Moe's Spring Newsletter

“You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” Joni Mitchell

Dear fellow gardeners, 


Whilst reading a regular column in my monthly gardening magazine last week I was reminded by the writer just what an optimistic bunch we gardeners are. How true this is! She (a professional gardener of many years’ standing), reflected upon how she still looks forward to another spring season with the same enthusiasm and optimism as she always has. It seems that nothing can deter her overwhelming desire to get things right in the garden ‘next time around’. As I read on, it was very gratifying to discover that even an experienced gardener can make as many mistakes as I have during the year, to be hopefully rectified in the coming new spring season! There is always something that needs improving upon even in, what one might consider, the most beautiful of spaces. I suppose this gives the majority of amateur gardeners the knowledge that we are all in the same boat, coping with whatever the natural world throws at us, so to speak. Of course, in this coming season we can be optimistic for many more reasons, now that we have begun to find a way to once again, live life to the full after a terrible year of (coping with) isolation, loneliness and stress and COVID19. I have to say that through this time, having a garden has afforded me a little respite. I have been able to go out into my piece of Eden and escape. As the pandemic has taken hold it has been very apparent that we all feel that being in the natural world is extremely   important for our wellbeing. Nature is therapeutic in its power to heal, comfort and exhilarate.


Much has been written recently about the ‘therapy’ we get from the natural world and from gardening in particular. We have become much more aware that a greener environment will enhance our living, decrease the carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere and do much to sustain the wildlife that depends upon it. The initial challenge of making a new garden from a wilderness is therapeutic and exhilarating and to see a transformation from barren land into a green and pleasant one is uplifting and exciting (as I have written about in a previous newsletter). There has been a resurgence of ‘makeover’ gardening programmes. These were obviously recorded before the pandemic so must show that nationally, there has been a much greater interest in the environment and for the improvement of our personal space. The RHS has reported a seventy fold increase in front garden greenery since 2015! (Please don’t ask me how they obtained the information) The creation of many more gardens by the general public craving the ‘therapy’ over the last year is another positive step towards a greater appreciation of and care for the natural world. At the risk of sounding like an advert for a space movie or new chocolate bar - Many more people, it seems ‘FEEL THE NEED’!       Is this the purpose of a garden? There have been many books written on the subject over the years and opinions expressed about the purpose of a garden. Gertrude Jekyll in ‘A Gardener’s testament’ states: “The first purpose of a garden is to be a place of quiet beauty such as will give delight to the eye and repose and refreshment to the mind”

A garden should feed our soul as well as our eyes. That said, the plants we put in our gardens would have significance. We can look forward to how they might be in years to come or back to the occasion when they were chosen and planted. A garden needs to reflect the personality of its owner and to say something about the one who tends and cares for it. It should reflect its past as well as offering a glimpse into its future. The history of a garden can often be sensed when we walk into someone else’s plot: a moss covered stone or plants growing in the cracks between paving tell of a past.   A garden is never ‘finished’ and developing one over many years can be a very rewarding or frustrating experience! It has to develop, and needs love and commitment to improve it so it can BE a garden that is capable of feeding the soul. For me, it is the act of doing and the results of continuing commitment that feeds my soul. So ………as March gets underway, I optimistically start my new season gardening by stocking up with all essential products to see me through the first few weeks of preparation for the year ahead. On my shopping list are soil based composts, multipurpose compost, course grit, gravel, basket liners, manure, wood chip bark, garden netting, copper tape, canes and slow release fertilizer pellets. Now in my mature years I save my back from lifting and moving, by having it all delivered on one day - If the truth be known I would love to have a fairy godmother who would magically supply all these products in situ so that they never ran out!

The soil based compost John Innes No 3 will suit most shrubs, perennials and bulbs growing permanently in the confined conditions of pots.  I usually remove the top 5cms of planting medium and renew it with fresh compost. For growing dahlia tubers prior to planting out I use a mixture of John Innes No 2 and ordinary multipurpose potting compost. Adding the John Innes ensures the mix doesn’t dry out in the temperate conditions of the greenhouse. Greedier feeders like Cannas will need plenty of manure added to a potting mixture. Cannas will not give of their best without good growing conditions. I top the pots off with a 2cms thick layer of slow release fertilizer pellets for good measure. This might sound excessive but all they will need then for the rest of the year is water and plenty of it. I do love their exuberant appearance that gives impact to an arrangement of pots. I purchased a new pink variety Iridiflora (xEhemanii )a couple of years ago which has developed into a really lovely specimen. It will need dividing and repotting this year.                                                                                                           

If you grow succulents as I do, attention needs to be given to them now. All the bubble wrap I blanketed the pots in for winter protection is removed and I check over plants for any insect or frost damage replanting any congested specimens. A sprinkle of slow release fertilizer pellets and a first watering (in late March) of half strength Miracle Grow gets them off to a good start for the year. Topping up the surface of the pots with course grit ensures they look good too. All pots will be put outside when the fear of frost is passed. With a new year comes new ideas for arrangements of pots on the terrace and new plants to purchase to put into them. After months of lockdown I will be looking forward to a few trips out to buy plants but I always search out new varieties first in the catalogues that have been falling on my doormat for the past few months. Summer flowering alliums were top of my list this year to add additional interest, other than Sphaerocephalon (which I have in quantity now) to the planting in the Mediterranean garden. One such is pale lilac- flowered Allium Angulosum which I will plant towards the front of a sunny border. It flowers in July / August which is perfect for me. Other summer flowering Alliums include the open wispy Lenkoranicum, the deep pink dainty chandeliers of  Allium Cernuum, ground hugging but clump forming Senescens ssp. Glaucum and the taller Senescens ‘Lisa Blue’.

Seed sowing will also be a time consuming but very enjoyable task for the next few weeks. I use a mixture of sieved John Innes No 1 and multi-purpose compost for all seeds. Seeds don’t need nutrients to germinate but they do need a compost that doesn’t dry out too rapidly yet has good drainage. I always use sieved compost to achieve a fine textured surface on which to sow. Containers need to be clean but this is never a problem for me because I wash mine in the autumn when I get the greenhouse ready to over-winter tender specimens. As seedlings develop it is important that they are pricked out and re-potted into new compost with more nutrients to keep them healthy and happy. By mid- spring trays of seedlings will be filling up the greenhouse benches.

Out in the garden the usual tasks of tidying up the borders, weeding and mulching gets underway. For the past three years I have used mushroom compost to mulch the borders but some plants do better with manure added to the soil around them i.e. blueberries, blackcurrants, raspberries, blackberries, hostas and roses. Although I have read that hostas like mushroom compost they always seem to perform better for me with added manure instead. I will be having a pond renovated this year as, after twenty years, it has started to leak. Spring is a good time to rectify any problems you might have with a pond and a good time to construct one. I wouldn’t recommend building one from stone or concrete unless you are a master builder, but a butyl lined or preformed pond is perfectly achievable if you want to do it yourself. Here are a few pointers to help if you are considering it:

  • Buy a good book – (The RHS ‘Water Gardening’ by Philip Swindells 1993 is the one I consulted - It is still in print).

  • Always have a clear idea in your mind what your pond will look like – do a drawing to scale if possible. Will it have a boggy area or shallow margin?  Will it be a wildlife pond or a formal one?

  • Choose a level site that is not overhung by trees

  • If you want to keep fish  the pond will need to be at least 45cms deep

  • Give consideration to what do you intend to edge the pond with?

  • Plan for having running water or a fountain. Both will need a pump and a source to power nearby to run it.

  • Prepare for the fact that it will need to be well looked after for many years. How will you ensure the water remains clear?

  • Ponds need plants so ensure you have shelves to accommodate them.                        

Of course, you don’t need a large garden to have water in it. Even the smallest space can accommodate a water feature. It will transform your garden and encourage a whole host of new insects, amphibians and birds to your plot. I have encountered ducks on my pond and once had a visit from a kingfisher. Wonderful!

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It would have been useful for me to have listened to the speakers we had planned for our programme in 2020 to assist in my gardening this year, alleviate some of my mistakes and extend my knowledge. Those that were booked have been offered new dates later this year or in 2022. In 2020 we have been offered the chance of viewing ‘Zoom’ presentations by some of our favourite gardeners. These have been seen as a way of keeping in touch with others, listening to good gardening advice and brushing up on gardening skills. Whilst they have been a bonus for some of us, our committee has chosen to provide you with newsletters in the main. It is hoped that you have enjoyed reading these. ‘Zoom’ meetings will not be a regular feature in future, now that we have light at the end of the tunnel.  I think, coming through the pandemic has alerted us to many issues that I hope will be addressed in future years. The sustaining, development and improvement of our environment for our mental health and wellbeing has begun to be seen as a priority for us all. However, more than anything, it has enabled us to fully realise that we all need human contact and to feel that we belong to a society where we can engage with others. Nothing is a substitute. I have greatly missed being at our gardening club, talking to friends and acquaintances who have a common interest and listening to knowledgeable speakers enthusiastically communicating their love of gardening. For those of you who have similar feelings I hope it will not be too long before the committee can welcome you back to a full programme of events.

Happy gardening until then