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Don’t panic – just be ready with a list
There is so much to do at this time of year that it is best to have a list and stick to it, advises GINA PARKINSON.
THERE is such a lot to do at this time of year and it is easy to spend every spare minute in the garden.
Eyes roll at our house as I don my gardening coat and shoes and head outside as soon as the indoor chores are finished, or even before they are done, such is the pull of the outside once the sun comes out.
The list may be long and it is easy to panic, and end up doing nothing, so I have learnt to be boringly methodical, deciding which job is to be done and completing it without being distracted.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But it is has taken me years to accept that this is how I need to operate.
The reward is something crossed off the list and the evidence in front of you at the end of the day. The only trouble is that list: as soon as one task is complete another two seem to appear.
Last weekend I got the seeds started, tender plants indoors and hardy annuals outside on a sunny doorstep. Hardy annuals can be sown direct into their flowering positions, but I have never found this to be successful. Instead, I sow them in seed compost-filled trays, cover with vermiculite and pop them outside in a sheltered spot where they can be watched and watered when necessary.
Calendula, nigella, larkspur, nasturtiums and cerinthe wait to spring into life and it shouldn’t be long before the first tiny shoots appear.
I have taken a risk this year with all my seeds and tried to resist buying anything new.
There are so many seeds packets about the house, some quite old, so I decided to use them up. Some date beck four or five years, so it will be interesting to see how good the germination rate is.
By sowing them this early, I will have chance to top up any unviable stock with fresh seed in April and still get a good show of summer flowers.
Indoors, sweetpeas, orlaya, dahlia and achillea have joined the chitting potatoes. Once they germinate the flower seedlings will need to be grown on and kept indoors for a while – by May, gardeners homes will be full of pots and trays of flower and vegetable seedlings waiting for the frost to leave so they move outside.
Sweetpeas are fantastic to grow as cut flowers and best grown where they can be easily picked, so now is a good time to get their flowering position sorted out.
They need good support: wires fastened vertically and horizontally to a sunny wall or fence to form a mesh is ideal, as this gives the tendrils plenty to cling on to as they haul the stems upwards.
Last year, I sank two thick wooden posts into the soil and fastened a third post horizontally across the top to keep them firm. Tall twiggy stems were then pushed into the soil between the posts, filling the space with a mass of branches.
The sweet pea plants were planted on either side of the stems in late May and provided us with bunches of flowers for weeks in the summer.
In the vegetable garden
AFTER writing last week that I was resisting the temptation to start off seeds in the vegetable garden, I’m afraid I gave in and got a few peas and broad beans in.
It was the fault of a friend who pointed out that broad beans can technically survive the winter in the ground.
Mine all died or were eaten by mice last year, so he had put in peas and broad beans for an early crop. I have followed suit so we will have to see what happens but they are already up against it – we had a heavy frost here on Sunday night.
March is the best time to cut back coloured stemmed dogwoods. These shrubs are grown for their bright winter colour, which is always best on new wood.
To encourage plenty of new growth, all the stems need to be cut hard back this month. This seems brutal, but spring bulbs and emerging herbaceous perennials will be a distraction, and by the time the summer ends the shrub will have grown back to its usual mass of attractive upright stems.
Dogwoods can be cut back to a pair of buds from ground level to about 60cm high depending on how large the shrub is required to be.
The cut stems can be used for an Easter tree, small painted eggs look lovely dangling from the red stems, then recycled as plant supports out in the garden when the holiday is over.
Thursday, March 29
In aid of the National Gardens Scheme
Hotham Hall, Hotham, YO43 4UA, 15 miles west of Hull, near North Cave. Mature parkland setting with established gardens, a Victorian pond, mixed borders, spring flowering bulbs, children’s play area, garden games and an island arboretum reached by a bridge over the lake. Open 11am to 2.30pm, admission adult £5, children over three £2.50 (tickets include refreshments).
Gardening TV and radio
8am, BBC Radio Humberside, The Great Outdoors. With Blair Jacobs and Doug Stewart.
9am, BBC Radio Leeds, Tim Crowther and Joe Maiden.
2pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. Eric Robson chairs the horticultural discussion which comes from Muckhart in Clackmannshire. The programme also includes a guide to sowing and planting.
3pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. The team help members of Crookham Gardeners’ Club in Northumberland. Chairman Eric Robson keeps order.
8.30pm, BBC2, Gardeners’ World. Monty Don shows how to takes cuttings from new spring growth, Carol Klein looks for wild primroses in Ireland and Joe Swift has a few ideas for enhancing the look of any garden.