Posts Tagged ‘spring gardening’

What to do in the garden in May

April 30th, 2015 | Garden Diaries, The flower garden, The vegetable garden | Comments Off on What to do in the garden in May

April on the whole has been warm and sunny, and at times positively hot!  There have also been the opposite extremes with frosts still being a regular feature of early mornings, and so it has been a confusing time for young plants.

The very warm days coupled with a regular watering routine means that everything seems to be growing rapidly; we can almost see some plants getting bigger in front of our eyes!  With luck we may be able to wave goodbye to the frosts soon, but we can never be really sure until the last week of May, so at the trials field in Kentford, we are still keeping tender flowers and vegetables under wraps for some of the time.  We are lucky enough to have been able to install a new polytunnel at the trials field which is a great addition to our trials team’s growing space and helps us keep young plants and seedlings warm through the frosty mornings.

So, what do you need to do in the garden in May?

 

Jobs in the flower garden in May

Canterbury Bell Seeds from Mr Fothergill'sSo as May begins, it is time to start the process of hardening-off half-hardy annuals and perennials ready for your summer displays.  All this means is gradually accustoming them to outside conditions before planting them out to their flowering positions later in the month.  To begin with, take them from the greenhouse or cold frame for a few hours a day, returning them at night and protecting them with fleece or newspaper if frost is forecast.  Then they can be left outside all day for a week or two, again returning them under cover at night, before leaving them out night and day for a week or so until they are acclimatised enough to be planted out.  They should then grow away with the minimum check to their systems.

Once the weather warms up a little more, half-hardy flowers destined for bedding schemes, borders, hanging baskets and other containers can begin to be ‘hardened off’ or become gradually accustomed to outside conditions before being set out to their flowering positions.  To begin with, take them out of the greenhouse on warm days and place them somewhere sheltered, returning them to the greenhouse at night.  After a week or so, start to leave them out overnight, as long as frost is not forecast, taking them back into the greenhouse if this is the case.

By the end of May they should be outside virtually all the time, although local conditions will vary around the UK.  Most half-hardies can be planted out in late May and early June to provide you with a wealth of colour right through the summer until the frosts return in the autumn.

sweet peasIf you have not already done so, plant out sweet peas either from an autumn sowing or ones made earlier this year.  They require the same support system of canes and netting or ‘wigwams’ as runner beans do and they are just as easy to grow, being naturally self-climbing and self-clinging.   They may, however, require a little encouragement in the earlier stages of growth, so be prepared to tie them in for the first few inches.  Keep a look-out for slugs around newly planted sweet peas, and keep them well watered at all stages of their growth.

If you fancy growing some really long stemmed and large flowered blooms, why not try growing a few plants as cordons?  This is really no more difficult than training indeterminate, greenhouse tomatoes.  Train just the strongest stem up a single cane, removing the weaker ones.  Remove tendrils and side-shoots as they appear and tie in the stem to the cane as it grows.  It’s a little harder work than growing them as ‘bushes’, but you may be impressed buy the quality of the blooms you produce.

Don’t forget we are holding our annual national sweet pea competition again at Capel Manor College, north London, on Saturday, 18 July.   It is open solely to ‘ordinary’ gardeners, plus classes for schools and individual youngsters.  There are big money prizes up for grabs, so growing sweet peas can be rewarding in more ways than one!  If you cannot make it to Capel Manor, we have a great way of making sure blooms reach us safely by post – all it takes is a two-litre soft drink bottle!  Full details of how to do it are here.

Helenium seeds from Mr Fothergill'sAs forget-me-nots finish flowering, you may wish to pull them up, as they self-seed very freely.  Alternatively, if you are happy to have ‘volunteer’ plants popping up throughout the garden to flower next spring, leave them a little while longer to let the ripe seed disperse before removing the spent plants. Looking ahead to next year’s forget-me-nots and other biennials, May is the ideal time to make sowings of these.  Wallflowers, Canterbury bells, foxgloves and Sweet Williams can all be sown now.  Sow in trays or in the open in a seed bed, although wallflower does much better if sown in a seed bed, as tray-grown plants do not thrive.  Plant them out to their flowering positions in the autumn and forget about them until they burst into life and flower next spring and early summer.

Have you heard of the ‘Chelsea chop’?  It’s less painful than it sounds and is a  technique used to promote better flowering in some perennials.  By cutting back border plants such as helenium, echinacea, solidago and a host of other perennials to about half their size, they will branch out, make bushier growth and produce more flowers than if you had left them to grow unchecked.  This procedure is best carried out with a pair of secateurs in late May, around the time of the Chelsea Flower Show, which serves as a timely reminder.

Spring-flowering species of clematis such as Clematis armandii, alpina and montana can be pruned back now that flowering has finished.

Once you have weeded round roses and perennials and the soil is damp, this is the perfect time to give the plants a 3-4in deep mulch of well rotted farmyard manure, home-made compost or composted bark.  This will help trap the moisture in the soil, suppress weed growth  and improve the structure of your soil as it is gradually taken down by worms.  We believe mulching is one of the most valuable actions you can do in the garden, but

What to do in the garden in April

March 31st, 2015 | Garden Diaries, The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

As we wave goodbye to March and welcome in April we can finally start to see the growing year unfold rapidly ahead of us after patiently waiting for the busiest time of the year in the garden.  So without further ado, here is what you must do!

 

Jobs in the flower garden in April

Zinnias from Mr Fothergill'sIf you have not already done so, make sowings of seed of annual bedding and container plants.  We covered the subject last month, but there is still time for flowers such as French and African marigolds, dahlias, zinnias and petunias.  Sow these now and you will have a riot of colour in your borders and patio pots from June right through to the autumn.

Petunias from Mr Fothergill'sAs the soil warms up (well, we hope it will!) and begins to dry out a little, direct sowings of seed of hardy annuals can be made in their flowering positions.  This is just about the easiest way to have some splashes of colour this summer, as most will start to bloom just a few weeks after sowing.  Virginian and night scented stock are about the fastest of all hardy annuals to burst into flower, so are great subjects to sow with children, who will not want to wait long to see the results of their work.
There are plenty of easy-to-grow hardy annuals in our range, including cornflower, godetia, nasturtium, linaria, candytuft and nigella (love-in-a-mist).  If you are unsure of which to grow, sow our Mixed Annuals or Mixed Californian Wildflowers.  Remember sweet peas are also hardy annuals, so they too can be sown direct this month, requiring only the same support as you would use for runner beans.  When they start blooming, keep cutting the flowers to encourage more to be produced.

mixed annuals

Towards the end of the month summer-flowering bulbs, tubers and corms can also be planted in borders where you want them to flower.  Dahlias and gladioli are some of our favourites, but cannas also look stunning and bring a really tropical touch to any garden.

As spring-flowering bulbs’ flowers fade, remove the dead heads, but let the foliage die back and turn yellow to allow energy to pass back into the bulbs underground.

Roses will benefit from feeding with a good quality general fertiliser or one formulated specially for them to give them a boost ahead of flowering.  The same goes for perennials in your borders.  The winter rains will have depleted nutrients in the soil, particularly on light, free-draining land.

Prune spring-flowering shrubs such as Ribes (flowering currant) and Forsythia when they have finished  flowering.  If you have Cornus (dogwood) it usually needs cutting back, as the colourful winter stems are produced only on young growth.  Cornus alba and sericea can both be cut back hard to within a few inches of the ground, while Cornus sanguinea is not as vigorous as those, so only needs to be cut back by a half to two thirds of its present growth.

Now is a good time to divide and replant hostas.  Lift plants carefully with a spade and divide up the clump with an old serrated knife, making sure each section has both fibrous and fleshy roots.  Replant, taking care not to do so too deeply.  The crown of the plant should be just at ground level.  Water the new plants in well and remember to watch out for slugs, which are particularly fond of hostas.

 

Jobs in the vegetable garden in April

April is the best month to plant maincrop potatoes.  Where space permits, they should be planted 16-18in apart with about 24in between rows.  Earth up the foliage as it develops to prevent damage from late frosts, which will cut back their development.  Many of our customers now grow potatoes in pots, and good crops can be achieved with this method.  Use a 12-15 litre pot for each tuber.  Add compost to a quarter the depth of the pot, plant one tuber, cover it to  about half way with more compost.  Keep the port watered and keep adding more compost as the foliage shows through until the compost is almost to the top of the pot.  The potatoes you produce in pots will usually be of the highest quality and blemish-free.

Savoy cabbage from Mr FothergillsThis is perhaps the busiest month of the year for sowing vegetable seed direct in the garden or on the allotment.  There is a huge range which can be sown during April, but do be guided by the prevailing weather and soil conditions.  If your soil remains cold and very wet, delay sowing until conditions become more favourable  Seed sown in cold, wet soil will often rot before it has a chance to germinate, while a delayed sowing will produce young plants which soon make up for lost time.  If you really cannot wait to sow, try broad beans as they can withstand poor conditions better than most other vegetable seeds.

Herb seed such as coriander, chervil, parsley and dill can also be sown direct in the garden.  If you grow coriander specially for adding to Asian dishes, do try Cilantro, which produces masses of large leaves and is slow to run to seed, which can sometimes be a problem with coriander.  While most of us grow the curly-leaved parsley, the Italian flat-leaf type, such as our organically-grown Giant of Italy, has a stronger flavour and is great added to soups and to many other dishes.  Basil is hugely popular in the UK, but it is tender, so best to sow indoors in pots at present before transplanting outdoors in a few weeks time.

CorianderAutumn- and winter-cropping brassicas such as savoy cabbage, Brussels sprouts and curly kale can be sown either in a seed bed in the garden or in trays of compost in the greenhouse or cold frame.  This should produce plenty of young plants for setting out in summer.

Later in the month you may wish to make an indoor sowing of French and runner beans, although it is far too early to sow these direct because they too are frost-tender.  Sow the seed individually in small pots of compost and leave them in an unheated greenhouse.  When frosts are forecast, cover the seedlings with horticultural fleece or a layer or two of newspaper.  Harden the young plants off gradually before planting out to their cropping positions at the end of May.

Monte cristo beanIf you have never grown climbing (as opposed to runner) beans before, please take a look at Climbing Bean Monte Cristo.  As easy to grow as ‘runners’, it is a very heavy cropper, producing stringless, pencil-podded beans, which are fleshy and full of flavour.  The plants have the advantage of resistance to most common diseases, so remain healthy.  Well worth growing, in our opinion!

There is still time to plant onion sets, but it is best done sooner rather than later.  Most varieties can be planted about 4in apart, allowing about 9-12in between rows.  Just leave the very tip of each set visible above the soil and keep a look-out for birds pulling them out before have a chance to grow.

 

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Top performing Stellar Geraniums

February 26th, 2015 | News, The flower garden | 0 Comments

Geranium Grandad Mac

Stellar geraniums (Pelargonium) have their origins in Australia, with some varieties being bred more than a century ago.  Mr Fothergill’s has been trialling several varieties which are not often seen and rarely available, in conjunction with a local  grower, and has selected three of the best performers for British gardens.

The fascinating series comprises the semi-double, coral coloured Grandad Mac, the double, pale pink Rookley and Robyn Hannah, which has bright cherry red blooms, each with a contrasting white eye.  “The plants grow up to 40cm (16in), and are ideal for baskets and other containers either in sun or partial shade.  They really are fantastic performers all summer long, and we are delighted to offer them to our customers,” explains Mr Fothergill’s Tom Stimpson.

Stellar geraniums are characterised by their unique, lobed foliage and brightly coloured flowers, they are excellent garden performers, providing colour from early to late summer, have excellent disease resistance, are easy to grow and require the minimum of attention to give their best – the perfect plants, according to Tom.

Three plants of any of the three varieties costs £7.95, while anyone ordering all nine plants may do so for £16.85.  Last order date for Stellar geraniums is the end of April 2015, with despatch from early May 2015.

Social media voters pick Fuchsia Amelie for Mr Fothergill’s catalogue front cover

February 25th, 2015 | News, The flower garden | 0 Comments

Fuchsia Shadowdancer Amelie (close-up)

When Mr Fothergill’s was undecided which new flower variety to feature on the front cover of the new spring edition of its seed, plant and bulb catalogue, it decided to ask gardeners via social media.  The four choices were posted on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, with votes cast on Facebook.  In a closely run contest, the winner was fuchsia Amelie, which is part of the Sundancer® series, famed for its neat, compact habit and outstanding garden performance.

Mr Fothergill’s Tom Stimpson comments that although not a brand new series, Sundancers® are not readily available and make a pleasing change from some of the more common varieties.  “They are incredibly floriferous, in fact some of the most profuse bloomers I’ve seen, with plants smothered in attractive blooms from early to late summer. The frilly, light pink sepals contrast wonderfully with the intense purple corolla to create a fantastic summer-long show,” he says.  “We’ve trialled them for several years, and Amelie is the best in the series.  Its neat, upright, yet somewhat lax habit makes it suitable for both patio containers or as a centre plant for a hanging basket – the flowers are well displayed on the plant too, so all of them are clearly visible – no hiding behind the foliage!”

Fuchsia Amelie grows to a height of 30cm (12in) and has a spread of 25cm (10in).  A pack of five young plants costs £8.95, but two packs may be ordered for just £6.45 per pack, with a saving of £5.00.  The company can accept orders until the end of April 2015, with despatch from late April onwards

You can view and order from our extensive range of fuchsia plants from Mr Fothergill’s on the website, or by mail order from our catalogue.

Nation of Gardeners March planting update: time to compare spring planting with autumn planted varieties

April 22nd, 2014 | Nation of Gardeners, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

March parcel for Nation of GardenersThe March parcel marked the half-year of this project.  We have passed from autumn, through the hard winter months and back out into spring where the lighter days are making everything feel more hopeful.  It is safe to say that at the 6 month mark we have a network of full gardens and full windowsills stuffed to brimming with Mr Fothergill’s produce around the UK.

The weather in March turned mild, and then even turned sunny, before the sting in the tail of the last week of the month.  However, this  break in the weather enabled our gardeners to get going with no impediments for this month’s parcel which contained three varieties of tomato to trial.  Also in their sixth parcel, they found Garlic, Broad Beans and two varieties of Strawberries – Buddy and Sweetheart – all of which they had grown before.

You can follow the gardener’s progress as they post regular updates to the Facebook wall, and if you feel the need… then join in the conversation!  We’ve been finding that other people are joining in and posting pictures of their own developing crops and seedlings which is great to see how they compare with what our own group of gardeners are seeing.   This makes it a true Nation of Gardeners!  So if you are growing and have plants emerging for the first time, please feel free to also post your updates to the wall.

 

A round up of March’s planting tasks
Potted garlicA third shipment of Garlic Solent Wight was sent out in March.   After the autumn and spring planted Garlic Solent Wight from bulbs in October and February, Mr Fothergill’s decided to test out supplying the gardeners with some pot grown garlic – pictured here to the left.

The gardeners were supplied with three plants that were already growing in pots of compost, and were asked to keep an eye on these for whether they bolt having been grown on by the Mr Fothergill’s nursery team in this way.

Together with a final shipment of pot-grown garlic that will be sent out in April, it is hoped we get some firm conclusions on garlic growing across the UK using direct comparisons on techniques for growing to give us the optimum method and time of year to plant out.  See this article on early results published earlier in April for more on garlic growing across our UK sample of gardeners.

Strawberries in water prior to planting out

The gardeners received Strawberry Buddy and Strawberry Sweetheart again during March in order to test these spring planted strawberries against the ones planted out in the autumn.  The autumn-planted fruits have shown varying degrees of success around the country.  Largely they have overwintered well, but other gardeners in the group have found them to have drowned in the heavy rains we had over winter, or found them nibbled by hungry creatures.

Of the healthy plants – which form the majority – these will be tested against the spring planted versions for yield, time to crop from planting and duration of cropping season to see if they perform as well when planted 6 months later.  Many gardeners are already reporting that their autumn planted strawberries are in flower now, and that the spring plants are establishing well and growing on quickly.

Another packet of Broad Bean Aquadulce was also sent out for sowing to compare the crops with the autumn sown seed.  

Spring sown broad beans

By the end of March, many of the gardeners have raised some fine and healthy looking autumn-sown plants that are already in bloom before Spring had arrived.  The pictures below show some of the fabulously healthy looking plants in the care of our gardeners.  The mild winter has enabled this early blooming to some extent, but if there are enough pollinators around whilst these plants have been flowering away, there will be very early crops of broad beans for our gardeners to enjoy.  The mild weather in March has also enabled quite a few gardeners to germinate their spring sown broad beans pretty swiftly too.

By early April, some gardeners are starting to wonder if their autumn-sown plants have ‘run out of steam’.  And so the real test for the spring sown broad beans will be if they produce as heavy crops and with more certainty than the autumn grown seeds.  It seems clear that they certainly won’t be able to catch up and compete with the autumn grown plants in terms of ‘first to crop’, but maybe their growth will prove to be more assured.  Watch this space!

Broad beans sown in the autumn

New to the gardeners this month were three varieties of Tomato for growing outdoors.  Tomato Ferline, Tomato Sungold and Tomato Sakura were supplied as seed for sowing in March with the intention of growing these outside eventually.

March tomatoes for growing outdoors

The gardeners set to this task quickly, with some good germination rates being seen across the board. Whether the change in light and heat conditions in March versus February had an effect or not is not clear.  However, these March sown seeds went ‘leggy’ for some gardeners very quickly meaning they got potted on before the first true leaves had truly established themselves on the plants.   This has not had a detrimental effect on the plants though, with gardeners across the UK reporting some fine looking plants in their care.

The tomatoes supplied in February – Tomato Black Opal, Tomato Pink Charmer and Tomato Orange Slice – have got underway well  for most gardeners, though some reported difficulty in germinating them.  The best results seen were those that had an element of heat available for successful germination.  Intended for indoors growing only, these tomatoes will need more care than the March issued varieties.  This seems to be reflected in the relative ease of germination for the March varieties also, where a greater germination success rate was seen.

 

October through to February updates

The gardeners have been very busy in the last six months and so there is always something to report on.  Of note in March though, our gardeners have observed a number of things.  Here’s a whistle-stop tour of what’s been going on.

  • Potatoes breaking through the soilGeorgina in Cheshire, Gwynne in Morayshire and Max in Hertfordshire all got busy planting their potatoes out in early March.  Many gardeners have followed suit later in March and early April, with the first shoots pushing their way through the soil in patio planters and in the ground around the UK, such as this potato pictured in Ceredigion.
  • Our gardener in Bristol has potted on her salad leaves as individual plants with the intention of growing on outdoors.
  • Hannah in Guildford, Joanne in Suffolk, Lindsay in Devon and Mags in Renfrewshire have all planted out their autumn sown sweet peas in early April. However, it seems that this may have been too early as frosts came in Devon and Guildford shortly afterwards, so we shall have to see if they recover.
  • For many, the antirrhinums have been an unusual growing challenge.  Some of the seedlings collapsed totally for some gardeners whereas others, such as the ones being grown in Renfrewshire, are very well established if a little ‘leggy’ and seemingly on the point of collapse.  Our gardeners in Cheshire, Buckinghamshire, Devon, Pontpridd, Worcestershire and Suffolk have all managed to grow some specimens and so summer will be the real test for these new and exclusive variety of snapdragons by Mr Fothergill’s.Strawberries in bloom
  • The first broad beans sown in the autumn have set tiny beans in early April in Devon and there are flowers coming on the autumn planted strawberries for many gardeners such as these ones pictured in Pontypridd.
  • The bare root perennials planted in the autumn have started to come back to life in the last month. There are some casualties and there are some ‘missing in action’ plants.  Time will tell if these are truly lost or whether they are just being shy at presenting themselves.  The plants that are definitely starting to put in some spring growth are looking handsome and healthy – Astrantia, Papaver and Eryngiums are all performing well.  Perhaps most excitingly, the Cimicifugas have started to unfurl a leaf from the growing tips in the last few weeks for many of the gardeners who had previously doubted there was ever going to be a plant to see come Spring.  This plant has been very reticent to show any promise all winter and so it is with some excitement that the gardeners are greeting these small leaves.
  • February issued tomatoes grown from seedThe tomatoes issued in February, March and April all appear to be healthy so far and are at varying stages of development.  Mags in Renfrewshire appears to have grown some strong plants from seed leaving many other gardeners playing catch up.  In Derbyshire, the March sown seeds have overtaken the February sown seeds.  In Cheshire the gardener there has already planted to the outdoors.  With high levels of germination success, there are going to be bumper crops of 6 varieties of tomato in the gardens of our Nation of Gardeners this summer.

Keep an eye on the hashtag #nationofgardeners on Twitter for more updates as the gardeners post them, or follow the postings to the Facebook wall where you can also find a gallery of plant pictures that chronicle the Nation of Gardeners activities to date.

March 2014′s planting

February 2014′s planting

January 2014′s planting

December 2013′s planting

November 2013′s planting

October 2013′s planting