April 01 2023

Head Gardeners’ tips
April 2023

Alex Law - Head Gardener, Midlands

Spring has officially arrived in Horatio's Garden!

Head Gardener Alex is here to guide you through the seasonal quirks of April!

Spring is gathering pace and the garden is fast becoming a chorus of new life and new possibilities. The garden rewards those who can afford the time to pause and observe its activities; look to the ground where almost every shade of green is represented by one new leaf or another, or to the sky where our garden birds are busy scoping out nest sites or already tending to their eggs. The longer days provide the perfect opportunity to get outside more often and savour these gifts.

This month, while milder weather is generally the case, we have to be equally prepared in our gardens for frost, deluge or drought with fleece, raincoat and watering can all at the ready. In recent years it has been the dry weather that has caught us out, which can be problematic for pots and any plants during their first or second year in the ground, as their more vulnerable root systems require consistent access to water. By meeting their requirements now, they should fare better as the season progresses and once they’re established they will need less coddling.

Even if we encounter the customary April showers I would still be checking these planting situations by sinking my hand a few centimetres into the surrounding compost or soil to assess the level of moisture in the root zone; it’s surprising how little water from a light shower penetrates below the soil surface.

The warming soil temperature is apparent as short-lived weeds, nature’s entrepreneurs, begin filling niches like billy-o. If we keep on top of them now by hoeing in dry, windy weather or by hand pulling when it’s wet – hoed weeds left on a damp soil surface can have the audacity to re-root – it will save time later down the line. As the old saying goes, ‘one year’s seeds, seven years’ weeds,’ which may be partially true.

Weeding is one of the most satisfying garden jobs, I believe, if you can find a comfortable position to settle in and focus on the simple set of actions required. As a mindfulness exercise try focussing your attention on the herby aroma that is released when you pull weeds such as hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsute) and herb-Robert (Geranium robertianum) from the ground, then concentrate on the feel of their hairy stems between your fingers, and finally take a really close look at the beautiful red stems of the latter. For extra points you can even experience the flavour of the bittercress leaves. Yes, weeds can very much be appreciated for their beauty – the best time and place to do it in a garden setting is whilst removing them before they set seed!

The arrival of annual weeds is also a good sign that direct sowing of hardy annuals can commence. Whether in raised beds or in gaps in the borders, I would start sowing a range of edibles and ornamentals such as beetroot, carrots, lettuces, sunflowers, pot marigolds, nasturtiums, nigella and poached-egg plant.

As seedlings emerge, you can thin them out to the recommended spacing and transplant those thinnings to other available planting sites. Earlier protected sowings in the greenhouse, cold frame or on windowsills will also need thinning out to avoid potential fungal problems and I regularly check the undersides of pots and cell trays for lurking slugs, which seemingly manifest out of thin air and if left unnoticed can undo weeks of loving attention overnight. 

Over the coming weeks we’ll be pricking out, potting on and planting out many of the seedlings and cuttings that we’ve nurtured through autumn and winter in a procession that will dazzle and delight us throughout the season. The miracle of life contained in the smallest of seeds never fails to astonish me and I love being able to share that sense of wonderment with others, which I’m lucky enough to be able to do on a regular basis in my role as a facilitator of garden therapy with patients affected by spinal injury.

Not to sound too ‘evangelical’ but if you have a passion for plants and gardening then it’s a great way to connect with other people, whether they are green fingered already or yet-to-be, so this month why not sow something with your nearest and dearest, set up a seed swap in your community, or arrange a group garden visit?

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