Why not do some gardening during this time

Mon 20 Apr 2020

Now with more time at home and some fine spring weather is a great time to enjoy your garden. Here are some ideas...

Hardy Annuals

Between now and may is a good time to sown hardy annuals. They are very useful for filling in gaps in beds and borders, or can be used to fill a whole bed or border on their own, and are a very cost effective way of providing some summer colour. Although called hardy annuals they are generally, unlike hardy perennials not plants which will be thoroughly hardy and last several years, but are directly sown in to the ground where they grow and provide fairly instant colour throughout the summer. They can be sown in broad irregular groups to provide a patchwork quilt effect , however it  is important to ensure that you consider the different heights of each kind of Hardy Annual so the short ones don’t get hidden behind their taller neighbours.

Before starting to sow the seed you need to thoroughly prepare a seed bed, this involves forking over an area of soil really well. If the soil is poor and you have a compost heap, you can incorporate some garden compost. Once you have forked the soil and broken up and large clumps, you then lightly walk over the area of soil concerned once, placing your feet together after each step, to lightly firm the area of soil. Once you have done this you rake over the area concerned which should produce a fine tilth, suitable for sowing seeds.  

Those with large seeds, such as Nasturtiums, can be sown singly up to a foot apart, as this will avoid the need for thinning later on. The fine seeded ones such as Clarkia or Godetia, should be sown by broadcasting the seed as thinly as you can and very lightly raking it in, as these smaller seed barley need covering. One of the most common mistakes when sowing seed is to bury it too deep.

Popular hardy annuals include the Calendula or Pot Marigold, which produces stunning orange flowers throughout the summer, Centaurea or Cornflower, which comes in a range of colours from bright blue to the almost black variety, Black Ball. Other include Nigella or Love- in-a- Mist, with Blue, white or purple flowers or annual Chrysanthemum, with yellow, white or red, often attractively marked daisy type flowers.

Propagation of Perennials

Hardy Perennials are one of the main stays of any garden, lasting through the winters and coming back year after year, providing an amazing array of foliage and flower colour, the display of which probably reaches its peak in the period from mid- May until the end of June. There are many excellent types which flower outside of this period and can provide colour from the earliest moments of spring until the first frosts of winter. 

Two very traditional favourites are Lupins and Delphiniums and both can be easily propagated in early spring. As the new shoots emerge from the dormant clump, wearing some thick gloves, you take a sharp knife and remove one or two of the new side shoots, if possible below ground level. They may well already have some roots at the base of them, and should be inserted around the edge of a clay or plastic pot in some compost, preferably mixed with sharp sand and watering in well. They need to be places in a shady spot and the foliage kept moist. This is most easily done by placing a plastic bag or some horticultural fleece (if you have any) over the pot to provide a moist micro climate which prevents the cuttings from wilting too much prior to the roots becoming established.

Delphiniums are one of the most spectacular and majestic of garden plants, producing tall spires of stunning flowers in many different shades of blue, as well as white, purple or pink. They do take some time to become established and are usually at their best in the second or third year after planting, once the clump has become established. They are plants which appreciate some general fertiliser and good soil preparation with the application of plenty of compost or manure before plating also helps the clump to develop quickly. Slugs and snails can be particular problems when the young shoots first start to develop in early spring. There are many prevention measures, but amongst the most effective is placing copper rings around the young crown. The copper gives off a small electric charge and as a result the slugs don’t cross it. Other alternatives are to place some sharp gravel around the plants, or sheep’s wool which I have found effective. Once established the Delphiniums will provide a superb display for many years.