It’s January and our Gardening Year begins again.
Here in the darkest winter days there’s a fresh enthusiasm and plans to be made for the garden in this whole new Gardening Year.
Venture to the Garden Centre and you will see some of the delights that could be colourful and exciting in your garden even in the middle of winter.
Tomatoes, Aubergines, Chillies, Sweet Peppers, Cucumbers and Melons are a few from countries around the Mediterranean but with a little added protection can be grown here in UK gardens.
The glorious Flowering Cherries have been a staple of the British landscape in April for hundreds of years. Most of these however originated in China and Japan where they are a central motif to the worship of nature and the Spring. They are now bred around the world for their elegant shape and exquisite flowers which range from brilliant white to the deepest pink. Cherries belong to the large genus known as Prunus which also includes Plums, Almonds, Apricots, Peaches and evergreen plants such as the Common Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) and the Portugal Laurel (Prunus Lusitanica) both of which make superb hedges.
Although synonymous with April flowering Cherries can start to bloom as early as November with the species P. Subhirtella Autumnalis. This has either white or pink flowers, makes a medium sized tree and will continue flowering on bare stems during mild winters until March.
The April flowering cultivars start with the smaller varieties like Prunus Incisa 'Ko No Mai' which can be grown as a 1.5 metre bush or grafted onto a stem to make a very nice half standard lollypop tree with pale pink flowers.
More upright forms include the Flagpole Cherry or Prunus 'Amanagawa'. It has light pink, fragrant flowers and is a very useful tree for a small garden. 'Royal Burgundy' is a fairly new variety with a goblet-shaped canopy. It reaches 4m tall by 3m in width and has rose-pink double blooms followed by contrasting burgundy leaves that turn a spectacular scarlet in the autumn. Also look out for 'Snow Goose' which has pure white flowers and unusually long tassel-like stamens.
There are also weeping cherries such as the old favourite Cheals Weeping Cherry, Prunus Kiku-Shidare-Sakura (please don't ask me for a translation) with its double candy pink flowers and an eventual height and width of 4m. It looks great underplanted with Bulbs, Tulips, Violas, Hellebores and Snowdrops. Smaller cultivars like P. Subhirtella 'Pendula Rubra" has attractive arching branches and single pink flowers with a rosy flush to the base of the petals. One of the most graceful weeping varieties is P. 'Snow Showers' which is covered in many white flowers in April and is about 3m in height. There are really too many of these beautiful Cherries to mention but just a few are Prunus Serula (the Tibetan Cherry) with its extraordinary polished mahogany bark and dainty pinky white flowers and P. 'Amber Beauty' which has elegantly peeling amber bark.
When planting Cherries in a border or grass area, remove the turf, dig a hole about 45cm square to a depth of 45cm and add garden compost at the bottom. Then remove the pot from your tree and place the root ball with the roots gently teased out in the hole so that it's top sits at the same level of ground surrounding the hole. Do not bury the stem as this can cause stem rot which destroys the bark and results in the death of the tree. Back fill into the hole around the root ball with the excavated soil adding more compost and firm in well with the soles of your shoes. Water using about 6 litres of water and check if more water is needed every 5 days. Mulch around the tree with rotted farmyard manure, bark or soil improver compost. This will help prevent the soil drying at the roots as the weather warms as well as preventing the growth of competitive weeds. Finally, stake the tree for its first few years to prevent wind rock which can damage the roots. A wooden tree stake 5cm in diameter and 180cm tall accompanied with a strong rubber tree tie is perfect. If rabbits are a problem in your area also put a guard around the stem.
So which one is my favourite? Definitely Prunus 'Chocolate Ice'. It has chocolate coloured leaves and single white flowers which glisten against the dark foliage. Absolutely stunning! Whichever is your own favourite this spectacular period of spring colour can be enjoyed year after year and if you're lucky enough to actually visit Japan be sure that you see these wondrous trees in their natural environment.
It's always a pleasure to welcome the month of March to the garden. In March spring is evident everywhere from carpets of golden Daffodils, to Primroses, Crocus, Forsythia and Magnolias in full bloom to name but a few. The temperature is rising, the birds are building nests and the 'hum' of neighbouring lawnmowers can be heard. It’s our alarm call to get back outside and tend our patches once more.
The Wild Primrose (Primula vulgaris) is such a great sight in spring and looks even better planted with Spring Bulbs, Euphorbias, Pulmonarias and Ferns. Everyone has, I am sure, a cool, shaded area under a tree or walled corner where the primula species will grow well. Whether it is Cowslips, Oxlips or other perennial Primulas they really do tell us its Spring. Hundreds of primula varieties are now bred for colour and some of the polyanthus have great scent too. Primula 'Everlast' is perennial and will flower year after year from September to May. They're great plants for bees too and especially bumblebees in my garden.
Helping bees and other insect pollinators is vital for mankind. If we lose the insects, we lose many of the birds, mammals, the food we grow and much more. So, lets help them and sow annual and perennial flowers and also wildflowers. These days there are many different pre-made mixes available to buy so you're sure to find one suitable for anywhere from containers to borders and sun to shade. For wildflowers the soil doesn't have to be good either. Just free of weeds and with an open structure. Sow them in rows 30 cm (12 inches) apart so that any weeds that come up can be identified and pulled out. Broadcasting them is more suitable in lawns and larger areas. Wildflowers can also be sown in cell trays. Just place a pinch of seed into good quality potting compost, leave in a cool area and they should germinate within one to two weeks. When they get to 4 to 5 cm in height plant these clumps of seedlings 25 cm apart in well prepared soil and you won't need to worry about the competition from weeds. They should require little care except watering in dry spells. You can then expect a carpet of flowers from mid-June to October.
If you prefer a neat and manicured lawn March is a great time to give it a spring makeover. Wet, cold and shady conditions encourage moss and if left it can soon overrun normal grass. A weed, feed and moss kill granular fertiliser applied to your lawn now will, as suggested, stop the moss, encourage new growth and kill the weeds. Another option is iron sulphate which can be diluted in a watering can 3 ounces to every 9 litres. It will kill the moss but not the grass. Also, raking out old thatch from between the new grass shoots improves growth and spiking the ground with a garden fork or similar will help drainage in waterlogged areas. The full preparation of a new grass area is best done over 3 to 4 weeks by first digging over the soil and then allowing it to break down. Pull out any weeds that emerge before finally compacting the area by treading with your boots and raking level to a crumbly 'tilth'. Towards the end of March depending on the air temperature the ground should be warm enough to germinate grass seed. Laying turf is more immediately but a lot more expensive.
On the veg patch prepare the soil to a fine tilth before sowing seeds of hardier veg like Beetroot, Broad Beans, Peas, Parsnips and Carrots. Garlic, Onion sets and Broad Beans started earlier in peat modules will need to be planted now and spaced depending on the types and varieties used. More space generally yields bigger crops and this is especially true for Broad Beans. They like a good 25 cm (9 inches) between plants and 30 cm (12 inches) between rows which will allow enough room for the flowers to set well. Indoors it's a good time to sow all Brassica, Cauliflower, Cabbage and Brussels Sprouts. Sprinkle them thinly into a 10 cm pot covered with a thin layer of vermiculite and keep them at a temperature of 8 to 10 °C until they've germinated; usually around 5 to 10 days. Then when they're just large enough to handle transfer the seedlings individually to 9 cm pots seed trays with 15 cells to grow on. You can plant them on the patch when the roots show all around the sides of the pot which is usually early April. Also try sowing new batches successionally every few weeks. This will help lengthen the harvesting period.
... and for a final bit of spring promise don’t forget that it's St David’s Day on March the 1st, Mothering Sunday on the 19th and the Spring Equinox on the 20th.