What a difference a couple of weeks makes. The hedgerows are just beginning to break with that wonderful vague green hue that heralds the arrival of spring proper and daffodils everywhere are spreading their annual cheeriness. Of course that means there is lots to do in the garden and here Richard Orton shares his ‘to do’ list for the garden at Lewis Cottage.
Top of our list this month is to sow the bulk of our seeds, many of which were collected from the garden last summer. This may seem late to many of you who already have propagators on window sills, but we have found over the years that waiting until the end of March is really beneficial. The light levels are much better in the polytunnels and of course the temperature is rising. Increased light levels stop your seedlings from bolting and getting leggy, making them easier to prickout when the time comes.
When sowing seed it’s worth checking the instructions on the packet as to whether you need to cover them or not. Some, such as digitalis benefit from just being sprinkled on the top of the compost and being very lightly covered with vermiculite rather than more compost. The vermiculite acts as an insulator whilst also allowing more light onto the seeds. It took me years of failure to work this out but I haven’t looked back since. There’s nothing more disappointing than having seeds not germinate so it’s worth doing your research first.
Don’t leave the seedlings too long before pricking out. I’m guilty of leaving seedlings in the seed tray until they are almost proper little plants, but this actually makes life more difficult for both you and the seedling. Left too long and the roots of each seedling will intertwine, which means that it’s trickier to tease them out and pot them up and in turn there’s the danger of damaging the roots.
The best time to prick out is when there is the first set of proper leaves (ie the second pair of leaves after the seed leaves). They may seem too tiny to handle but trust me, those tiny seedlings will put on immense amounts of growth over the course of a couple of weeks and it’s worth taking the time to do the job properly.
Splitting and multiplying
In your borders, now is the perfect time to start splitting and multiplying your herbaceous perennials. Many will have begun to start into growth now so they will be easy to find and it’s a great way of increasing yourstock or rejuvenating an old plant. Pot up divisions of hosta, asters, daylilies etc and keep for planting out later in the year or for giving away.
Another way of increasing your stock of plants such as lupins, delphiniums and campanulas is to take basal cuttings. This is a method that I tried for the first time in 2019 with some lupins that I wanted to guarantee the colour of. Lupin seeds tend not to come true so basal cuttings are the perfect solution. Basal cuttings of 10-12 cm long are taken from the fresh spring growth in April and inserted into pots of gritty compost. They soon root and will be ready for planting out later in the summer. The most important part of the process is to use a sharp knife to take the cuttings.
If you have dahlias, cannas and more exotic summer bulbs such as eucomis (pineapple lilies) now is the time to pot them up and start them into growth in the greenhouse. We’ve been delighted with how our stock overwintered – only one of our dahlias had to be thrown away. The cannas too have increased in size, so much so that they have all had to be potted up into 5 litre pots. Needless to say, we are struggling to find room for seed trays (another reason for delaying sowing!).
Away from the general garden preparation we found time to concentrate on tidying up the woodland drive. It’s the one part of the garden that we use everyday and yet we’ve tended to leave it alone, preferring to let it do its own thing year on year. However, the much needed resurfacing of the drive has allowed us to re-examine it and see how we can manage it better. We noticed that several of the trees had become dangerous and that much of the hedging either side had become overgrown with ivy.
By taking out several trees and removing much of the ivy we have been able to let in a lot more light and have replanted the gaps in the hedge with more native bird friendly hedging and some species roses that will provide food for the local wildlife later in the year.
They will also provide some much welcome colour during the summer, so do take the opportunity to wander up the drive if you visit us on one of our NGS open garden weekends in May and June.
There is no need to wait until May to visit a garden, there are several NGS gardens open in the next few weeks so why not take advantage as restrictions ease and take yourself off to one of these.
Further information about the Lewis Cottage garden open days and plant sales can be found on their website