I have finally run out of excuses. It’s stopped snowing, the temperature is nudging double figures and I’ve still got a couple of days before I have go back to college. It’s time to tackle the garden. When I say garden, I mean, 20ft by 20ft patch of mud and the occasional daff, attractively ringed by bikes and rampaging ivy. It needs Taking In Hand. I’ve done the tricky bit – ordering £20 worth of seeds and seedlings by post. Now I need to turn it from a tip into a paradise in the few short weeks before Pimms o’clock. I’m not going out there alone. So who better to turn to than Guy Barter, chief horticultural adviser at Wisley, the RHS’s flagship garden in Surrey.
I rang him yesterday and spent a good ten minutes ranting to him about the horrible weather and how horrific the garden looked and how it would be June before it was warm enough to do anything and then it would All Be Too Late and I’d be planting hyacinths for Christmas before I caught a whiff of nicotiana.
“Well, I wouldn’t call it horrific,” he said, calmly (I think it is technically impossible for anyone with a potting shed to succumb to panic and exaggeration). “But think about it this way – the sun is getting higher in the sky, and every day we are getting that much more solar energy. You can see for yourself every evening that it’s getting a little bit lighter, so it will get warmer. My best advice would be to do whatever you can to get the garden ready. It’s too cold yet to buy tender plants unless you have a greenhouse, but I’ve noticed that because it’s been so cold people haven’t been out buying pansies and primulas to fill up their tubs and hanging baskets, which is a shame, because they can give the garden a real lift at this time of year.”
I was warming to Guy, who isn’t one of those gardening snobs who recoils at the first sight of anything orange or a plant bought in full flower. So, for those of you who, whether you have a hanging basket outside the front door or 60 rolling acres like Wisley to play with, here are Guy Barter’s tips for banishing the winter gardening blues:
– Check the grass for bald and weedy patches and reseed where needed, and finish pruning summer flowering shrubs like fuschia and buddleia (check rhs.org.uk for detailed advice) and deadhead the daffodils.
– Prepare the ground for planting by weeding and digging over flower beds.
– Sew vegetable seeds and the less fragile summer annuals – for example radishes, lettuce, peas and broccoli – plus pinks, sweet peas and pot marigolds outside.
– The sunlight is bright enough now to give seedlings grown on a windowsill an even light, so you can plant tomato and pepper seeds inside or even buy in a few baby plants from the garden centre because you will be able to plant those outside in a couple of weeks’ time.
– Cheer yourself and the garden up with an instant fix of primulas, primroses and pansies for your tubs, hanging baskets or window boxes
If all fails and you still feel defeated by the weather, take a virtual or physical trip to Wisley. “It’s a walk-in gardening encyclopedia – you can take a look round the greenhouses or go round the orchards where our pear trees are just about to burst into flower,” said Guy.
So have you ventured outside yet? And how did it go? Let me know by posting a comment below or tweeting @AmandaAtCandis