Garden life

Scented stocks for winter
Kiran Narain

Stocks are invaluable for beds, for massing in borders or for pots.
Stocks are invaluable for beds, for massing in borders or for pots.

It is time to order winter annual seeds for your garden and before you get them, remember to order two highly fragrant flowers for the stock which will add fragrance to the scene.

Stocks: Matthiola, commonly known as Stocks, are popular garden plants which are widely grown in beds, borders and pots. Although there are more than 50 species of Matthiola, some annual, biennial or perennial, the most popular ones grown as winter annuals in India are the Ten-week-old Stocks.

The Ten-week Stocks are further divided into around seven classes ranging from 12" tall to about 18" tall and early to mid-season and late-flowering varieties.

Cultivation: Seeds are sown in August to September and transplanted to beds or pots in November when they are about two inches tall. They need a sunny position and well-drained soil, enriched with rotted organic matter and since they like alkaline soil, lime in the soil helps them produce a luxuriant growth of flowers. The greatest enemy of Stocks is excessive dampness that promotes fungal diseases like grey mould, downy mildew and damping off. It is wise to destroy seriously infected plants and try to improve drainage.

Stocks are invaluable for beds, for massing in borders or for pots.

Deliciously scented, they make good cut-flowers. They come in colours like copper, crimson, yellow, mauve, pink, white and shades of blue.

Hot tip: Since plants with double flowers do not produce seeds; seeds are saved from the plants bearing single blooms. As such there is a good percentage of singles in every seed packet. However, at the time of transplantation seedlings with thick taproots may be discarded, or grown in the kitchen garden for cutting purposes, as the plants with double flowers start making fibrous roots earlier than singles. Stocks with darker leaves may also turn out to be single.

Sweet peas: A native of Sicily and other Mediterranean areas, Sweet Peas have been grown in Britain since 1699 and were made popular by the British gardeners wherever they went. These can be grown in rows or clumps, in pots and tubs and in the case of dwarf varieties, even in window -boxes.

To produce first-grade Sweet peas, getting seeds of good quality from a reliable source is a must. They come in mixed or single colours of white, pinks, carmine, lavender and purple etc. and are raised annually from seed. Sweet peas thrive in most soils but since they are deep-rooted plants and require rich sub-soil, they make better plants in deep, cool, rich and well-drained soils. Since the roots go far down, soil has to be well dug and well manured.

Trenching and preparation of beds, in which Sweet peas have to grow, is important. Dig a trench 1`BD feet wide and 3 feet deep in a sunny position removing all the soil keeping the upper half to one side and the lower half to the other side of the trench. After exposing the soil to full sun for a couple of weeks, return the top soil, enriched with one-third of its bulk with well-rotted farmyard manure and water it. Let it settle down before returning the lower half, also enriched with manure, to the trench.

Seeds can be soaked overnight before sowing in late August to early October in the plains. Sow in two rows, six inches apart, at three inch intervals. They germinate in 10-20 days. Seedlings are thinned to six inches apart, (making good for casualties in one row from the thinned out one) when about three inches tall.

Young seedlings need to be protected from birds, especially sparrows, at this stage.

Staking, up to a height of 7-10 feet, is very necessary. Make a temporary screen for the Sweet peas by putting a support of canes and wire or netting. Grow them next to a sunny wall or fence as strong winds can play havoc with them. Otherwise, bamboo canes angled towards a central point creating a "wigwam" can be used to train the Sweet peas. Sticks for the main support should be put in position as soon as possible so that the plants grow through and around them.

Sweet peas make excellent cut-flowers and cutting flowers regularly helps in prolific flowering of the plants as seeding slows down the flower production. Flowers and spare tendrils should be cut with a pair of sharp scissors.