One of the great attractions of gardening is that it is a way of keeping in touch with the rhythms of nature and the passing of the seasons, so it is appropriate that this series of articles starts at Easter time. Easter is traditionally the time when people wake up to the fact that they have a garden and they rush outside to have a blitz; cutting the lawn and tidying up the mess of winter.
If you take your gardening seriously Easter is too late to start and, of course, the enthusiastic gardener never really stops. There is always something to be done and a little and often is a better rule than the occasional mad work out; the only trouble there being that once the gardening bug gets you ‘little and often’ can easily become ‘a lot and often’. Still, here we are in April and a general tidying up of ornamental areas is a good idea. Cut down any dead stems of perennial plants that are left, lightly fork over bare earth, removing weeds as you go and dig up and divide clumps that are getting too big. A dressing of general purpose fertiliser or chicken pellets will also help to get things going. The lawn will need cutting, and you may well have started that already, but make the first cut fairly high and always avoid using the lowest settings; you will never get a lush really green looking lawn with over-enthusiastic lawn shaving. Finish off by trimming the lawn edges with a half-moon tool.
In the vegetable garden the earth will have warmed up and you can sow seeds directly in the soil. Salad crops, carrots, beetroot and parsley can be sown now and onion sets should planted. You can also sow brassicas and leeks directly although, if you have a green house or cold frame, I find it works well if you start these off in small seed trays, transplant to a nursery bed and plant out in final positions in June. Just a few cabbage plants will keep you going for quite a while. Keep young cabbage plants protected from pigeons with netting or black cotton stretched around and between the plants. Dwarf beans, runner beans and sweet corn are best started in seed trays or small pots in the green house or indoors and planted out late in May/early June to avoid frost damage.
All of the above is advice for a normal year but it is beginning to look as if this will be the year of the great drought. The prospect of a hosepipe ban is a dispiriting thought and, if you haven’t already fallen in love with your garden, perhaps now is the time to forget about it and plan your summer holiday. If you already smitten though you will want to do what you can to keep things going. Unless it rains a lot we shall have to reconcile ourselves to the thought of brown lawns but grass will recover and there is no way that you can scavenge enough water to replace a sprinkler. It may also be best to avoid making much use of bedding plants because they are thirsty creatures. If you have got compost use it to mulch your choicest plants generously and water the soil before applying mulch. Fit as many water buts as you can ( they can be joined in series ) to catch whatever rain there is and check for clear gutters and blocked pipes so that water does get into the buts. The water you run off in the kitchen or shower before it comes hot can be caught in used plastic milk containers or a bucket and vegetables can be washed in a bowl and the water used in the garden. Keep a dust bin near the back door to store this water. Grey water from washing and washing up is also useable on the garden. In the 1976 drought I managed to syphon water in a hosepipe through a window (an open one ) from the bath to a bin in the garden although that can be a bit tricky.
Jeremy Arthern [Extract, Biddenham Bulletin, April 2012]