Spring has sprung! And with the current Coronavirus we may have a little more time on our hands than usual – so stay sane, stay safe – it’s time to get this gardening show on the road, says Jane Moore
If you’re anything like me you’ll have spent the winter bumbling along, pottering pleasantly in the garden on nice days and thinking “I’ll get around to that in the spring when the weather and soil is warmer and the plants and I are feeling a bit more lively.” Well there is no escaping that the moment has now come.
Bustling bird activity, the longer days and a certain unmistakeable vitality scent the air. Only the unwise would sit back on their laurels at this juncture, especially as their laurels are probably shooting away with new growth beneath their very butts. Heed my words, I warn you. I once took a fabulous holiday in April – spring flowers in Greece – absolutely lovely and wonderful temperatures. But oh I paid for my holiday. I have learned the hard way that if you let April slip though your fingers, you’ll be playing catch up through May and June.
Get on top of weeding
These little blighters spring into action before anything else, trying to get a grip on your borders before the real plants can. Be vigilant and be brutal. I think little and often is sometimes the best way. So rather than blitzing through the garden and then forgetting it for a couple of weeks, a post-work foray for half an hour or so keeps them at bay. This theory also works for slugs and snails.
Get your borders in order
Whatever it takes, a good cut back of herbaceous stems left for winter interest, a short-back-and-sides haircut for the grasses and some raking of leaf debris all spruces the garden up and gets it in good shape. A little pruning is timely too, especially for the winter stem dogwoods and the roses if you haven’t done them already. Follow up with a nice mulch of garden compost and perhaps a little fertiliser and before you know it your borders are good to go.
Lift and divide
Now is the time to do the last plant moving and dividing. Don’t leave it any longer or the plants will be too big and bushy and you’ll spend all summer watering them like a lunatic. It’s the perfect time to split herbaceous plants such as asters, crocosmia and Iris sibirica which always end up in huge forest-like clumps dominating an entire bed. Set to with a spade – I don’t bother with all this two forks shenanigans as these plants are born survivors – and chop them into chunks. These pieces you can spread around the garden, although please don’t end up with asters everywhere as you can always give some away, do swapsies or even pot up a few for the next garden club sale.
The boring jobs
So far it’s the fun side of gardening; now comes the chores. Clean the patio – you and I both know it’s green and somewhat slimy and is really letting the side down, so give it a good scrub with whatever you find works best for you. Do the same with the garden furniture – unsavoury garden furniture offers no invitation to sit down. There, that didn’t take too long did it?
Sort out your pots
Be ruthless. You know those winter pots you did last autumn have had their moment. Let’s be honest, there may be a few violas manfully flowering on, but they’re a bit straggly and the skimmia centrepiece is definitely past its best. So off to the shed with the forsaken and forlorn. Now you can treat yourself to a trip to the garden centre to pick up a handful of bulbs and primroses to put together a couple of spring pots to see you through to the summer. While you’re there you can pick up some fertiliser and patio cleaner for the other jobs. Oh, and have tea and cake with a fellow gardener to keep the enthusiasm levels high.
Love your lawn
The lawn is never top of my jobs list, but a little time and trouble in spring does pay off big time in summer. Ideally we should feed, weed, aerate and scarify, but I think the last is the most vital on many lawns. Scarifying with a springbok rake is one of those jobs that makes you wilt just thinking about it, but it’s actually never as bad as you think. It’s also curiously satisfying, watching all that moss and dead grass gathering on the rake and it really does do the lawn a power of good. Plus it’s lovely stuff to add to the compost heap.
Tis the season for sowing, sowing, sowing. Where to start though? Almost any vegetable that you want to grow, get them going now, particularly the usual suspects such as beetroot, carrots, parsnips and salad greens. These can all be direct sown straight into the bed, although the salads will also grow beautifully in modules such as old bedding plant packs, which means you can protect them from the slugs and snails.
When it comes to flowers, a lot of my favourites I grow from seeds annually. Sweet peas, nasturtiums, calendula and annual grasses I start off on modules and plant out where I want them. Others are so wonderfully easy, such as beautiful nigella and glorious opium poppies, as they can be sown directly into any old bit of spare soil you may have and pop up as if by magic, flowering their little socks off at the height of the summer with almost no effort on my part. Now that’s my kind of gardening.
Jane Moore is an award-winning gardening columnist and head gardener at The Bath Priory Hotel. Twitter: @janethegardener