Off Duty: Plant a wild paradise of your own

Orchids in the Welsh sand dunes inspired Dr Jonathan Holliday to create a natural look for his own garden.

The garden show season is now in full swing. Whether you have been in person or seen them on the TV, I hope that you will have found inspiration for your own garden. As I write this, I am looking forward to visiting the Chelsea flower show and seeing the Supreme Sultan iris. It has dark burgundy lower petals and bright, light-yellow uppers, and apparently features in a number of gardens there.

I have long been a fan of the iris, not so much the tall, showy flag iris, with big flowers in strong colours, but the smaller bearded iris.

Its flowers are smaller, with several on each stem. Easily grown, the bearded iris willingly comes up year after year, and although it prefers a sunny spot in a herbaceous border, it will tolerate partial shade; most of mine grow under an old ash tree.

A rumour is circulating that there will be some emphasis on natural looks at Chelsea. I don't suppose that this is my natural look of neglect. Perhaps it refers to a more natural planting style with more natural plants. On this theme, I was thrilled this spring to see a really strong showing of native orchid growing wild among the sand dunes of the Gower peninsular in South Wales. These Marsh orchids were a deep purple, measuring 15-23cm in height. Perhaps less rare than you might think, they always seem so exotic in British soil.

More accessible for our own gardens are the special packs of grass seed, with added wild flower seed, for easy-to-achieve spring meadow look, I am giving it a go in my outer garden this year.

With hosepipe bans and restrictions on water use, we all need to conserve water where we can and use what we have wisely. Hardly surprising then that the water butt has enjoyed huge sales success this year. The ultimate water butt is no water butt at all but a lead cistern. Popular from the 17th century, these containers give real class and style. But you definitely need to have the right sort of home. The Bulbeck Foundry in Cambridgeshire manufactures the most magnificent examples, but of course not cheaply.

For most of us the most appropriate material is plastic. Garden Direct has put together a really excellent range this year, with child safety lids and other accessories. If you have plastic down pipes, linking in with the rain trap could not be easier. Then no complicated redirection of down pipes is necessary.

Garden Direct also stocks excellent fertilisers, trace elements, compost and aggregates. I use Perlite to add aeration and drainage to compost for growing seeds. It is a heat-treated natural mineral that lightens the loam.

In the vegetable garden it is worth continuing to sow salad vegetables in small amounts on a bi-weekly basis. That way you will have succulent sweet prime young salad leaves coming to the dining table through the summer. Looking ahead, it is time to sow radicchio. Purple and slightly bitter, it enlivens any winter salad.

If, like me, you have ended up growing far too many tomato plants to fit in the greenhouse (well, there are 120 seeds per packet), plant some outside. You should reap a pretty good crop, with some green ones left at the end of the season just right for making chutney.

When you have mown the lawn and dead-headed the roses, pull the cork on a nice chilled bottle of Torrontes and enjoy the view. We are booked to visit Argentina this summer so I have some research to do.

- Dr Holliday is a GP in Windsor, Berkshire

THIS MONTH'S TASKS

- Invest in a water butt.

- Sow salad vegetables bi-weekly for summer consumption.

- Sow radicchio for winter.

- Plant excess tomatoes outside.

www.gardendirect.co.uk

www.bulbeckfoundry.co.uk.

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