One of the things that I enjoy in my garden is seeing the old favourites that come up every year. The plants that I have forgotten about until they appear at their appointed time. I sat by my pond a couple of weeks ago and spotted fritillaries and epimediums. Also just peeping through the grass were the shoots of the erythroniums all planted many years ago but still doing their thing and bringing such joy. Like most people I have many plants which have been given to me by friends and family members. The friend who gave me the white foxglove plants last autumn will be pleased to know that they are doing well and will zing out like beacons of light in their shady corners later on in the year …
Many years ago my father gave me a Kaffir Lily which, sitting in my conservatory, grew bigger and bigger until it had outgrown the pot into which it had been transplanted. We were having a plant sale for the BGA and so three of us heaved it out of its pot, split it into 8 pieces – I kept one back and the 7 other pieces went to the plant sale. Here is a photo of the piece I retained – three years on now and I hope that the other 7 pieces are doing well in various parts of Biddenham.
I have missed my garden for the last week as I have been in Europe (a holiday booked at the end of 2019). When I departed my tulips, carefully planted in their pots in late November, were in tight bud – I thought I might miss them if there was a warm spell – fortunately it was cold here whilst I was away and they had hardly moved on – phew. When you are a keen gardener there is never a good time to go on holiday. I was pleased, on my return, to see that the buds were showing on the wisteria and the acers were starting to produce their different coloured leaves. In Austria the flower beds in the parks and gardens were vibrant with brightly coloured pansies. The beautifully shaped pear trees in the squares were awash with blossom – really uplifting.
I had already decided that this month I would write about potagers and then they were featured on Gardeners’ World a couple of weeks ago. A potager is historically a French style of gardening, dating back to the Middle Ages, where flowers, herbs, vegetables, fruits and ornamentals are grown together to create a very pleasing outside space. These plants grown together provide for better biodiversity. Mixing vegetables and herbs with flowers can contribute to better garden yields. Flowers increase nectar production attracting more beneficial insects that in turn protect edible plants. Companion planting is at the heart of a potager as a means of pest control. It is the practice of growing different plants together for mutual benefit. For example, nasturtium will attract aphids and lure them away from beans and brassicas – well that’s the theory! I always plant calendula in with my tomatoes and I have never had a white fly problem. Marigolds attract ladybirds, parasitic wasps, hoverflies and other beneficial insects that protect plants from aphids. Carrots are very prone to carrot root fly and the smell of leeks, shallots, mint all help to confuse this fly who finds its host through scent. I noted that Monty Don was scattering his carrot seed very thinly so that he did not need to thin out the carrots as they were growing and thus provide the scented attraction for the fly. It is worth researching companion planting as a way to use less pesticides in our gardens.
Like most people with greenhouses, I guess, mine is currently overflowing; filled with trays of seedlings, pelagoniums, sempervivums etc that can’t brave the outside yet. As the weather gets warmer on sunny days open the windows and doors to moderate the interior temperature, it is easy to scorch seedlings. At this time of the year my auriculas are usually a great delight – not so this year. I didn’t split them up last August. This is the time when you tease their roots (the carrots) apart and repot in fresh gritty compost. Last year I just left them in their pots and they were clearly not pleased. However I have some photos taken last year so these are the ones you will see accompanying this article on the BGA website. Doing well in the plant house at the moment and waiting to go out at the end of May are the ammi majus. I grow this every year as I just love the frothy white umbrella flowers looking so like delicate lace – very good in flower arrangements as well. I also have large amounts of cow parsley in my garden – I never dig it out I just let in run riot through the borders. It provides such a good foil for other plants. So together with the fennel and astrantia there are lots of umbellifers in my garden. I realised this week that this is a very good thing. I was reading an article about swifts returning to this country in early May. Along with swallows and house martins they rely on insects to feed themselves and their young, but with shrinking insect populations their numbers are in decline. I learnt that swifts need to feed on up to 10,000 insects every day. So these “aerial hunters” need all the help they can get. The umbellifers attract the hoverflies and other insects into our gardens – so grow more umbellifers. The Wildlife Trust and RHS have joined forces this month to launch a campaign “Wild about High Fliers” which is aiming to raise awareness of the difficulties facing swifts, swallows and house martins. The website wildaboutgardens.org.uk gives information and advice on how we can help.
At this time of the year taking a hoe through vegetable patches and flower beds on a regular basis, especially on a dry, sunny day is a good thing to do. Any weeds hoed up will soon perish. My grandfather maintained that if you hoe the soil before you can see the weeds you will never have any. No I don’t do it either! My garden is a mass of weeds and I just live with it – the beds are tightly packed with plants so the weeds hardly show. I have to say, though, I do try to be more vigilant in my small vegetable patch. Get supports in place around perennials before they grow too tall. Do this as early as you can so the supports are disguised by the growing foliage. Keep earthing up potatoes and resist the temptation to plant things out too soon. Garden Centres are bursting with spring plants and annuals and it is very tempting to plant out before things are properly hardened off. Happy gardening and don’t forget to enjoy the ever changing views and take time to sit and appreciate your efforts. If you fancy a trip out to a lovely garden I would recommend Coton Manor in Northamptonshire. At this time of the year there is the added bonus of their beautiful bluebell woods.