Making a garden attractive is not just about plants. Major structures like paths and walls, pergolas, fencing and trellis all have a significant part to play. On a smaller scale, ornaments of all sorts can add focal points, visual attractions and a sense of atmosphere. There are plenty of objects available in garden centres and specialist suppliers of stoneware and statuary but there is a rich source of attractions to be found in architectural salvage centres; the places where money is made from bits and pieces recovered from demolished buildings and abandoned gardens. I imagine these have been closed during lockdown but will be open again if non-essential shops are opened during April. Places like this provide free entertainment where you can pass a fascinating hour or two poking around to see what is available and you can often strike lucky with a quirky container or something purely ornamental. Our two best acquisitions have been a nicely detailed statuette of a young girl holding a basin and, more recently, a patterned concrete trough, and it is the trough that gets me back to plants.
I planted the trough with a collection of compact shrubs and perennials. After a couple of years they began to outgrow the trough and we wondered what to do next. I have occasionally dabbled in alpine plants, generally on the rockery behind the pond and without a great deal of success, but then I had the idea of using the trough for alpines. You can buy many common varieties in garden centres but the nationally known nursery of D’Arcy & Everest is not far from us near Huntingdon with on-line sales and occasional sales days at the nursery. They exhibit at most of the big garden shows where you can get inspiration for ways of using alpines. A problem with alpines is that they don’t like wet conditions. They will tolerate any degree of cold weather but often rot during a wet winter. Ideal conditions are provided under glass with plenty of ventilation. Alpines grown in containers can be moved into an unheated greenhouse in winter but my trough is too heavy to move. I have solved the problem by making a wooden A frame covered with clear plastic sheeting to stand over the trough in winter. Alpines need soil with grit added and a top dressing of horticultural grit.
I hope that the long spell of cold and wet weather will have passed by now and soil will be in a condition for direct sowing of vegetables and annual flowers. You may have been able to start many things off under glass and continue now with direct sowing of root vegetables and successional sowings of salad crops. Plants started off under glass are best hardened off with exposure to the open air but where cover can be provided on cold nights. Plants that are susceptible to frost like beans, cucumber, courgettes and sweet corn can be propagated with heat and grown on under glass. It’s a good idea to sow one or two seeds in sets of small modules where they can later be grown on in larger pots without disturbing the roots.
Once daffodils have flowered they should be dead-headed and fed. A general-purpose fertiliser is good for this. Leave foliage to die down naturally and don’t cut grass around naturalised plants for at least six weeks. Many other plants will also benefit from feeding from now onwards. Well-rotted manure improves soil structure as well as nutrition but it is not easy to come by and handle and chicken pellets or Growmore are easy to spread. Roses need a spring and a late summer feed and you can use specific rose fertiliser or Growmore. Clematis are hungry plants and benefit from a dressing of fertiliser and then regular application of tomato feed. Miracle Gro is an excellent liquid feed for container-grown plants.
If you have ordered plug plants on line they are likely to be delivered this month. Plant them out immediately in bigger pots using multi-purpose compost and grow them on under glass until the danger of frost has passed in mid to late May. Here again they will need to be hardened off before putting them in their permanent situations. Keep the trays for your own sowing some other time.
Finish off any remaining tidying of flower borders and there is still time to divide and replant clumps of perennial flowers. A good way of dividing a clump is to split with two digging forks placed back to back and then forced apart. Hostas don’t mind being cut with a spade. Make sure that you keep newly planted trees and shrubs well watered on a weekly basis. Many taller perennials will need support later on and it is best to set up support now so that plants will grow into and over the support, hiding it in the process. Metal or plastic supports can be bought or made with sticks (I use bamboo canes and straight fruit tree prunings) and twine or with newly cut and flexible hazel branch ends woven together to make a loose ‘basket’ over the plant.