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April Notes

Easter weekend is a big date in the world of horticulture.  Longer daylight hours and typically warmer temperatures have us out there planting and gardening in earnest. I’m game!

Pretty much anything can be sown now, inside and out. Notice outside when seedlings are naturally germinating in the soil - that is your cue to start sowing seeds yourself; hardy annuals, such as cornflowers, snapdragons and calendula can be directly sown into the soil outside..

Inside, I am only now sowing tender plants, also known as half hardy annuals. They can only be planted outside once the threat of frost has passed (which is about 6 weeks from now in our area). Since these plants take about 6 weeks to grow from seed to being planted out in mid / late May, it’s the perfect timing. This year I am growing multi stemmed sunflowers, cosmos and zinnias.

Don’t just stick to flowers though, there is plenty of fruit and vegetables to grow now too.

Growing a wide variety of different plants from seed is one of the keys to excellent soil health. We grow more fruit and vegetables every year here, mostly for meals on the farm for classes, and workshops but I’ve also used the decorative blue flowers of peas, herbs and tendrils of beans in arrangements, just like Constance Spry did many years ago.  Much more than feeding us and my own creativity, these plants also contribute to a healthier soil and better plant health all over.

As all plants grow, they take in carbon dioxide, actively removing it from our atmosphere, converting it into carbohydrates for food for themselves and also sending a huge amount out into the soil for the microbes and fungi to consume. In return, these fungi networks respond to plants needs by exchanging water, minerals and nutrients. 

This mutual exchange and symbiotic relationship is essential to healthy soil and healthy plants. One does not exist without the other.  This is a pure example of community.

The more variety in the garden, allotment, and farm, the more variety of microbes and fungi feeding those plants and protecting them from pests and disease. I find this both equally fascinating and cheering. This is going on beneath our feet, without any input.  All we need to do is make sure we don’t kill the microbes in the soil. That includes not using any chemicals (including even organic slug pellets), keeping the soil covered with plants (even weeds will take in carbon and keep the soil alive) and occasionally add some homemade compost to stimulate microbial activity. 

So in your own gardens, sprinkle seeds in among your shrubs and perennials to create colour this summer and food for your plate. We are growing kale among sweet peas, calendula and sunflowers around tomatoes and radishes between the cosmos.

The plots are already buzzing with insects, scents and productivity despite it being only the very beginning the growing season.  I am cutting branches of blossoms, narcissi, tulips, ranunculus, anemones with artichoke leaves, sweet rocket, rosemary and euphorbia. Take care to sit euphorbia and narcissus in separate vases to allow their sap to run into the water for a few hours before arranging with other flowers when the stem seals. 

Harvests in April are reliant on long term preparation, sweet rocket, honesty and sweet williams sown last June, rancunulus and anemones sprouted in September, narcissus and tulips planted in the autumn. It’s a lot to remember, but worth the effort so make a note in your diary this year for vases of spring next April. 

Originally published in Cambridge Edition April 2024


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