Wilde side

Kim Wilde answers your gardening questions.

I want pot plants in my garden, and would like something bright but low-maintenance. Any tips? (We live in London.)
Combine plants of contrasting foliage shape, size and texture, using colour to maximise impact. Plant some large permanent containers with evergreen shrubs suited to pot culture, such as Aucuba japonica ‘Crotonifolia’, which has large, dark green leaves speckled gold, and Hebe x franciscana ‘Variegata’, which has medium-sized, bright yellow and green leaves, and pretty purple flowers. Next, pack a punch with an architectural plant such as Yucca filamentosa ‘Bright Edge’ or Cordyline australis. Summer bedding plants, such as petunias and impatiens (busy Lizzies), can be added to the mix in separate, smaller pots, and will flower from late spring to early autumn.

I have had hyacinth bulbs in jars this winter. How should I treat them now they have finished flowering, so I can enjoy them again next year?
Hyacinths normally flower in late spring, and preparing bulbs for early flowering in December (known as ‘forcing’ them) when they’ve already flowered once is a complex process that would be hard for you to simulate at home. You could try feeding your bulbs with a tomato feed to build up their strength, then planting them out after the frosts. But there is no guarantee that next year’s spring flowering will be worth the wait. The bulbs have been without nutrients and are exhausted, so they might be best discarded. It is probably better to wait until September, when new ‘prepared’ bulbs are available again.

We have bought a house with a 50ft garden that was concreted over by the last owner. We plan to create a garden again. Presumably, we need a lot of good soil, and to do serious feeding before we can do anything.
There will probably be a layer of hard core and sand under the concrete. Before you cart the lot away, assess the condition of the soil underneath, as some of this rubble could be recycled to improve drainage. Dig a pit about 60cm into the soil to determine how much topsoil you have (this is the most fertile part of the soil, and will be darker due to the presence of organic matter and humus). Avoid disturbing the subsoil, which will be lighter in colour. If you find there is no topsoil, you will need to buy some, but hopefully that won’t be the case and you can go about improving the soil with organic matter. This will provide nutrients and improve drainage. Investing in your soil now will save you money and disappointment later.