It’s all kicking off in the garden this month and Jane Moore is running to keep up
If you meet me in April please forgive me as I may be somewhat distracted. After the slow stretch and limber up that constitutes gardening in March I tend to hit the ground running at full pelt in April. My jobs list is seemingly never ending: along with all the sowing and mowing to get in hand there’s always inevitably a few of the ‘winter’ jobs which are still demanding to be completed.
To top it all off there’s the looming deadline of our first garden event of the year, the National Garden Scheme afternoon at the end of April. All in all I’m running around like the Loony Tunes Roadrunner. All I need now is an Acme patented seed bomb to land on the Bath Priory and it would be job done. Failing that here’s my what-to-do-now guide to your garden.
One job I do have securely underway is my potato and seed planting, thanks to the glorious annual Weston Potato Day which was held back in early March. One morning was all it took to bag a rich haul of spuds, seeds, strawberry plants and so the list goes on. There’s nothing to beat talking to an expert in person about what you want from your vegetable garden this year, so getting some free advice from the knowledgeable team at Pennard Plants along with my seed potatoes was invaluable.
The potatoes are happily chitting away in my array of enormous egg boxes, courtesy of John the pastry chef. In fact the earlies, an old favourite Home Guard and my little French salad lovely Cherie will probably be planted by the time you read this. Plus I’ve invested in some new asparagus crowns which won’t crop properly for a couple of years but hopefully the purple shoots – yes purple – will be worth the wait.
I’ve also treated our new chef Michael to some perpetual Mara des Bois strawberries, sweet little Douce Provence peas and luminous white French shallots all of which should keep him busy this season. Très Continental, you may say, as it’s all a nod to Michael’s Belgian origins. But thanks to Chris Smith and his passion for unusual vegetables I’m now going to try my hand at growing oka, a vibrantly coloured tuber which is hugely popular in South America.
It’s seed sowing time in no uncertain terms and that means flowers as well as vegetables. Here at The Priory we’re big on annuals. We sow some directly into the ground in the time honoured fashion of an annual bed or cutting border but we also save a few seeds for sowing in cells. This is for two reasons; firstly it gives you back up plants for when the slugs decimate your in-the-ground seedlings as they unfurl their succulent little leaves. Secondly it means you have plants spare to drop into those odd spots that end up looking a bit bare as the season goes on.
A classic case for this gappiness is dicentra with its fabulous flowers and lush leaves right at the start of the season and then a big old bare patch by about June. Pop in a few calendula or cosmos and the gap will be gone in the matter of a couple of weeks.
My current sowing list, besides the aforementioned calendula and cosmos, includes sweet peas, amaranthus or love-lies-bleeding, various annual grasses including the lovely Lagurus Bunny Tails and anything else that takes my fancy. I don’t necessarily know where they’re going to go, but they usually find a home before the summer is done.
Divide and conquer
Early April is your last chance for lifting and dividing herbaceous plants until the autumn. I have a list of asters that I made back in October 2016, all those huge clumps that need to be split up and replanted. Spring is definitely the best time to do these late bloomers so I’d better get on with it or I know you’ll all be commenting when you come to the Yellow Book afternoon at the end of the month. It’s a bit of a palaver but nonetheless it’s one of my favourite jobs to do as you end up with lots of free plants which you can use elsewhere in the garden.
A quick trim
Cut back your grasses now. Straight away. Yes that’s an order because I know how hard it is do it if they’re still looking lush and lovely. Those good looks won’t last long believe me, so you need to be tough now so the new growth pushes through and keeps them looking good all summer long. Because let’s remember there’s a long, warm and hopefully sunny summer still to come.
Dates for the diary
The Bath Priory Hotel has its first NGS date early especially for the spring bulbs: Thursday 27 April, 2 to 5pm. If you can’t make it to us then perhaps you can visit: Job’s Mill, Wiltshire on Saturday 22 April, 2 to 5pm, Iford Manor on Sunday 23 April, 2 to 5pm or the National Trust’s Stourhead on Sunday 23 April, 9am to 6pm.
Useful addresses: Pennard Plants, The Walled Gardens, East Pennard, Somerset, BA4 6TP. Tel: 01749 860039, website: pennardplants.com. Chiltern Seeds, Crowmarsh Battle Barns, 114 Preston Crowmarsh, Wallingford, Oxfordshire, OX10 6SL. Tel: 01491 824675, website: chilternseeds.co.uk.
Jane Moore is the award-winning gardening columnist and head gardener at The Bath Priory Hotel. @janethegardener.