Here we are again at the start of another gardening year. As usual, we wonder what the year will hold for us and, in particular, what the weather will be like. Already, this year has been unusually dry and many of our lawns are still showing the damage from last year’s drought. I have been hoping for a natural recovery but this looks increasingly unlikely and some re-sowing may well be necessary. It will be a good idea to scarify and aerate the lawn before any sowing. You can do this yourself on a small lawn, raking out dead grass and moss and going over the grass with a fork held vertically to dig holes in the soil. Professional lawn care companies will gladly do the job for you, at a cost but with a lot of saving in effort …
February is generally reckoned to be the best time to tidy up ornamental beds. Tidy gardeners like to do this in November but keeping dead seed-heads and grasses until now is often attractive in frost and the seeds attract birds. We have had some rewarding visits from goldfinches enjoying our rudbeckia seed-heads this winter. Cut down the dead growth of perennials nearly to ground level and, where possible, shred the stems and add to compost. Deciduous grasses will be looking dead by now and should be cut back. Evergreen grasses will have a lot of dead stems and foliage. Cut this out where practicable and then ‘comb’ the grass with a hand fork to get out more dead material. This, too, is good material for the compost bin. Keep the brown stuff dry in a sack until you can mix it in with grass cuttings. Some people like to burn off the dead stuff in pampas grasses and stipa gigantea but this obviously depends on what is close by and watch out for damage to sheds or fences.
By the end of February you should be able to remove netting from ponds without the prospect of dead leaves or other debris getting in to the pond. Cut out any dead material on the pond plants and thin excessive area of oxygenating plants. You need to keep some good areas of clear water both for attractiveness and the health of the pond. Watch out for blanket weed growth as the water warms up and scoop out any duck weed. I use a child’s fishing net.
If you have a vegetable patch I hope you have managed your winter digging already but if not, it is still worth doing. Make sure the soil is fairly dry though as digging wet soil will only compact it. Rake over the soil to create a fine tilth before sowing anything. Unless the weather is unseasonably warm, which I don’t think it will be, outdoor sowing needs to be left until march. You can bring the sowing time forward by putting cloches, a plastic tunnel or horticultural fleece on the soil to warm it. If you have got a conservatory or heated greenhouse you can get tomatoes and some salad crops off to an early start. It is best to use a propagator to speed up germination. After germination in small seed trays prick out seedlings into larger trays or pots. If you haven’t got a greenhouse or conservatory you can use an indoor window-sill out of direct sunlight but the seed tray will need turning every day to keep plants growing vertically. A way of getting round this is to fix a stiff piece of board covered with aluminium foil at the back of the seed tray so that light is reflected on the plants. Prepare for the sowing season by washing pots and trays used last year.
If you are still wondering what to do in the garden, green houses and cold frames should be washed inside and out so that the glass is as clear as possible. A dry spell can be used profitably for treating sheds and fences with wood preservative.
Visiting other people’s gardens can start in February with many gardens open for snowdrops and hellebores. There are two local gardens in Pavenham offering a joint visit under the National Gardens scheme. These are the Folly in the High Street and the Knoll and they are open from 1.00pm to 4.00pm on 3rd, 23rd and 24th February.