As I write we are just at the beginning of the Coronavirus ‘lockdown’ period. In these uncertain times it’s good to find a silver lining to this particular cloud: being forced to stay at home, when you might normally be sat in an office, or busy ferrying kids around, means there’s no excuse not to tackle the garden!
As long as you are able to stick to the ‘social distancing’ rules, i.e. being outdoors in your own garden does not bring you into contact with anyone outside of your own family unit, then, as far as I can see, gardening is one activity that you can still enjoy during this worrying period. Being outdoors, gently active, is good for your physical and, most importantly, mental health.
Hardware stores are still open, at the moment anyway, and many of them sell all the gardening sundries that you are likely to need. Online buying and mail-order come into their own at a time like this. Unfortunately, online and ‘remote’ retailing is killing local gardening businesses so it’s worth checking with local nurseries just in case they have a scheme in place which allows them to sell while complying with the social distancing rules.
My heart went out to ‘Avon Bulbs’, longterm ‘RHS’ show exhibitors, who had, obviously, geared up their whole stocks of fabulous bulbous material ready for the show season. The cancellation of all the early horticultural shows, including the iconic ‘Chelsea Flower Show’, leaves them somewhat ‘all dressed up and nowhere to go’. They were operating a timed entry, drive-through, cash and carry system at their nursery in an attempt to salvage something from this nightmare situation.
That novel scheme has ended now but it’s worth checking with them, and other specialist nurseries, if they have other ways of getting plants to you while the nursery site is closed. I’m worried that the cancellation of flower shows, closure of retail operations and no garden visiting will be the death knell of many horticultural businesses which struggle to remain financially viable at the best of times.
It always amazes me how much money folk spend on having the latest, biggest, shiniest car, or most fabulous foreign holiday, but baulk at paying a few quid for a glorious little plant lovingly grown by an expert nurseryman / woman. Maybe an enforced stay at home will help to focus minds on what is more important in life?
Anyway, back to gardening…
This month sees lots of blossom from trees, especially fruit trees, and whole tribes of bulbs and ‘woodland floor’ plants bloom now before the leaf canopy closes over them. On warm days it’s a joy to be in the garden getting on with titivating; dusting soil with a general fertiliser, removing weed seedlings and gently ‘tickling’ with a border fork. Getting down with the emerging herbaceous perennials allows you to remove invidious weeds before they get out of hand or are obscured by other plants growing up around them.
We are at the tipping point of the growing season when buds burst from bare stems and spring bulbs double in size and abundance overnight. The stirring perennials in your garden deserve, in fact, demand, a little feeding. A sprinkle of ‘fish, blood and bone’ around emerging herbaceous plants will encourage them to grow away vigorously with the April showers.
With rising average temperatures and a diminishing risk of hard frost, there’s more opportunity to sow hardy annuals this month than there was last. Seeds are so readily available online that they are the obvious answer to getting some gardening done even in these restricted times. For those plants which should have been sown by now, there is also an online solution: ‘plug’ plants and ‘young’ plants. These are more expensive than growing your own because, and it’s true of all plants, you are paying for the time and skill of the producer to get the plant to a more advanced stage.
I shall stray, for a moment, into the vegetable area, covered more fully elsewhere, and just point out that it’s still relatively early in the cycle of veg sowing so, if you’ve never grown your own before, now’s the golden opportunity to make a start. Also sowing lawns from scratch can take place now, following rigorous seedbed preparation, as long as you can provide some sort of protection from heavy downpours which would otherwise wash the seed and fine tilth away.
Open up coldframes, greenhouses and conservatories, whenever it is sunny, to encourage ventilation and begin the hardening off process. If you took tender perennial cuttings in the autumn, and they are still in pots or seed trays, then these should be separated out and potted up as soon as growth resumes.
Herbaceous perennials can be propagated easily, before they are too advanced in growth, simply by chopping sections out of the clump while they are still in the ground or by lifting the whole stool and carving it up with a sharp spade. Pot up some sections into fresh compost, creating new plants, then replant the remaining third, or so, incorporating a handful of general feed into the planting hole. Remember to water in well, to settle the roots, even if the ground is already wet.
Having been subjected to so much rain this winter it’s easy to forget that, whenever it is dry and sunny, plants may require watering from this point onwards, especially if they are in containers or were only planted recently. I’ve already had to water the bulbs in pots – it’s amazing how quickly things dry out. At least being forced to stay at home makes it easier to spot what needs doing and allows you to actually spend time doing it.
Please make the most of your garden, while you can, but hope that ‘normal service is resumed’ as soon as possible. Stay well…