Greenfingers - April 2016

There are two flower beds in the garden that I’d like to improve this year, in particular for their planting structure, flowering continuity, and growing for cutting. The beds are arranged in an informal, cottage style, planted mainly with perennials and bulbs, which look fine from March onwards. But from November to March, they lack form and texture. There are a few spring bulbs, (snowdrops, narcissi and iris), Hellebore and Pulmonaria, to brighten it during February and March, and provide pollen for early insects. But it’s interesting to look at other gardens during the winter months to see how they manage. And it’s often down to a low hedge and a few neatly clipped conifers, grasses, dogwood (cornus alba) and willow (salix) for colourful stems, wintergreen (Gaultheria mucronata 'Crimsonia') for the superb berries, daphne, witch hazel (Hamamelis) and viburnum tinus that hold the bed together when the perennials are reduced to dried stems and seed heads.

I mentioned Sarcococca confuse last month, but there are many other plants that could be used as a small hedge, such as lavender Little Lottie, yew Taxus baccata and rose Fru Dagmar Hastrup.

There is also the possibility of introducing hard structures such as trellis, wall, pergola and interesting objects. Salvia

Flowering continuity is down to the selection of plants and applied effort in feeding, mulching and removing old flower heads before they set seed, to encourage and prolong the season. I recently found an attractive purple salvia Amistad in the Stroud market which flowers from September until the frosts, and enjoyed the salvia Hotlips, pictured, along the newly planted canal banks in the town.

There are plenty of jobs to be getting on with during April, including protecting seeds and seedlings from late frosts, and warming the soil with cloches or plastic. Many seeds types can be sown during April, but keep an eye on the weather if sowing outdoors. Alternatively, use seed trays in the greenhouse to germinate the seedlings, and transfer them to a suitable compost with some nutrients soon after the real leaves appear. Supports for the taller perennials are best fitted over the young growth earlier rather than later, and keeping on top the weeding and pest control has been necessary throughout the winter, and will no doubt continue, so a decent quality hoe is a good investment.

Pete Smith