In March there was still a lot of bare earth to be seen but now it suddenly feels as though plants are doubling in size overnight! It’s all going on and every time I get out there, I am amazed at all the new growth.
Even though I thought I had done most of the cutting back, I am still finding stragglers and perennials to cut back now that new growth is pushing through. It’s amazing how much tidier everything looks when all the old debris is cleared away – safe in the knowledge that if there has been some left over during the winter months, the wildlife will have benefitted.
Whilst the new growth is still fairly small, it is a great time to get ahead with staking. There is nothing worse than a flopping delphinium or peony! So stake your plants now before they are too big and start to flop. Things like delphiniums, geraniums and peonies will all benefit from using beautiful natural products such as hazel rods, birch brash or chestnut as stakes.
One of the main reasons I love is April is that now is the month we can plant out our sweet peas. Some do it in March, some in May but mid April works best in this garden. This year I am trialing a sweet pea aisle made of chestnut posts and jute netting which I hope will stand the weight of the sweet pea plants when fully grown! I prepared the ground a couple of weeks ago, adding lots of organic matter. I dig a trench first and fill with more peat-free compost or well rotted farmyard manure. I then cover over with a layer of normal soil so as not to burn the roots with too much richness, water the trench, lay the plants in (two to a jute string). I then mulch with my own compost to retain moisture in the soil over the next few months. They will benefit from a seaweed or comfrey feed every week – I usually commit to Feed Friday and lots of water. Word of warning – comfrey feed stinks! I have just bought a few roots off Ebay and plan to make my own feed this summer! But you need to brew it in a corner somewhere where you can’t smell it! It is however a plant’s gin and tonic so definitely worth laying your hands on some if you can.
Just as the plants are springing back into action, so do the weeds! I try to do a big purge on them at the beginning of the season to minimise the workload later on but it is a never-ending battle if I’m honest. Not to mention my ground elder bed which is my nemesis. But I hate the thought of using any chemicals so digging/pulling/yanking those weeds out by hand at this time of year is a necessary commitment!
It’s always a good idea to give your roses, clematis and shrubs a feed at the start of the growing season – I use Uncle Tom’s Rose Tonic for my roses which I really recommend! And I generally use blood fish and bone for my shrubs and clematis.
You will notice the grass is growing! My husband is itching to get the lawnmower out and we have given it its first cut – but this year, we are going to try and leave a large section of our lawn unmown so that we can attract more pollinators and wildlife to the garden who love the nectar rich wild flowers such as dandelions, white clover and selfheal. I may well mow paths through the grass but generally I am going to let it grow tall and see how we get on. A tidy garden isn’t always the best for wildlife so I am really going to try to let it go a bit!
Veg/Cut Flower Garden
Continue to prepare the beds, adding well rotted manure for worms to take down/ blood fish and bone – it is definitely too cold still to sow most seeds directly – apparently the bare bottom on soil method is best to check when it is ok to sow directly (!) – not sure the neighbours would be too thrilled if I went by that rule! But once this cold snap is over, I will be planting out beetroot, peas and getting my chatted potatoes into large tubs.
The rhubarb is looking amazing – make a compote with star anise and pour over ice cream – it is delicious!
My tomato plants have been growing well and now is the time to pot them on into their own individual pots.
If you can bare it, do leave your daffodils (or indeed any bulb) to die back naturally. Pinch the flower head of the daffs off once they have gone over but leave the leaves as they need to carry on photosynthesising to feed the bulb for next year’s display. If you really can’t stand them in the garden, dig up the whole bulb, and leave in a pot somewhere to die back ready for planting up again in the Autumn. Indoor bulbs like hyacinths/narcissi can all be planted outside and will come back in the garden next year.
Now is also a great time to plant summer flowering bulbs such as Lilies and Acidanthera either in pots or the ground with lots of grit.
The tulips are out and it is such a joy to see all the new varieties I have planted this month. It sounds crazy but if there are any you see that you particularly like, make a note now so that you can put your order in early in the Autumn!
I love pot gardening and the display at Great Dixter has to be one of the most amazing I have ever seen. It is really possible to create a mood, a jungle if you like of plants that compliment each other – just like you would in a border. But the advantage is you can adapt this to even the tiniest of spaces and lift the plants up to meet you! And you can move them around, changing the stage as it were, as many times as you like.
Now is a good time to revive your pots of plants – if they have been in the same compost for over two years, remove the plant and take out all of the old compost, replant and revive with fresh juicy compost and water in checking for any pests along the way. More recently planted pots can have the top layer of compost scraped off so that you can top dress with new compost. I then lightly dig in some chicken manure or comfrey pellets for extra sustenance. If I am making a new pot display, drainage is key as any plant that is waterlogged in a pot will struggle. This year I am reviving my pots of agapanthus as they are very pot bound. They like to be restricted but need a bit of a rejig to stay healthy.
If you have been growing, start to prick out your trays of seedlings as soon as they have true leaves to give them more light. Be sure to harden off any plants by taking them outside in the day and bringing in at night for a couple of weeks before planting out.
I am an avid sower at any time of the year (!) but this is the time to focus on sowing half hardy annuals which will be planted out slightly later in the year and the bulk of your veg. This month I am sowing more Cosmos, Nicotiana, Helianthus and cucumbers and courgettes.
This is a good month to prune your Group 3 clematis – those clematis that flower later in the Summer – if it flowers after June, hard prune! You can cut right down to the ground to encourage new growth