Andrew's bi-monthly news for the gardens at Northcote
MAY / JUNE 2006
Although we have passed from winter into spring on the 21st of March, the spring equinox [equal night], the point where day and night length are equal, the time between the spring equinox on March 21st and the autumn equinox on September 23rd day length is longer than night, being at its longest on Midsummer’s day, it doesn’t look or feel spring like. Having looked back at my diaries for the past few years we seem to be a month behind! Added to this the winter has been harder than previous ones, it seems we get a hard winter every 21 years, 1942, 1963, 1984, 2005, causing the loss of many of our winter salad crops.
The spring flowering bulbs I planted in autumn though are starting to give a good show, including several types of snowdrop species, crocus and iris, mixed dwarf daffodils and narcissi, blue and pink muscari [grape hyacinth], species tulips and winter aconites, to be followed soon by fritillarias and others. If you are a lover of spring flowering bulbs my advice is to plant them in a grassy area which can be left unmown into Midsummer, this way they will not get disturbed or dug up in your flower borders and will self seed and multiply. If you choose you varieties carefully you will have colour from January until Midsummer and as many species varieties are small you will appreciate them better in a grassy area. Just remember to order them in late summer, scatter them on your lawn and plant them where they fall giving a natural appearance.
The lateness of the season has been due to the winds being predominantly easterly, wind in the east is no good to man nor beast, when the wind is the east nothing grows or prospers, westerly winds cross the Atlantic Ocean and are warm and moist, easterly winds cross continental Europe and Asia and are colder and drier.
It is all very well to read a gardening book or seed catalogue as to when to sow seed, but if soil conditions are not favourable you will be wasting your efforts. Once milder weather does arrive though most later seeds catch up with earlier sowings. Often at the end of winter your lawn will be looking poor and weary, now is the time to get it tidied up in readiness for summer. You will probably find it covered in worm casts, these are good fertiliser and should be brushed into your lawn on a dry day, then you can apply weed and feed and mosskiller. Nowadays this can often be applied in one go, just make sure you spread it evenly, you will see it later if you don’t, and try to apply it when rain is expected with a few days.
If you want a lush green lawn in the summer it needs to be sustained by plenty of nitrogen which promotes green growth but is very water soluble so washes out of the soil quickly. Large doses of nitrogen in the garden though have the disadvantage of locking other nutrients, notably potash into the soil making them unavailable to plants. Potash is needed by plants to promote flowering and fruiting, therefore if you are looking for flowers and fruit be sparing with nitrogen which only promotes green growth, fine if you want leeks, cabbages, salad crops or green grass.
One of the questions I get asked most often is about pruning, basically if in doubt about when to prune leave until you see new growth in spring and cut back to that point. Old dead tatty plants may not look nice but do help protect plants from harsh weather. If you want to reduce the size of you plant cut back hard, if you want to allow it to get bigger prune lightly. Certain plants notably penstemons and lavender hate being pruned before they come into new growth. Some plants flower and fruit on new growth, others on previous years growth, if you cut off all last years growth you may be cutting away all your flowering material, leaving you 2 years without flowers. Basically if you can find out which your plants flowers and fruits from, you can tell how hard to cut back, if its on new growth like roses you don’t need to worry what your cutting away, but if its last years growth like redcurrants be careful. Another basic rule is to prune straight after flowering and fruiting giving you the longest time for new wood to grow and ripen. If you’re still in doubt take out some old and some new wood. This does not cover all plants but as a basic guide you will not go to far wrong. Hopefully this will be helpful to you.
If you are visiting Northcote please ask me any questions you may have and I will be pleased to answer them for you.
Head Gardener Northcote Manor