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GardeningFebruary in the Garden - 2014

February in the Garden – 2014

I really don’t know what to say. Every year is different, to state the bleedin’ obvious, but I think this has been the vilest few weeks that I can remember in all the fourteen or so years that I’ve lived in my present hovel.

I’d rather have it cold, and still, than wet and windy. On a personal note, the horizontal rain, powered by gale force winds, finds it way through the hamstone walls, ‘Crittall’ windows and flapping slates of my rather exposed home, resulting in almost as much water indoors as outdoors; I have some very fine algal colonies festering on the inside of my stone mullions!

As for the garden, it’s taken a real battering. Even though a couple of articles ago I suggested staking everything, in a timely fashion, all that work has been undone. The soil is so wet that even the most firmly driven stake has leant over under the constant pressure of the wind. Others have snapped off, underground, where the saturation has been too great even for the supposedly rot-proof timber. At this stage of proceedings it’s safer to leave the affected specimens leaning at a crazy angle, they can’t get any worse, and make the necessary repairs when conditions improve.

The older I get the more of a fair-weather gardener I’ve become—getting soaked to the skin and chilled to the bone is the preserve of ‘Gentleman Gardeners’ half my age! Recently the ‘RHS’ put out a press release, mostly written by a desk-bound gardeners I noticed, suggesting that now is the best time to be gardening—forget that! Now is the time to be girding your loins ready to start sowing in earnest once light levels start to pick up in the next month or so. Get as much done under cover now to really ‘leap forward’ when Mother Nature gathers her skirts and gallops away (how many mixed metaphors can one man use?).

If you didn’t sow them in November, which is ideal but not always practical, then sweet peas can be started off now, soak them first, because they are large seeds and the young seedlings are able to withstand lower temperatures than more ‘rarefied’ annuals which should to be sown later on.

Sweet peas sown in February are, in my experience, not a lot different from November sown plants which have sat around all winter; in theory the autumn sown specimens have been twiddling their leaves while creating more substantive root systems. In my garden they tend to end up as ‘mouse food’ and I have to sow a new batch in February anyway. This year I reckon most of the mice have drowned, or moved into my airing cupboard (how do they do that?) so I might have got away with it.

Last year I meant to jump onto the ‘Cut Flowers from Seed’ bandwagon and sell bunches in my shop, alongside the vintage gardening paraphernalia, it didn’t happen. I’ve just had a chat with my neighbour and she says she’s going to be “my case” to make sure I do it this year—putting it ‘on the record’ now means I’ll have to do it I guess.

To that end I have been inspired by a brilliant gardener I worked with once, Jane Corbett (, so I think I’ll see if she wants to ‘hold my hand’ on this little adventure. Gardening can be a very solitary pursuit but I reckon it’s always better to collude with someone. Books and the interweb are very one-dimensional, TV gardening programmes too ‘style over substance’ and magazines mostly just trying to promote stuff. Fleshy garden buddies are the way to go…….even if it has to be done via ‘Facebook’, messaging and ‘Skype’ these days.

If you insist on doing stuff in the garden at the moment it’s all that winter pruning, wisteria wrangling and border prep that needs doing whenever it’s dry enough to get onto the soil without compacting it.

The soil will have taken a bit of a beating this winter due to the amount of heavy rainfall. Any nutrients not ‘locked in’, and only clay soils really hold onto nutrients, will need feeding once the rain stops. Soluble or ‘Growmore’ type fertilisers are no good as they just promote leggy growth, when you don’t want it, and get washed away as soon as the rains return. Slow release fertilisers, either chemical forms (which at least have science behind them) or organic types, are what you need.

When conditions allow I like to work through the borders methodically removing anything that shouldn’t be there (be it weeds, congested plants, dead material, prunings etc.) and, as I retreat backwards out of the bed, I fluff the soil, with a border fork, and add a sprinkling of ‘fish, blood and bone’, topped off with an inch or two of sterile organic matter. The regular reader of this column (and I believe there is just one) knows that I tend to get a bulk delivery from the local firm of ‘Komit Kompost’ and I favour the mix which has some bark chips in it; they protect the soil surface even when the ‘muck’ has rotted down.

So there you have it; get outdoors when you can and pray for at least some cold, dry, weather before winter is out—those garden pests which haven’t drowned need some proper cold to knock them on the head.

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