East Lambrook Manor Gardens epitomises the cottage garden style
Thursday, 07 March 2013

Spring into your garden

Follow Sarah Langton-Lockton's indispensible tips for getting your plot off to the best start this season

March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers is a bit of doggerel familiar to a nation in thrall to the vagaries of its weather. After the long grey months of winter, gardeners have high hopes of spring. We crave warmth and sun, light and colour, and will brave the most ferocious of east winds to admire the hosts of daffodils.

May is a glorious month, but there is also much to enjoy in early spring: magnolias and big hybrid rhododendrons in the grander gardens, camellias and the smaller fl owering shrubs in more modest ones. Tulips, grape hyacinths and dog’s tooth violets (Erythroniums) are everywhere, as are crowds of daffodils. As buds swell and green shoots (including weeds) pierce the soil, gardeners are itching to get going. Here are some ideas for tasks to get you started.

THE ORNAMENTAL GARDEN

  • Feed plants with lots of good, homemade compost if you have it, or an organic fertiliser such as fi sh, blood and bone.
  • Lawns have suffered badly from excessive rain and many are full of moss. Rake out any dead moss and apply a spring fertiliser. (Aerate in autumn with a garden fork.) Start cutting the grass with a mower on a high blade setting.
  • Deadhead daffodils but allow the foliage to die back naturally.
  • Slugs are on the prowl and will happily destroy tender spring foliage. The only certain way to get rid of them without damage to crops, cats or wildlife is to collect them by torchlight. Some gardeners feed them to the hens. Joy Larkcom pops them into beer cans with water in the bottom so that the can remains upright if put into the ground, leaving hands free to collect.
  • Lift, divide with two forks back to back, and replant herbaceous plants. My clumps of Iris sibirica have become dense, and fl owering has fallen off. I shall divide these congested clumps at the fi rst sign of spring growth.
  • Annual weeds are making an appearance, a sure sign that the soil is warming up. Weeding by hand or with a hoe provides therapeutic exercise. One weed you must tackle is hairy bittercress, a charming little plant that produces white fl owers for eight months of the year. The explosive seed pods can contain several thousand seeds.
  • Early March is my preferred time for pruning shrub and fl oribunda roses. Shrub roses, including old roses, should have any unproductive stems removed from the base of the plant. Remove any weak-growing stems and shorten others to maintain the shape. On fl oribunda roses, cut out any thick old stems, twiggy or weak growth, and shorten last year’s growth by a third or more, cutting to an outwardfacing bud.

GARDENS TO VISIT IN SPRING

Great Dixter, near Rye, East Sussex, was the home of Christopher Lloyd, the great plantsman, gardener and garden writer. House and garden open to the public this year from 29 March. The garden is perfection: it starts with the front meadow, where native orchids, wild daffodils and snakeshead fritillaries thrive. The starry blue spikes of Camassia quamash are a feature alongside the front path to the house in May. 01797-252878, www.greatdixter.co.uk

Stourhead, near Mere, Wiltshire, is a bewitching and beautiful landscape garden, alight in spring with richly coloured rhododendrons. The woods are a carpet of snowdrops, bluebells and wild daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus). 01747-841152, www.nationaltrust.co.uk
springgardens main2Stourhead, a world-famous landscape garden in Wiltshire

The Savill Garden, Egham, Surrey, in an enclosed part of Windsor Great Park, was created in the 1930s and consists of 35 acres of gardens within gardens. The Spring Wood has a magnifi cent display of rhododendrons and azaleas in April and May. In the Bog Garden there are candelabra primulas, followed by Siberian irises and other moisture-loving plants. 01753-860222, www.theroyallandscape.co.uk

East Lambrook Manor Gardens, South Petherton, Somerset, were created ‘from a farmyard and a rubbish heap’ by the celebrated plantswoman and writer Margery Fish and her husband Walter in the 1950s. The Grade I listed garden epitomises the cottage garden style, which still infl uences gardeners today, and has great charm and beauty. March and April: open Tuesdays to Saturdays and Easter Bank Holiday Monday from 10am to 5pm; Early Spring Plant Fair on Easter Saturday 30 March with 15 of the best nurseries in the southwest offering their wares. 01460-240328, www.eastlambrook.co.uk

THE KITCHEN GARDEN

  • Plant shallot bulbs 15cm apart in a block and protect from foxes and birds with netting until they have sent down some good roots.
  • If the weather is mild enough, plant out your early potatoes, earthing them up if frost is forecast.
  • Sow greenhouse tomatoes, cucumbers, chillies and peppers in a heated propagator. If you don’t have heat, wait until later in the month to sow in Jiffy 7s (compost pellets in a biodegradable net, which swell up in warm water) on a warm windowsill – no pricking out and trouble-free.
  • Germination of seed in situ was a widespread problem on the vegetable plot last year. The answer is plug plants: grow your own or order them from seed companies. They are also increasingly available in garden centres.
  • Don’t sow in open ground too early – germination will be poor in cold, wet soil. Covering the soil for a week or two with fl eece or cloches will help warm it before sowing.
  • If you haven’t experienced the thrill of growing and eating your own asparagus, fi nd room for a permanent asparagus bed now. Plant the crowns, spreading their fan of roots, on a ridge created within trenches liberally spread with well-rotted manure.


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