It’s the bank holiday and it’s time to get out into the garden now. With any luck by the time of reading this, if not writing it, the sun will have poked its head through the clouds and decided to stay out. The snow will have vanished from Scotland and thoughts will have turned, if not to summer, then, at the every least to the possibility of its arrival.
So, with that in mind, it’s time for a bit of work out there in the garden, so that it’s ready for when those balmy evenings finally do arrive. But where to start?
Jenny Bowden, a horticultural advisor with the RHS, says: “The first thing you need to do is to get out there and see what is going on. Start by clearing away all the dead leaves.
“By all means leave some undisturbed in corners as that is good for wildlife and you can move some of the leaves you have cleared to the flower beds where they will rot down and improve the soil – at the back of the borders for example where they are not in the way.”
So don’t panic, it’s not necessarily a bad thing if you didn’t clear up last autumn. But Jenny says that at the very least make sure you clear them off the plants or they might rot.
Gather all your dead leaves into black bin liners and they will eventually rot down into compost. Simply punch a couple of holes in the bag and make sure it’s a bit damp and then stick it in a quiet spot and forget about it.
Jenny says: “Don’t be in a hurry – oak leaves can take a year to rot so it’s a slow process.
“If you really can’t wait you can buy a compost accelerator to speed it up a bit.”
Once you have done that, and assuming you haven’t got a bin bag of last year’s dead leaves, Jenny advises a trip to your local farm. “The garden borders would appreciate a mulch of well rotted farmyard manure. Spread a layer on the surface of the soil about 7-10cm deep around all the plants which the worms will take down into the earth and it will improve the soil structure.”
A WORD ABOUT COMPOST
The stuff that you put in your flower pots and window baskets will be very expensive for a large area, says Jenny. You need soil conditioner and some more manure. Blended stable manure and composted bark is perfect but do not buy multi-purpose compost as it’s so expensive. Look out for bagged topsoil which will be much cheaper and see that it has ten per cent manure.
WHAT ABOUT THAT LAWN?
The hosepipe ban has already started so even if your grass is looking good at the moment, it isn’t going to last sadly. And by the time you’ve added in a few weeks of drought, football and visits from next door’s cat, it’s going to be a very sorry sight indeed. But if you are wedded to the idea of a patch of green (and most of us are) then it’s time to think about faking it. There are plenty of places to choose from these days www.lazylawn.co.uk is just one. They have lots of different types to choose from. My advice would be to go for one with a few fake dead bits woven it -it will look even more real.
GROW YOUR OWN
The ever present fear of a double dip recession coupled with rising food prices, have seen many of us turn to the veg patch in a bid to save money. Sales of seeds are increasing year on year and the industry is now worth some £60m annually. Suttons, who sell seeds for both flowers and vegetables say that the latter now make up 70 per cent of sales, compared with 40 per cent five years ago. The company’s home page is now full of food seeds with flowers coming in half way down. But if, like many people, the wait for an allotment is around 20 years in your area, it’s time to look to your own garden for inspiration.
First of all, you can grow plenty of things on a balcony or window box if you plan it carefully.
PREPARING YOUR VEG PATCH
It doesn’t matter if it’s a full-size allotment or a pocket handkerchief of land, nothing will grow if you don’t prepare it properly and that means weeding.
“Bindweed will keep coming back so if you are taking the organic route then you will just need to keep digging it out,” says Jenny. “If you are using weedkiller then make sure it’s systematic – meaning it will go through the roots.
“Raised beds are a good idea. They are less backbreaking, you can buy a kit to build them and you can put in a semi -permanent membrane and some pebbles to stop the weeds coming up through the bottom.
WHAT TO GROW
Among the easiest vegetables to grow, that you can sow directly outside from mid-March, are broad beans, peas, radishes, rocket, dill, chervil, lettuce, spinach and chard. Try Chard Bright Lights which have yellow, orange, purple or white stems and will brighten up the garden as well as the plate.
Avoid feast or famine situations by sowing little and often; as one batch germinates simply sow the next.
To get started have a look at the RHS Grow Your Own’ web pages: www.rhs.org.uk/Gardening/Grow-Your-Own
WHAT ABOUT THE FLOWERS?
If you want to fill the deck with tubs you will need to put some broken plates in the bottom to help with drainage. If you haven’t been to a Greek restaurant lately, then broken polystyrene packing or pebbles will do fine. This is where the multi-purpose compost comes in. Then choose from the annual bedding plants which include primulas, primroses and cyclamen. You can buy a whole tray from the garden centre (often in a polystyrene tray) and dot them about the garden.
Mix violas in with your shrubs and grasses. And remember that evergreens will add some instant interest and when they get too big for the pots, you can transplant them to the borders.
Clematis grow very fast but do need pruning. Visit the RHS website for tips on how to do this but remember that Jenny says there are very few things that die from being pruned. “If you prune after the plant has flowered you are unlikely to kill it and afterwards you are giving it time to grow.”
USE THE WALLS
If you haven’t got much horizontal space then why not go up? Living walls have been seen in urban environments for a while now – the US store Anthropologie created one in its London store in Regent Street, there is one at the Atocha station in Madrid and let’s not forget the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Anyway, many gardening companies are cottoning on to this idea and you can buy the pouches to fix onto walls fairly easily. Burgon and Ball (www.burgonandball.com) sell Verti-Plants (TM), a two- pack set of planters that will take 16 plants in two pockets the top of which has drainage holes for the plants below and the bottom which is sealed to stop leaks. Just screw to the wall and plant. They cost £9.95.
Angus Cunningham of Scotscape (www.scotscapelivingwalls.net), says: “They are perfect for the basement flat which looks out at an expanse of wall. But they do take some maintaining and are probably best suited to the keen gardener. Having said that they do provide a real wow factor.”
Scotscape will install a fully irrigated living wall from around £500 per square metre and will visit twice a year for maintenance.