The gar­den in... March and April

Landscape (UK) - - Our Landscape -

Kari-Astri Davies is en­joy­ing the wel­come colour of new flow­ers as they start to un­furl their petals

All around us bird­song is build­ing to a crescendo, ter­ri­to­ries are be­ing pro­claimed and ladies courted. Last year I found out that it was male wrens which build the mossy lit­tle nests to at­tract fe­males. I wanted to move part of a Berge­nia cil­i­ata to the rel­a­tively new, vaguely Hi­malayan-themed raised bor­der. This berge­nia puts up mas­sive bristly pad­dle leaves later in the year but at the mo­ment is still hun­kered close to the ground. Part­ing the leaves to find a good split­ting point I dis­cov­ered a wren’s nest with one tiny, brown freck­led egg.

I closed the leaves and left all as it was. Need­less to say the nest didn’t last long, a few days later some­thing had left it strewn across the lawn. Woo­ing male wrens build three or more nest sites, how­ever, so there was still time for Jenny Wren to start again, she just needed to chose some­where a lit­tle more prac­ti­cal.

Not shy at all

Pre­sum­ably the only con­nec­tion be­tween the phrase so­cial wall­flower and the wall­flower plant is where they can be found. The phrase is said to date to a poem from the 1820s de­scrib­ing the per­son hug­ging the wall whilst oth­ers filled their dance cards and twirled the night away. The flow­er­ing kind can eke out an ex­is­tence cling­ing to old build­ings, their roots grow­ing in lime mor­tar. On my jour­ney to work, there’s a Som­er­set front gar­den on a steep rocky bank with a strik­ing dis­play of colour through much of the year. The gar­dener favours a rich bur­gundy, pur­ple and or­ange pal­ette. I was par­tic­u­larly taken by the eye-catch­ing use of Siberian wall­flower, Erysi­mum x mar­shal­lii with its zingy bright tan­ger­ine flow­ers. This is an idea I might steal. In the past I have grown a rare old cul­ti­var, ‘Harpur Crewe’, with dou­bled dark yel­low flow­ers run­ning like tiny but­tons up the flower stem. ‘Bowles’s Mauve’ is a good doer but not de­li­ciously scented. It flow­ers on and off for ages, but tends to ex­haust it­self, then dies. Both can be kept go­ing by tak­ing cut­tings. I have done the tra­di­tional thing and in­ter­planted bed­ding wallflow­ers, Erysi­mum cheiri,

with tulips in raised beds around a paved seat­ing area. The flow­ers pro­vide a food source for early bees, and me with wafts of rich scent and wel­come early spring colour. In June last year, I re­mem­bered to sow a row of wallflow­ers in the new veg plot. I chose ‘Blood Red’ for its vel­vety rich­ness. The seedlings were thinned out at around 3in high, then fi­nally dug up and planted out in late Septem­ber. I gen­er­ally try to grow from seed rather than buy­ing the usu­ally mixed colour bare rooted bun­dles of wall­flower plants for sale in the au­tumn. I pre­fer be­ing able to choose the colour and grow­ing from seed lets me do this. Last sum­mer, I pulled up the last few re­main­ing wall­flower plants from the pre­vi­ous year. I was amazed to find how lit­tle root de­vel­op­ment the plants had made from the orig­i­nal plugs. This was de­spite them sup­port­ing a good set of leaves and flow­ers up top. I had bought plug plants by mail or­der the pre­vi­ous au­tumn as I’d for­got­ten the sum­mer sow­ing. Wallflow­ers seem to be able to make them­selves at home on very lit­tle, but shy and re­tir­ing they are def­i­nitely not!

Sow­ing the first seeds

In March thoughts turn se­ri­ously to veg seed sow­ing. As the soil starts to warm out­side, the first car­rots and beet­root can be sown. I’ll start with stumpy Chante­nay Red Cored car­rots and stripy

“Now the sun walks in the for­est, He touches the bows and stems with his golden fin­gers; They shiver, and wake from slum­ber.” Kather­ine Mans­field, ‘Very Early Spring’

chiog­gia beet­root. In April in­doors, ten­der crops like toma­toes and pep­pers, which are slower to get go­ing, can be started in prop­a­ga­tors on win­dowsills. Squash and beans will not be sown un­til early May. They are faster grow­ing so there’s a shorter time be­tween sow­ing, pot­ting on and be­ing able to plant out at the end of May. We cre­ated the small raised veg beds last year. They are pri­mar­ily com­prised of ex­ca­vated heavy clay so I’ll be adding green waste com­post to lighten the soil. My car­rots won’t then come out of the squelchy ground with such a wa­tery thwup! The green­house tomato crop last year was bet­ter than the pre­vi­ous year, per­haps be­cause they were

“Flower god, god of the spring, beau­ti­ful, boun­ti­ful, Cold-dyed shield in the sky, lover of ver­si­cles” Robert Louis Steven­son, ‘Flower God’

planted into soil rather than in grow bags. They set fairly well, but none were par­tic­u­larly sweet which I put down to the dis­mal light lev­els last Au­gust. The pulpier beef­steak types made a lot of lovely fresh tomato sauce. This in­cor­po­rated basil from seed sown di­rectly into the soil around the tomato plants. Most years I stick with at least one va­ri­ety I know and also try some­thing dif­fer­ent. ‘Big Rain­bow’ from sup­plier Baker Creek Heir­loom Seeds was new last year. It grew huge, turn­ing yel­low and de­vel­op­ing red streak­ing when fully ripe. Stal­wart ‘Cos­to­luto Fiorentino’, a crimped smaller beef­steak tomato per­formed well as I ex­pected, although re­cent RHS tri­als didn’t rate it as highly as some. This year I’m try­ing ‘Bul­gar­ian Bull’s Heart’ from a seed sup­plier on Etsy.

Plants on the move

As the soil warms and dries, it is a good time to start mov­ing plants again. I must harden my heart and dig out plants that have ei­ther over­grown their al­lot­ted spa­ces, aren’t happy be­cause con­di­tions have changed, or quite frankly I just don’t like. Ini­tially I was grate­ful for fast-grow­ing big spread­ing plants to fill the brand new beds. Now I need to be more se­lec­tive as we are over­run. Aster ‘An­denken an Alma Pötschke’ will have to go from the rose bed. I loved the rich vi­brant pink flow­ers in the first year. Now it is swamped by plants grow­ing up around it, and flow­ers only fit­fully. There is nowhere else for it to go un­less I con­tinue adding dis­rup­tive colours to the once cream/yel­low-themed bor­der. I’ll leave the Euphorbia mel­lif­era to flower and then re­con­sider its pres­ence. The lit­tle cut­ting I took when we moved house has grown into a lush ex­otic ever­green mound which over time will get tall, leggy and unattrac­tive. Atriplex hal­imus is a fast grow­ing, pretty, silvery leaved ever­green shrub. A Mediter­ranean na­tive, it has pro­vided wel­come height and an in­stant touch of South­ern French glam­our. The fo­liage on the bot­tom sec­tion has al­ready been pruned away to al­low plants to grow up un­der­neath. The slower grow­ing ever­green straw­berry tree, Ar­bu­tus unedo, in the same bed is the in­tended star of the show. With­out the atriplex it can come into its own. There is one last new area to be planted over the next few months where some plants will be re­lo­cated, cre­at­ing more breath­ing space in other beds. This fi­nal bit is due to be a sort of not very purist Piet Ou­dolfian area planted with (small) drifts of grasses, san­guisor­bas, se­dums, etc. Again it’s ex­ca­vated clay, so gravel needs to be worked in.

Fleet­ingly wel­come spring flow­ers

I en­joy see­ing the first knuck­les of pul­monaria buds emerg­ing through the winter de­bris of old leaves and twigs. The leaves bear vary­ing de­grees of sil­ver

splashes, dots and blobs. On warm days the flow­ers are a-hum with bees. Sol­diers and Sailors is a com­mon name for this plant be­cause it sports deep pink and blue flow­ers at the same time. I’d as­sumed the colour changed once flow­ers were pol­li­nated. The pink flow­ers are the new­est and rich in nec­tar, but ap­par­ently the ef­fect of massed pink and blue flow­ers of­fers a wider colour spec­trum to at­tract in­sect in­ter­est. When we moved in, the gar­den was al­ready awash with self-seeded plants. As the year pro­gresses they be­come rough hairy leaved brutes ramp­ing across the woodbed and need to be kept within bounds. An­other plant I have a cer­tain amount of tol­er­ance for at this time of year is the white flow­ered dead-net­tle, Lamium al­bum. As a child I liked it be­cause it wasn’t a sting­ing net­tle – the leaves are softly felty. They can def­i­nitely stay.

Left to right: Wall­flower ‘Bowles’s Mauve’; time to start sow­ing car­rots; an early honey bee gath­ers nec­tar; a wren on top of a ley­landii.

Left to right: Siberian wall­flower ‘Harpur Crewe’; time to start cut­ting the grass; daf­fodils bring wel­come spring colour. Bed­ding wall­flower, Erysi­mum cheiri, is a herba­ceous peren­nial, of­ten grown as a bi­en­nial. It reaches up to 30in (80cm) in height.

Left to right: Sting-free white dead-net­tles; pul­monaria ‘Blue En­sign’ springs splash of colour; fill­ing raised beds with com­post.

Striped tulips add an ex­tra layer of in­ter­est to spring plant­ing. Kari-Astri Davies started gar­den­ing in her twen­ties with pots of roses, gera­ni­ums and sweet peas on a para­pet five storeys up in cen­tral Lon­don. She’s now on her fifth gar­den, this time in the Wilt­shire coun­try­side. In­spi­ra­tion in­cludes her plant-mad par­ents, as well as Dan Pearson, Beth Chatto, Keith Wi­ley and the Rix & Phillips plant books. Kari de­scribes her ap­proach as im­pul­sive, mean­ing not ev­ery­thing is done by the book.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.