If you look closely, signs of life are once again appearing and Head Gardener Sallie has all the best advice on how to make the most of this month and those beyond.
Another gardening year has begun, and here in Glasgow it has been considerably milder than usual which means that when the herbaceous die back what we normally see has not happened with the usual gusto. Plants are struggling in the cold, short days, but not enough to prevent them from setting new shoots.
For most gardeners, this time of year is when we begin to act on the annual garden plan, usually made in January. It is useful to set your goals and ambitions for the garden, even if they change or go pear shaped due to all the potential challenges gardeners face from, weather, pest invasion or time. Keeping a realistic slant on the plans I find, acts a guide that helps to steer me though the year, allowing me to make some improvements and have a base to refer back to in times of need from which I never stop learning. These plans, like the tide, wait for no man, or gardener in this case! Real winter will arrive eventually, so we have started mulching and cutting back and cutting back and mulching to ‘check’ those early shoots and smother others in a blanket of light fine composted bark. This, I hope, will encourage a delay in growth, protect new growth from sudden drops in temperature and in the long term improve the soil to create stronger healthier plants.
Cut stems that are flourishing do not go to waste, we are adding some of them to our cuttings stock, Verbena bonariensis and Salvia Amistad to name two. These cuttings will sit outside, lifted off the ground, and placed in covered trays until they root. The ‘mother plants’ have been trimmed, about a foot off the ground to allow for further die back and will shoot from the base or just above, giving you the choice of cutting back again and selecting the optimum growth directions of each new stem, before they flourish.
Basal shoots and growth that has already appeared, such as the crocosmia Solfatare and Valariana alliariifolia, Lobelia ‘Hadspen Purple’ have been protected with the mulch; I am not fooled, there will be worse weather to come! It seems that while the plants continue to follow the weather signals, my role as Head Gardener has morphed, for now, into a protective one, like a mother hen protecting its young chicks. It is not time for most plants to begin growing just yet, but as with any new eager young thing, they can be hard to stop! I have fleece covers at the ready and lots more mulch to get down before the hard frosts arrive. I am however happy to be proved wrong.
It can be a race against time, so what better reason is there than to enlist help from friends, family and anyone who wants to lift their spirits with a spot of sociable, meaningful gardening activity. There really is no better way to inspire wellness in the soul, especially when shared with others enticed with home baking and warm drinks.
Preparing the soil with composted mulch, whether it’s leaves or home-grown compost, adds structure and conditions the soil with humus that feeds the worms, which aerate the soil, which encourage the production of the web of mycorrhiza that break down nutrients and make them available for plants to use. If you treat your soil well and build up its condition, water is retained in the humus and once mulched it retains more moisture, which makes it available when its needed most during the summer, allowing your plants to thrive.
The greenhouse is going to be a focus for our activities this month. The heated mat is down, and the first chilli seeds sown. Again, it is the saved seeds of Nigel’s Outdoor chillies that have germinated first. There is something to be said for saving your own seed. Perhaps they are acclimatised to our growing conditions, but either way, I am still awaiting the others to appear, so it looks like a second sowing of the same varieties is on the cards. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, the trick is to keep going, and save some seed back from the first packets you sow. It’s a good tip!
Sweet peas are next. I usually hold back on planting these to provide a late summer crop for our Scotland Open Garden Scheme Day, but as its earlier this year, the challenge is on to get them into the garden sooner! They take 12-14 weeks to flower so with successional sowing from now, we should have flowers in July when we open. I will use deep pots, which will allow their root systems to set multiple strands. Do not be tempted to skimp on the soil depth, the seedlings will not develop well without a good root system. Keep them off the floor and out of reach of mice, another top tip! They are a tasty morsal for the wee sleekit beasties and I have lost many a sowing to these agile, hungry creatures. Cloche covers and trays are at the ready!
Seed orders are away, volunteers and supporters from neighbours to community groups are being sought for help to expand our growing potential. Last year Coreopsis tinctora ‘semi tall yellow’ was a remarkable success, this year we have chosen another variety plus an extensive list of colour enhancing annuals to create a showstopping display. Complimenting the herbaceous perennials with a flourish in this way is a creative endeavour; it allows you paints a picture over time for everyone to enjoy. I love the way that it changes the colour palette of a garden over the seasons, and I look forward to seeing this year’s transformations.
I wish you happy planning, planting, and enjoyment in taking time to watch the transformations that take place in your garden year!
We second Sallie’s sentiments and hope you enjoy spotting a whole host of stunning early spring sights wherever you are.