Monday, 6 April 2009

Village Life - April

Spring is here! As the poet said: The lark's on the wing; the snail's on the thorn; the garden centre's packed; and all's right with the world!

But enough poetry. It's time to reach for your seed packets. By now your garden soil should be warm enough for you to sow old favourites like sweet peas, lupins, Aquilegia and poppies directly where you want them. Half-hardy bedding plants like Nicotiania and Cleome can be sown in trays and left on the window-sill or an unheated greenhouse. For the kitchen gardener, the time is right for sowing tomatoes, aubergines, celeriac, peppers and celery in pots. Just keep them in a bright, warm place, and they'll be ready to plant out in June.

Spring Hanging Baskets
A few years ago I worked in a garden centre, and one of my jobs was making up the hanging basket orders. After assembling hundreds I regard myself as something of an expert. So here's my guide to making your own Spring Hanging Baskets:

First: which container? Any style will do, but I prefer a cone shaped wicker/rush basket with plastic liner. Poke some drainage holes in the liner and it can be re-used many times. Wicker cones are quite striking, and visually you should aim to balance the shape of the cone with the planting inside it. This means positioning taller plants in the centre and grading the height down towards the edges, with trailing plants tumbling over the sides.

Plant-wise, try to keep to 2 or 3 colours, as well as your background green foliage. Look for Primula, polyanthus and spring bulbs already in flower, such as Narcissus 'Tete-a-Tete' or 'Paper-White'. Evergreens such as Euonymous, Skimmia or small conifers will provide background colour, while small grasses and ferns, and trailing plants like ivy, bugle and Lamium add form and texture.

Planting is simple. First, using a bucket or large plant pot for support, fill the cone with multipurpose compost to about 8cm from the top. Put your tallest plants in the centre and work outwards. Pack the plants in tightly, and water well.

Hang the basket up, and make a mental note of how heavy it is. Once a day you should lift the cone gently from the bottom, and if it feels significantly lighter then water it. As long as you don't let it dry out you'll get 8-10 weeks display, and at the beginning of June you can empty it and refill with summer planting. Either re-pot the spring plants into another container, or set them out in the garden.

Food watch
April is a manic time for garden designers, which is great news for me, but the downside is I don't have much time for my own kitchen garden. We managed to dodge the showers in March to plant carrots, parsnips, cabbage, beetroot, peas, early potatoes and shallots. This month we have peppers, brocolli and salad leaves to sow, and some raspberry canes and blackcurrant plants to bed in.

Comments are always welcome and, if you're down with the kids, you can follow me on Twitter: @lushgardens

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