This month Richard Orton reflects on some of unsung heroes at Lewis Cottage, such as compost and hedges, which may go unnoticed to the untrained eye, but without which his garden would not function properly. And as our plants spring into life, he has plenty of jobs to keep you busy in your own garden and suggestions of other gardens to visit.
Compost is the ultimate recycling
This past month has been very much taken up with garden maintenance rather than gardening proper and it started me thinking about the unsung heroes of the garden. Take compost for instance: whether you make a couple of bags or enough to mulch all of your borders it has to be one of the most humble, yet most important ingredients to a successful garden – the ultimate recycling.
I’ll not claim to be a compost expert and must confess to being a bit slapdash in my method, but it does work. All organic matter plus some cardboard are thrown into three large compost bins and left for several years before spreading over the borders in spring as a mulch.
This year we have upgraded and resized the compost bins; not only that, we’ve re-sited them too so they are accessible all year round. But even if you’re making a small amount there is something very, very satisfying about making your own compost.
The humble hedge
Another unsung hero is the humble hedge. Whether that be privet or laurel, hornbeam or a native mix, these hedges form the backdrop against which more blousy, outrageous and dramatic plants perform. But without these solid green 'walls' those superstar plants would be as nothing. So it’s a good idea to keep those hedges clipped and smart, enabling them to give a defining line to areas of the garden which might otherwise look unruly, and don’t forget that when all of your superstar showstoppers have peaked and are in demise, the simple hedge will still be there, silently doing its thing in the background.
The same goes for benches, pergolas, trellises, gazebos and the like. A quick lick of paint will sharpen them up no end visually and reinvigorate interest at the same time.
Beware of a late frost
Of course, the hedgerows and trees are all beginning to bud and in some cases, like blackthorn and wild cherry, they are blossoming too. But beware, we may be experiencing milder winters but many gardeners deem April to be the false spring, all enticement at first then whollop, a frost just as your best magnolia is in full bloom and the camellia about to break.
There is nothing so disheartening to see than a plant that has succeeded in navigating winter only to be punished mid spring with a late frost, whereupon every bud, every flower it seems turns a sludgy shade of brown and falls. But these are small trials we gardeners have to put up with and in general, spring rushes in, flicking the horticultural on/off switch from pilot light to full on and suddenly we’re running out of space and rushing to keep up as the garden suddenly bursts into life.
A traffic jam in the greenhouse
In the greenhouse, we already have something of a traffic jam. Overwintering our cannas and dahlias seemed like a great idea last autumn and indeed, it has worked well with both just beginning to wake. But we forgot that there is a period of about one month where both aren’t quite ready to go outside but the tomatoes, for whom the greenhouse is home throughout the summer, are eager to get planted out. It looks like we will either have to pot up the tomatoes longer than anticipated or risk planting out the cannas early.
The walnut tree that was felled by storm Eunice a couple of months ago is beginning to be taken down and sawn into logs. As you can see from the pic below, there is a rotten centre to the tree which no doubt contributed to its demise so it’s doubtful whether anything can be made from it as a memento, though it has been suggested that maybe some spoons could be fashioned from it. We shall see.
Gardening jobs for the next month
● Plant out autumn sown sweet peas into their final flowering positions
● Sow hardy annuals outside where they are to flower and half-hardy annuals in seed trays in a greenhouse or windowsill.
● Support tall herbaceous perennials before they get too tall. Using prunings from cornusor hazel will save a great deal of money and they’ll be far less unsightly than shop bought supports.
● Checkout your patio plants. Rising temperatures will soon dry out the soil so think about adding in some water retaining granules.
● Feed trees, shrubs and hedges with slow release fertiliser.
● Tie in new growth on clematis and honeysuckle; they will be starting to romp away now.
● Use that 'black gold' home compost to mulch your shrubs, borders and perennials.
● Don’t forget your houseplants. Time to pot up, top dress and revive.
Devon Gardens open for the NGS in the next month
For more details about Lewis Cottage Garden and their NGS Open Days, visit their website