Well, it seems that the gardening season is well and truly upon us here in South East England. I know the danger of frost isn’t completely gone, as we can still get the occasional freak cold snap in March, but the mild climate down here makes regular cold spells unlikely. We had such a warm March and April last year that hardening off the seedlings only took a couple of days – and that’s from being grown indoors on a bright windowsill. There were times when I didn’t even bother to harden the seedlings off, it was warm enough to just put them straight outside! I’m not expecting this Spring to be quite as warm as last year, but even without the warm weather, it’s still mild enough to get outside and start doing some work.
Now I’m a great believer in the value of preparation in the garden. The more preparation I can do now, the less remedial work I will need to do later in the season. I’ve already got the plant supports up around some of the perennials in the garden – something which I didn’t get round to doing last year and ended up regretting. I use generic climbing support which comes in a roll. Cut it to size and form it into a cylinder then wire the overlap together to make sure it keeps its shape. Then I just thread bamboo canes through the mesh and into the ground around taller perennials. It saves having to make messy supports later in the season. The plants will grow through the mesh and hide it somewhat so that by the time summer comes around, everything will be fairly tidy and you won’t notice the supports as much. It also has the effect of discouraging cats from digging up newly planted perennials.
As I have mentioned in my previous blog post, I have a large project to be getting on with this year, so I’ll mainly be concentrating on bare maintenance in the rest of the garden. That still leaves quite a lot of maintenance work to do though. A lot of my plants are in containers which means that they’ll need top dressing and feeding this Spring. It’s still a little early for my liking to do this just yet – while things are beginning to emerge, I prefer to leave it until the end of March / beginning of April when things are really beginning to get going. There shouldn’t be too much growth at that time, which makes top dressing easier, and the plants will be starting to return to proper growth and will take advantage of the added nutrition.
Normally I would be getting on with soil improvement around this time of year as well, and I’ll certainly be digging in lots of compost into the top border which I’m renovating, but I’ll do that as I go along. The only other border in the garden is a raised bed next to the wine terrace. I’m not going to do much in the way of soil improvement in that border this year; it was only replanted last Spring / Summer so I’m going to allow it to get established before I start disturbing things. I’ll probably give the roses a slow-release feed this year (I usually dig a shallow “trench” around the plants, scatter some fish blood & bone into it, then lightly work it into the soil before backfilling and tidying), but most of the rest of the plants should be able to cope with the soil which was conditioned when they went in last year.
I’m also cutting down on the seedlings this year. I grew a lot of stuff from seed last year, including some interesting vegetables from Franchi seeds. They have a very interesting range of unusual vegetables and although the packets cost a little more than others, they are very reliable germinators and you get a lot of seeds in the packets, so they’re great for sharing with other gardeners. I’m expecting fairly dry conditions again this year, so I’m not going to grow as much in the way of thirsty vegetables. Even though I have two water butts (both of which are up to the brim at the moment), I know that I will soon be praying for rain! My concession is that I might pick up a couple of soft fruit bushes which can go in the top border and undergo a strict regime of neglect until late summer.
Well, that’s probably more than enough to keep everyone interested in what’s happening in the garden today, so I’d better get off out and start the proper work. There’s lots to do.
With the recent fair weather I’ve had a chance to take stock of the Garden now that Winter is over. I’ve had a few losses, mainly the tender perennials, so I’m not too bothered by those, and it gives me a chance to put something more permanent in the ground.
I suppose I should describe the garden before I go on to writing anything else about it, shouldn’t I? We have a fairly long garden by London standards. I don’t know how long as I’ve never measured it! It’s split into three areas: a courtyard by the front door, a patio at a higher level which catches the sun from late morning until nightfall (also know rather pretentiously and jokingly as “The Wine Terrace”), and then we have the top end of the garden, which has a tarmac drive bordered on one side by a lawn and the other by a long border.
All of the plants in the courtyard garden are in pots. There are no borders at all and the ground is paved, so if we want to get any colour in there, it has to be in pots. We decided to go for a white theme to the flowering plants as it doesn’t get an awful lot of sun and thought that would lighten it up a bit. We get hot, almost scorching midday sun across one side of the small courtyard while the other side gets no direct sunlight at all. This creates quite a challenging area to plant, but one which is quite rewarding as it offers the opportunity to get a good bit of variation into the garden. Having plants in pots also allows a bit more control over what can be planted, and sulking specimens can always be moved if they’re in the wrong place.
The wine terrace has one small raised border and is surrounded with a fence on one side, the landlord’s workshop on another and the other two sides are enclosed with trellis with small retaining walls creating a single L-shaped planter. A selection of climbing roses, Wisterias and summer Jasmine climb up the trellis, but were only planted last year, so they’re really only just getting established now. I have a collection of different Yorkshire Flowerpots and Whichford Pottery planters with a range of different plants in them, including roses, camellias and assorted perennials. The border is a mix of perennials and roses, with a few climbers (mainly Clematis and Trachelospermum jasminoides) pinned against the fence.In the last couple of years I’ve renovated the wine terrace and planted up the courtyard but this year I’m going to be working on the top garden. We had three trees cut down from the top garden last year, which has opened up the light enormously. The border to the left of the drive needs some major renovation, so that’s what I’ll be concentrating on. There will certainly be a lot of tree root to clear away and many of the plants which had been in the border have either died or overgrown their space. The soil will need a lot of improvement, so it’s a good job that I have my three compost bins at the far end to the garden. I’m going to need a lot of organic matter to dig into the border to get the soil back to some sort of quality where it’s able to sustain growth! So, with that description, I’ve probably give you a good idea of what the garden looks like at the moment. When the weather’s a little better, I’ll try to take some pictures of the top garden and post them up. It’s in a bit of a state at the moment, although I have seen much worse in my time. It definitely needs a lot of work to bring it up to scratch.