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Moe's Spring Newsletter

“Spring work is going to be joyful enthusiasm” John Muir 1838 -1914

 

As I take a well-earned break from cutting down the last of the tall grasses in the borders, I sit and ponder (with joyful enthusiasm) about what other essential tasks I will be getting to grips with this spring in order to get the garden looking its best once more. New fences, trellis and paths are to be erected or constructed in the next few weeks. Some tasks are part of the general maintenance that needs to be undertaken in the garden from time to time. Others are necessary tasks resulting from negligence on the part of my neighbour who is constructing an extension to his property. I won’t go into details suffice to say that disputes with one’s neighbours are not something that I would recommend! However, I have learnt to be patient, and am once again, looking forward to seeing the lovely clematis Clematis texensis ‘Gravetye Beauty’ cover what will be one of a number of new trellis panels that will have been erected in the Mediterranean garden by the middle of March. It is always good to retain the ‘joyful enthusiasm’ for changes in the garden!! Change is not always easily embraced as we get older but it is often necessary and definitely worth it in the end. The removal of all the unproductive climbing rose (Rosa ‘Wedding day’) from the pear tree is another major task that had to be done during the winter months. It was extremely difficult to undertake because the tree is high and the rose was thorny. Having completed the task in several stages the result has meant light levels are now much higher and are going to make a huge difference to the borders on the Gravel Walk. There is more planting to do here and I am hugely excited to see the results. Included in the mix are a few annuals to spice things up a bit: Crespedia globosa, Nicotiana ‘Lime Green, Ammi visnage ‘Green Mist’ and Anethum graveolens ‘Hedger’. As the name suggests, the (golden yellow) flowers of Crespedia are small and globe shaped. They make wonderful cut flowers but their quirkiness will add some sparkle to the front of the borders as will Anethum graveolens ‘Hedger’. This is a very uniform variety of dill that makes neat hedges of fragrant umbels of yellow flowers 60cm high. Ridolfia segetum looks a lot like dill but is bigger with more acid yellow flowers that look like exploding fireworks. It looks terrific in the border and, incidentally in a vase where it will last a long time.   Nicotiana ‘Lime Green’ needs no explanation except that it will be replacing the white Nicotiana ‘Starlight Dancer’ that I used last year and will associate rather nicely with Tanecetum parthenium that I like to grow here. All Nicotiana varieties are lovely. They are easily grown from seed which are tiny and need warmth and light to achieve good germination. The best way to do this is to mix the seeds with silver sand and sprinkle them on top of moist compost. Wait until the weather starts to warm up towards the end of April and good results will be achieved. Nicotiana sylvestris is the most widely known and is the only one that is scented. Nicotiana alata ‘Tinkerbell’ has flowers that range from terracotta to crimson in colour with a green petal reverse. It is quite charming and grows happily in sun or shade. Nicotiana ’Roulette’ is multi coloured shades of pink.

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Crespedia globosa

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Anethum graveolens ‘Hedger’

I want to make changes to the Pond garden too. Creating new eye - catching colour combinations using one or two annuals is what makes gardening interesting. One ‘interesting’ annual I will be using is Amaranthus caudatus ‘Fat Spike’. It has been many years since this has been offered for sale but I am delighted to see it back. It is very noticeable! I take some of the leaves off when it is in its mature state and intersperse the plants in the border. They look great with Verbena bonariensis but would provide a strong contrast with more Nicotiana ‘Lime green’ here or the bright pink Achillea millefolium ‘Cerise Queen’ I have. I’m sure it would look good with anything of a frothy nature such as Stipa tenuissima, Gypsophila paniculata ‘Bristol Fairy’, Gaura lindheimeri ‘Whirling Butterflies’ or ‘Siskiyou Pink’ , Thalictrum ‘Hewitt’s Double’,  or Artemisia lactiflora  Guizhou group. In the past I have used it with Sanguisorba officinalis and Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ to great effect. ‘Amaranthus ‘Marvel Bronze’ is another handsome annual I’ll be using to provide a strong contrast to silver leaved plants, variegated grasses or white summer flowering shrubs.

Amaranthus caudatus ‘Fat Spike’

Amaranthus ‘Marvel Bronze

Although the seeds of Amaranthus need similar treatment to Nicotiana, they are larger so there is the option of sowing them in modules. I cover them VERY sparingly because they must have light to germinate. After pricking out I remember they are tender plants and only plant out when the weather really warms up. If you want to grow it and have too many plants you could also eat it as a cooked vegetable! There are so many annuals from which to choose. They are good value for money if you have a border full of new plants and are waiting for them to fill out or you simply want to add more colour at your existing plot. I hope you will have picked up one or two new ones at the seed swap in February. In the Kitchen Garden that will have been manured ready for the forthcoming season by mid – March, I grow Calendula officinalis ‘Indian Prince’ and Ageratum houstonianum ’ Blue Horizon’ to attract the pollinators and provide companion plants for the fruit and vegetables.  The Ageratum is sown under cover (you need to hold your breath when you sow the seeds because it looks like dust!) and is planted out in late spring. It stands 40cms tall and looks splendid with the golden oregano that edges each vegetable bed. It will keep flowering until the first frosts. I should like to have the California poppy Eschcholzia californica in the kitchen garden because I love all the colours available; ‘Rosebud orange’ is bright and cheerful, ‘Butter Bush’ is yellow as its name suggests and ’Peach Sorbet’ is a divine pale apricot! However it doesn’t seem to like my soil and hasn’t done well for me in the past. Nigella, better known as ‘love in the mist’ is another annual I like a lot but is not easy to grow in my acid soil. I will try it in pots. I used to grow Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ a lot when I first started gardening on my sandy loam. Looking quite exotic, with its’ glaucous foliage and droplets of dark purple flowers, this sun loving honeywort is a tough character that flowers its socks off for months in dry soil. No use to me now!

Cerinthe major purpurascens                                     

Nicotiana ‘Lime Green

Tips for seed sowing

  • Use fresh seed compost (preferably sifted) in clean seed trays

  • Ensure compost is moist by watering and draining the compost before sowing

  • Read seed packet instructions for methods and germination times

  • LABEL  your seeds adding the date sown

  • Start sowing under cover in March – many annuals need cool conditions to germinate

  • Wait until plants develop strong roots before thinning out and potting on

  • Sow biennials from May to July so plants reach a good size before planting out in September

  • Young plants should be ‘hardened off’ before planting out

  • Some annuals e.g. poppies don’t like being transplanted so are best sown directly into the soil when it is warm enough

 

Of course all my seed sowing will have to wait for a few weeks until the greenhouse is tidied. Spring is a very busy time of the year so thankfully when the clocks go forward on the 31st March that will give us all an extra hour of daylight to get to grips with the ‘sorting out’! Other tasks to be getting on with include:

  March -

  • Remove all wrapping and fleece from pots outside

  • Start begonia tubers in moist compost – check them for vine weevil grubs

  • Clear, clean, paint or make repairs to the greenhouse. Clean pots and containers if not completed during winter

  • Assess winter damage to tender plants

  • Complete all seed ordering and start sowing.

  • Top up pots of Agapanthus and Eucomis with John Innis No 3

  • Finish manuring beds and borders, weeding first. Turn the compost

  • Take the nets off ponds and start feeding fish

  • Plant sweet peas and early potatoes

  • Mow the lawn

  • Start planting perennials and shrubs and ensure all plants in the borders are staked

  • Order pelargoniums to grow on

  • Sow parsnips – they need a long growing period

 

April -

  • Plant lilies in pots using a soil based compost with added grit and fertilizer pellets.

  • Continue planting perennials. Repot those that had been growing on over winter

  • De- sludge the pond with a Pondovac!

  • Start Dahlias off in pots in the greenhouse

  • Continue seed sowing and pricking out

  • Plant up hanging baskets and grow on

  • Put structures up in the Kitchen garden for climbing beans

 

May -

  • Bring succulents and tender perennials out into the garden after the risk of frost is gone

  • Give plants the Chelsea chop to stop them flopping over later in the year.

  • Annuals can be potted up, hardened off and put out in the garden

  • Pressure wash paths

  • Plant out Dahlias in late May

  • Plant carrots now to avoid carrot root fly

 

At our society meetings there will be lots to inspire as the new season gets underway. You can find out what spring (and the rest of the gardening year) is like for Carl Brabin when he gives his talk ‘The Growing Year’ on March 19th. Take a little respite from work on April 16th and listen to the knowledgeable David Metcalfe talking about ‘Growing vegetables my way’. To complete our spring programme, on May 21st Ian Lowe will be imparting information about Alstromeria and grasses. All food for thought! Our annual plant sale will be taking place on May 11th so as you work in the garden during spring, save a few plants to donate to the sale. 2024 is the society’s 140th Anniversary so in addition to the usual society meetings we will be planning something a little different this year to celebrate. The first of our garden visits takes place on Thursday (evening) May 23rd to the Cordell Garden. This sheltered one acre garden in Mawdesley, Lancashire contains many rare trees and shrubs and has been given 50 years of love and care by its’ owners Peter and Edith Cordell. Tickets will be on sale at our meetings. We will keep you posted about all other events!

Yesterday saw the return of one of the young foxes to the garden after a period of three or four weeks. He/she sits and watches me work or follows me around the garden quite happily. There were initially two cubs and the vixen. My neighbour complains about the damage they did last year and I have to admit I wasn’t happy about seeing the new wiring for my water feature in the pond chewed up and cut to shreds by the playful cubs. It will have to be rewired which is annoying to say the least but I can’t seem to get worked up about wanting him/her gone and wonder what has happened to the other two! It is so very tough for foxes and other wild creatures these days. Habitats have been reduced so there is less in the way of green space for them to find food. Of course, it is inevitable they will continue to come into the garden if there is a food source. I tolerate them because I am reminded that I share my planet with other creatures. However, if you feel otherwise and wish to deter them, net your fruit and vegetables and also cover ponds with netting. A mixture of chilli pepper and garlic salt sprinkled around the garden should put them off. They don’t like that at all!!

Happy gardening

Moe

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