At Lewis Cottage they are celebrating not just their 30th season in residence, but the launch of the 2022 National Garden Scheme’s brochure which features their beautiful garden on the front cover. As the new gardening season starts, Richard Orton shares advice for growing plants from seed, some other key jobs for March and a list of private Devon gardens opening to visitors this month.

With a heavy thud, the cheery courier delivers eight large boxes of this year’s NGS (National Gardens Scheme) county booklets to my doorstep. The delivery heralds the start of a new open garden season so I will be busy dropping off supplies at local shops, pubs, garden centres and tourist information points in and around the Crediton area over the coming weeks.  

This year I shall be keener than ever to get the booklets out to as many people as possible as our garden features on the front cover, which is a lovely gesture by the NGS team particularly as this is our 30th season in residence at Lewis Cottage.

The Woodland Walk photo Mark Bolton

But we’re not the only Devon NGS gardeners to have cause to celebrate this year. Two of the county’s most popular gardens have been honoured with awards from The English Garden Magazine/NGS. Little Ash Bungalow was awarded ‘The Nation’s Favourite Garden South West’ whist Burrow Farm was named ‘The Nation’s Best Public Garden’

The Nation's Favourite Gardens South West

Well done to everyone involved in getting them looking as fabulous as they always do. That goes to all the other Devon Gardens that will open throughout the coming year too.

BUT we mustn’t rest on our laurels, there are cakes to make, marquees to check, signs to put up and umpteen more jobs to do before any of us can even think about opening the garden gates.

One of the most enjoyable jobs of all is getting the seed trays out and deciding which plants to grow this season. But hold on there, it may have been mild and bright these past few weeks, with temperatures a little higher than we’re used to, but don’t be fooled. By all means, start off some seeds in a conservatory or use a heated propagator but be aware of the need for adequate light levels, otherwise seed will germinate OK but will then bolt looking for light.

A good example of this are sweet peas, which is why we sow them in October when the light is still good and the days still have warmth in them. Overwintered in a cold greenhouse for maximum light they don’t get leggy and will flower earlier than those sown in spring, though we also sow a second batch in March just in case the mice get in and nibble the ones sown in October.

Some tips for growing plants from seeds

● Use a heated propagator to maintain a balanced temperature.

● Practise good pot/seed tray hygiene to minimise the spread of fungal bacteria.

● Use fresh compost and aid the drainage of the compost by adding perlite or grit.

● To maximise your yield use fresh seed (using old packets of seeds is fine but lower your expectations for germination accordingly).

● Don’t overwater. I use an old plastic tonic water bottle with a screw on mini rose available from all good garden centres. This allows you to target seeds that need watering and avoid those that don’t.

Rhododendrons at Lewis Cottage

Gardening jobs for March

● Fertilise beds and borders by digging in a 5cm layer of compost or well rotted manure

● Put in plant supports before they start to grow

● Prune overgrown rhododendrons hard to reinvigorate growth.

● Plant native hedging to encourage wildlife.

● Cover vegetable beds with black plastic to warm the soil and keep it drier for planting.

Devon Gardens open for the NGS in March

6th March - East Worlington House, Witheridge

12th /13th March - Haldon Grange, Dunchideock

20th March  -  Bickham House, Exeter 

26th March -  Monkscroft, Crediton

26th March -  Samlingstead, Woolacombe

27th March  -  Heathercombe, Bovey Tracey
27th March  -  Upper Gorwell House, Barnstaple

For more details about Lewis Cottage Garden and their NGS Open Days, visit their website

Mar 4, 2022

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