May 2020 Column

Gardens have taken on even more importance right now and we have received many messages from our new members saying that they have the time to learn more or explore gardening for the first time.


Usually I would want to write romantic images of our planting combinations and musings on the season. I like to tell you the best practise for growing a particular plant or how to garden ‘correctly’ but at this moment, it’s back to basics, simply enjoy gardening and the very process without the constraints of doing it ‘properly’.


Of course, like cooking, Gardening, Horticulture is both an Art and a Science. Dahlias just will not thrive in the shade, half hardy annuals are unlikely to survive the winter and you won’t have fruit on an apple tree if you prune off the blossoming branches. You do need to know a few basics but that can have the effect of paralysing some for fear of not getting it right.


When compost is difficult to come by and seeds are like hens teeth, we need to make do with what we have. I spoke to another professional the other day who said due to lack of both fresh seed and compost, she was sowing ancient seeds in old spent soil and ‘seeing what came up’. The seeds won’t grow in the packet!


In May we are at one of the only times in the year when almost any seed will germinate. With long days and warmer soil, one can sow Hardy, Half Hardy Annuals and Biennials. If you don’t have a green house or cold frame, directly sow seeds into the soil where you intend them to grow.


Do this by preparing the planting ‘bed’ of soil by clearing all the weeds and large stones. Rake the earth to a ‘fine tilth’ – this means the larger lumps of earth are broken down. Scatter the seeds over wet soil. You can rake them in or cover with a sprinkling of compost. A good tip is to sow in lines and mix the seed with sand so you can see where you have sown. This is particularly helpful as all plants look pretty similar when their first seed leaves appear; it is only the second set of leaves, the true leaves that begin to resemble the mature plant. Where there is no sand, seedlings will be obviously weeds and easily removed.


I have said before that our ground is too rich for a lot of seeds to germinate so we sow into seed compost, under cover, in pots. However I have lots of favourites that prefer to grow from naturally self sowing across the plots. Salad leaves and flowers including honesty, foxgloves, shoo-fly and Californian poppy actually grow better from the previous year’s seed, shed from the parent plant. It is one of my favourite jobs and perks of a mature plot to lift and transplant these seedlings into rows or groups together. It is a benefit from not being too tidy or on top of the weeding!


Whatever you can manage or have materials for, try direct sowing in-between plants in the border, in a pot or empty ground and you can be sure in a few weeks time you will be enjoying some flowers. Welcome to the joys of gardening!