Peg down the branches of young trees to start them off with the right habits.

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