Gardening Cuttings: Weekend work

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The Independent Online
CONTINUE to sow vegetable seed while the ground is damp and friable. I have great hopes for the parsnip 'Avonresister' (Unwins, 79p), a variety with good resistance to canker, and the beetroot 'Detroit Little Ball' (Mr Fothergill, 89p).

Also, continue to sow seed of annual flowers. I have just put in seed of the spider flower, a variety called Cleome 'Colour Fountains' (Unwins, 89p). The flowers are rather spidery: drunken spiders with their legs sticking out from large round heads of pink, lilac and white flowers. The seedlings do best if you prick them out into individual pots where they can grow into sizeable plants before you set them out.

Gradually harden off seedlings sown earlier in the year by acclimatising them gently to the outside air. This generally takes a couple of weeks and is easier if you have a cold frame. Spun fleece (Agralan) makes a quick blanket for boxes of seedlings on unexpectedly cold nights.

Sow basil, an invaluable summer herb. That, too, does best if pricked out into individual pots. Last year I kept some pots of basil on the kitchen windowsill, planted some from pots in the cold frame, and sowed some seed direct in the open ground. The kitchen-cosseted plants were by far the most successful, but that may have been because they had more attention.

Prune and rejuvenate overgrown plants of berberis, forsythia, mallow and pernettyas by taking out a third of the stems at ground level. Repeat this over the next couple of years until you have worked through the entire bush.

Watch for reverting shoots on variegated shrubs and trees and prune out the plain shoots as soon as possible. These, having more chlorophyll to hand, will always be more vigorous than their pale counterparts and may quickly swamp them.

Buy Corydalis flexuosa 'Pere David', the prettiest plant I have seen for years. A Chinese cousin of our wild corydalis, it has the same elegant ferny foliage, but the flowers are a brilliant sky blue. It grows about 6in high and makes excellent ground cover (flowering now) in places where it will not dry out.