What a wonderful time of year this is! And so much to do! Let’s get on with repairing arches, tidying the spring clematis and taking some cuttings, amongst other things:
At the entrances to our cottage garden, we had put three metal arches, and since we had not paid a lot for them, perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised when, under the weight of roses or honeysuckle for the past five years, they started to fall apart. My husband Nigel, being a very resourceful sort of chap (he very rarely throws any item of hardware away!) had some rusty unused builder’s reinforcing bars. By dint of some nifty bending round a tree trunk (the bars, not my husband!), he was able to construct some fine new arches for me.
They may not have the fancy flounces of the shop-bought ones, but they certainly don’t have the fancy prices either. They accord well with the more rustic ambience of a cottage garden, and they are considerably stronger than their predecessors.
The early clematis are one of the great joys of spring – C. cirrhosa, alpina, montana, etc. and as they finish flowering, it’s time to give them a good tidy-up. Take out any dead stems and very tangled growth, then trim the whole plant back to a pleasing shape. There’s no call for brutality here though; all you’re trying to do is to make it look respectable while you’re encouraging some vigorous new stems that will develop next spring’s flowers on the growth that the plant makes this year (unlike the Group 3 types which flower on this season’s growth, remember). So, once you’ve tidied the plant, give it a good watering, perhaps some balanced fertiliser and mulch the roots with something organic. You are basically saying thank you to it for a job well done this year, in anticipation of it being even better next year.
One exception that I like to make is to leave the old flowers on C. macropetala cultivars like ‘Blue Bird’, because they turn into the most delightfully fluffy seedheads which remain a feature for months.
DO HAVE A DIARY!
My sisters will probably groan (they often do at my pronouncements), but I would urge you to keep a diary or a notebook and have it handy at all times. You don’t need anything big or expensive; in fact,if it’s pocket-sized and fairly cheap, it’s better because you’ll use it more if you don’t mind getting it out on a muddy murky day, but make sure it’s hard-backed so that you can jot things down easily without needing a table. Then just note down things you’ve planted, and when, and where; To Do lists; plants you’ve seen and where they were; tips you’ve gleaned from anywhere – mags, the radio, this blog….! You’ll find that it’s great to look at your notes from time to time – a personal and unique aide-memoire of your gardening journey. I have quite a shelf of them now, as you can imagine.
One day when the French garden was open last year, one visitor picked up just such a notebook that someone had dropped, full of French garden notes and diagrams, and when we luckily found its owner at the end of the afternoon, he fell upon it with shrieks of gratitude and relief. I think I would feel the same about mine if I lost it and found it again.
- Lots of things come quite easily from softwood cuttings taken now – Buddleia, Hydrangea, Lavatera, Pelargonium, Fuchsia, Euonymus, Sambucus, Penstemon…..lots and lots! In a nutshell, 10 cm lengths of new growth, pushed into compost round the edge of a pot, watered, then covered with a plastic bag held in place with a rubber band, and put in a warm place inside, but not in full sunshine. I described this in more detail last May.
- Put your plant stakes early, with the intention of having them entirely hidden by foliage if possible, once the plants have reached their full height.
- Heap earth round the foliage and stems of your potatoes as they grow, to increase your chances of a bumper crop.