How does your garden grow?

Catherine Horwood
Photo credit: Marcus Harpur

However small your patch, now’s the time to spring into action. There are loads of things to be done to get ready for summer, says Primrose Hill born-and-bred garden writer Catherine Horwood Barwise.

I can’t wait for those long summer evenings spent outside, glass of wine in hand with the sweet scent of flowers surrounding me – even the neighbour’s barbecue! But whether you have a roof terrace like mine, a garden on the ground or simply on a windowsill, remember that a little effort now will make all the difference to enjoying your garden when summer comes.

Follow these tips for blooming results:

  • Forget the spade and trowel and get outside with a broom and bag. Just tidying up the autumn leaves and any dead foliage will make a garden look instantly better. Weeds have gone wild so pull up any obvious ones, especially where you see bulbs pushing their noses up through the soil. They’ll thank you for it.
  • If you’re nervous of pruning, wait until you can see signs of new growth before reaching for the secateurs. Roses should have been pruned by now, but are incredibly resilient to being chopped at any time. Lavender and rosemary will appreciate a light trim, but don’t cut into the old woody stems. As a rule, clematis that flower late in the year can be cut back hard; those that are about to flower now just need a tidy-up later. ‘Comb’ the smaller grasses with your fingers to remove dead stems; and trim dead stems from palms, making sure to wear thick gloves.
  • Now’s the time to top-dress pots, especially big ones and any with box or bay. Scrap away 2-3 inches of soil and replace with fresh potting compost. Add a couple of handfuls of slow-release feed granules as well – the ones for rose and shrubs are best. And then top with some gravel or slate chippings. These will help keep the moisture in during the summer months as well as shade the roots.
  • Don’t rush out and buy your summer bedding plants yet. While many of us may still have pelargoniums (geraniums) that survived the mild winter, they’re used to outside temperatures. The small plants being pushed at us now have been grown in perfect indoor conditions without ‘hardening off’. While a few cold nights won’t kill them, they will shut down and not put on any new growth for a while. Save your money for later buys that will reward you far more. Instead scatter seeds of hardy annuals such as larkspur and nigella for a mini cutting garden, and calendula and nasturtiums for decorating summer salads – so easy, they’re perfect to help children get started.
  • There’s always room for some vegetables and salads, even on a patio or windowsill. All the big seed names now offer varieties designed for growing in pots and on patios. Now is the time to start sowing seeds – just a pinch will be productive. I’ll be growing Lettuce ‘Little Gem’ and some cut-and-come-again varieties. Why pay supermarket prices for herbs that turn up their toes once they are out of their plastic jackets? Watch mint roots grow in a glass, but keep it in a pot not in the ground – perfect for the shadier garden.
  • Nothing beats a home-grown tomato, and they will happily grow in pots. Try something new – ‘Sungold’, perhaps, which has trusses of small fruits with a sweet flavour and a rich, golden colour. And if you’re into hanging baskets, look out for Tomato ‘Tumbler’ – a terrific taste, but needs more watering than most.
  • Don’t think you haven’t got room for soft fruit either. The best way to grow strawberries is in pots or troughs, just as the major growers do. This avoids stooping to harvest, and they’re brilliantly easy to force for early fruits on a sunny windowsill. This year I’m trying an early variety called ‘Vibrant’ – cold-stored plants ready to go as soon as they feel a bit of warmth.
  • And who would have thought there would be room for raspberries on a terrace garden as well? But a new variety called ‘Ruby Beauty’ has been bred specifically for containers and only grows to 1 metre high. Healthy blueberries too are perfect for pots, provided they’re grown in ericaceous compost – and there’s the bonus of fiery autumn foliage.

And did you know about the secret garden of Regent’s Park? It’s St John’s Lodge Gardens, a secret jewel of a garden. Look out for the entrance through a small gate in the Inner Circle near the Parks Office.

Catherine Horwood
Author of: Gardening Women. Their Stories from 1600 to Today (Virago, 2010)

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