ALL gardeners delight in the extra hours of daylight at this time of the year, as it allows us to tend to our gardens in the evenings, observing plants emerging and unfolding after a winter of hibernation.
Stopping to look and take stock right now is an essential exercise. There is so much happening in the garden, it is hard to keep up with all of the new flowers and foliage appearing each day.
The arrival of the swallows is a much anticipated event every year and the skies and rooftops are scanned daily for their imminent return. There is so much growth springing up at ground level, with leaves unfurling at a ferocious rate.
The aptly named shuttlecock fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) looks magnificent as its fronds emerge from the soil, and the suitability of its common name cannot be denied.
Woodland plants are particularly good right now, with flowers produced before the canopy closes in, Brunnera, Epimedium, Omphalodes, Pulmonaria and Pachyphragma all add colour and fresh new foliage to the mix.
The daffodils have put on a great show this spring with the dry spell favouring a longer-lasting display. Later varieties like ‘Thalia’, ‘Hawera’ and the Pheasant’s Eye daffodil are just beginning to flower while lots of the earlier flowering varieties are fading fast.
With a little planning, it is possible to have daffodils flowering from December through to May using different varieties.
One of the earliest flowering varieties of daffodil is ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’, which can be in flower before Christmas. If this is a little too early for you then there is ‘February Gold’ or the reliable miniature daffodil ‘Tete a tete’, both flowering in February.
Make a note now of where more daffodils are needed in your garden by taking photographs, and this can be factored into an autumn planting plan for bulbs.
Daffodils will grow on any free draining sunny site and are a good option for naturalizing in grass, but do be aware that the grass cannot be cut until the foliage has completely melted back into the bulb, which will take about six weeks after flowering.
One of life’s great pleasures is being able to go out to your garden and come back with an armful of flowers at any time of the year, and particularly in springtime after the dearth of the winter months.
There are some beautiful spring flowering shrubs producing stunning displays and filling the garden with glorious scents, that the early pollinators are appreciative of also.
Skimmia japonica is an evergreen mound forming shrub that has male and female flowers on different plants. The female plants go on to produce red berries later in the year. These shrubs are in full flower about now and the perfume from them is amazing, filling the air around them with heady scents and also very popular with early flying bees looking for some nourishment.
Also looking and smelling good is Viburnum carlesii with its clusters of delicate pink blossoms. Corylopsis pauciflora has attractive, pale yellow, fragrant bell-shaped flowers produced on drooping branches. Preferring an acid soil, it is looking full of spring cheer in April.
The temperatures are still very low at night-time with the risk of frosts a reality for a little longer, so do have the horticultural fleece at the ready and continue closing doors to glasshouses and polytunnels at night for the foreseeable future.
Seed planting has begun in earnest, and when growing many types of vegetables, it is best to do succession plantings a few weeks apart to ensure a continuous supply, instead of a glut all at once.
This is particularly true with lettuce that germinates and is ready to harvest within six weeks of sowing at this time of the year. Sowing a little and often is the trick to ensure a constant fresh supply of young leaves.
Harvesting has begun already in the garden, with rhubarb producing the first taste of 2021. Supplying plants with a thick layer of compost around the crowns will ensure continued good cropping, but be careful not to bury the crowns.
If flowering stalks appear, then remove them to prevent energy going into flower and seed production.
Rhubarb is best harvested by pulling the stems gently from the crown while twisting, rather than cutting as stumps of stems may rot if not removed. Never harvest all of the stems, only half at the most should be used and the rest left to provide energy for the crown.
Forced stems have also been harvested at this stage and these should be left to grow with no more harvesting this year to allow the crowns build up.
Plant of the week
This time of the year is when spring flowering biennials really come into their own. These plants take two years to produce flowers, growing and gaining momentum in their first year and producing flowers early in the second year.
They include foxgloves, honesty, sweet william and wallflower (Erysimum cherii, left) with its bright yellow blooms that continue right through the summer months.
They prefer full sun in a good well drained soil and can get to about 0.5m in height, with a similar spread.
They can be short lived plants but do tend to self-seed, with offspring popping up anywhere there is a pocket of soil if the flowers are left to run to seed. They can also be propagated easily from cuttings during late spring and summer.
Happy Spring Gardening!