Growth spurt as gardens stir into life

In her weekly gardening column Olive Ryan shares her tips on what to plant and sow at this time of year
Growth spurt as gardens stir into life

Three cornered leek hasthree cornered strappy leaves and clusters ofwhite bellshaped loosely held flowers.

GROWTH has really gone into overdrive in the last week, everywhere you look now there is new growth (and weeds!) appearing daily.

It is a great time to admire new foliage as it emerges unscathed from the ground. Podophyllums, hostas, cow parsley with its airy foliage and emerging flowering shoots, the new foliage of Acers, and other deciduous trees lift the spirits and give us hope and inspiration for the year ahead.

Established trees, shrubs and hedges will benefit from an annual feed of chicken manure pellets, best to apply this when the soil is moist to help with absorption by the roots.

The woodland floor is covered in a carpet of green, white and blue as the ferns unfurl and the wild garlic, three cornered leek (often referred to as wild garlic) and bluebells create their colourful display before the new leaves on the deciduous trees block the light.

There can be a temptation to include some of these woodland floor plants in a garden setting but wary, they are good competitors and will essentially take over the garden in a short period, so give it some serious consideration .

With a surge of growth happening everywhere, it is of course a forager’s delight as hedgerows come to life with new growth. Top of the list at this time of year is of course nettle tips that are full of vitamins and minerals. Best to use fresh new growth at the tips wearing thick gloves to avoid stinging while harvesting.

Nettles can be used for soup or tea.
Nettles can be used for soup or tea.

Nettle soup is a tasty, nutritious and simple introduction to this leafy green, making the soup as you would vegetable soup, adding the well washed nettle tips at the end and wilting them over the heat, then blitzing the lot. Wild garlic leaves can be used to make pestos, as can chickweed, and there are plenty of young leaves that can be harvested now and added to salads like the young leaves of white thorn, sorrel and limes.

If you are not sure if a plant is what you think it is, don’t take chances as many similar-looking plants may be poisonous.

From now on, we will be spoilt for choice in the garden as the ‘hungry gap’ ends. It is a good idea to direct sow lettuce every few weeks from now to ensure a constant supply of fresh leaves, as well as many other crops like beetroot, rocket and spring onions which mature quickly.

Watering is our next challenge as the dry weather continues, especially anything newly planted or transplanted in recent months. It is much better to give plants a good soak maybe twice a week than a little trickle every day as this just teases the roots up to the surface. A good soak will take the roots downwards where they will eventually be able to source water independently.

Keep an eye on newly planted hedging or trees as they find it hard in their first year after planting during periods of prolonged dry weather. The application of a thick mulch in spring can be very useful in helping retain water in the soil, making it available to plant roots, in addition it helps suppress weed growth.

Make a note of where you have gaps for spring flowering bulbs and include these areas in autumn bulb planting plans. Noticing where could do with some spring colour and perhaps taking pictures can be useful reminders. 

If there are large clumps of spring flowering bulbs like snowdrops, daffodils, crocus and fritillaria in the garden, these can be dug up, divided and replanted now, creating lots of new plant material to spread throughout the garden. It can also be a useful exercise to help keep bulbs flowering well as when they get overcrowded flowering may lessen.

Garden visits

It will be such a treat when we can return to visiting gardens after a restricted year. Lismore Castle gardens reopened yesterday, and is open daily from 10.30am until 5.30pm, tickets must be booked in advance, see

There are 27 gardens listed on the West Cork garden trail for 2021 and most are currently open for visits with restrictions regarding mask wearing, etc. Check out for more.

There is no printed brochure this year so all information is online. and it is advisable to contact a particular garden before visiting to avoid disappointment. It is great to be able to get out and about again and be inspired by other gardens and plantings around the county for now.

Happy garden touring this spring!

Podyphyllum ‘Hunan’.
Podyphyllum ‘Hunan’.

Plant of the week 

This week it has to be a dramatic foliage plant pushing forth as it bursts into growth named Podyphyllum ‘Hunan’.

These plants are shade loving and spread by rhizome so can be divided regularly. They are most notable in spring when the emerging foliage resembles an unfolding umbrella as it rises from the soil.

This cultivar has very elaborate and decorative markings on the leaf, creating interest in summer months. It gets to about 50cm in height and spread and prefers a free draining but moisture retentive soil, so give it plenty of homemade compost to keep it happy.

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