Gardening: Weekend work

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FINISH planting spring bedding plants such as wallflowers, polyanthus and forget-me-nots. These last make an excellent undercarpet for tulips, especially the dark mahogany 'Abu Hassan' or the lily-flowered 'White Triumphator'.

Clean up the ground between strawberry rows, getting rid of weeds and unwanted plants that have rooted themselves. Mulch between the rows with well-rotted compost or manure.

Lilies are best planted as soon as this year's growth has died down. The problem is getting hold of them. It suits suppliers better to dish them out in spring. The martagon lily is a hardy, lime-tolerant, basal-rooting species that will thrive in sun or shade. Plant the bulbs about 4in deep and 9in apart, on a sprinkle of sharp sand to deter underground slugs. Mulch in spring with compost or leaf mould. The ordinary type of martagon has dirty purple flowers with ginger anthers, but there is also a lovely white form. Lilium pyrenaicum is another basal-rooting lily tolerant of lime, with bright greenish-yellow flowers spotted with black.

Gather late-ripening apples and pears and store them in a place that is cool and not too dry. Some people keep them in polythene bags with a few holes punched in them. I stick to wooden trays and newspaper. Think about planting more fruit trees this season. The best specimens are likely to be grown in open ground and will be lifted for delivery after leaf fall, usually from the first week in November. Cordon-trained apples are ideal for small gardens and make good screens between one part of the garden and another. But you need to keep on top of the pruning.

Cut back the dying stems of herbaceous perennials and compost them. Do not cut back penstemons. These should be left until March. Cutting back now will encourage fresh young growth which will most likely be clobbered by frost.

Stunning volume

FOR 97 weeks the Royal Horticultural Society's Gardener's Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers has remained high on the best-seller list. Soon, no doubt, it will be joined there by the recently published companion volume, Encyclopedia of Gardening.

Dorling Kindersley's style is instantly recognisable. There is plenty of air on the pages, photographs are often used as cut-outs, the text rarely runs for more than a column without a break for a subhead or a helpful illustration. The sales are the envy of other non-fiction publishers.

The aim of the Encyclopedia of Gardening is clearly stated on the cover: to provide a definitive practical guide to gardening techniques, planning and maintenance, and to growing flowering plants, fruit and vegetables. While the first volume told you how to choose plants for your garden, this one tells you how to look after them and, more importantly, how to create the settings that will show them off to best advantage.

It is, unusually, as comprehensive as the publishers say it is. Complicated techniques are illustrated with step-by-step photographs, far more convincing than the monochrome artwork that usually accompanies such advice.

Just occasionally, you feel that you cannot see the wood for the trees. Comprehensiveness obscures clarity. The index is unnecessarily prolix. I looked up sweet peas, because I happened to be writing about them this week. There were separate headings for 'fragrance' and 'scent', and 18 subheadings with the same page numbers, 178-9. Far simpler to put this in bold against the first entry and let the sub-entries deal only with subsequent references.

In the main block of sweet pea information you will read that seeds should not be soaked before sowing (correct). But in an earlier general section on propagation you are advised to soak seed. And it is misleading to use the stunning double nasturtium 'Hermine Grasshof' in the section on annuals - it can only be propagated by cuttings, not seed.

Reviewers always have their quibbles. Mine in no way eclipse the fact that this volume - edited, as was the last, by Chris Brickell, director general of the RHS - is a stunning achievment.

'RHS Gardener's Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers' and 'Encyclopedia of Gardening', published by Dorling Kindersley at pounds 9.95 each.