Well, spring is here – at least in meteorological terms! March, April and May are the months of spring but also highly volatile in weather terms. We tend to think of sunny days with daffodils dancing in the breeze and billowing clouds scudding across a brightening sky. Well not this year!
On a more upbeat note, the days are getting longer and with an average temperature so far for March standing at 3.8°C we are not as cold as March 1962 with an average temperature of 1.9°C. The daylight length is crucial for seeds and for those with the advantage of glass this means that it’s the sowing season. Glasshouses, cloches and cold frames really come into their own in this weather. A little more sunlight would be a good thing – these are Tupperware sky conditions and light levels have been miserably low.
Seed Developments continues to make headway in its aim to link into the horticultural world in the UK and beyond. New seed varieties are on the way for seed tapes and mats and their product ranges are diversifying. We are currently enjoying links to James Wong, Georgie Newberry and the Sheffield University team of James Hitchmough and Nigel Dunnett.
James Wong is currently underway with his sow-a-long in which he encourages gardeners and foodies (there is a strong connection here) to tune in to his trials of both new and older varieties and to try out their own experiments too. His incredible enthusiasm is infectious and, although currently on tour to publicise his new book, he always seems to find time to explore new foods, new varieties and new ideas. The technology of seed tapes and mats proved irresistible – he is testing out some of our seed tapes this season. Tune in at www.jameswong.co.uk
Georgie Newbery, otherwise known as The Flower Farmer of Common Farm Flowers has also taken up the challenge of growing cut-flower mixes from seed mats. Known for her passion for British grown cut flowers this will be an interesting experiment that will diversify the range of plant material available in this form. She is working with mixes produced by Chiltern Seeds with a flower seed tray of Bupleurum ‘Graffiti’, Ammi visnaga, sweet peas and larkspur. Emorsgate Seeds are also involved in trialling meadow mixes in seed carpet form which allows species to be sown at the correct densities. Catch up with Georgie on www.commonfarmflowers.com or on her blog http://www.commonfarmflowers.com/blog.php
In the greenhouse
Gardeners everywhere have been feverishly cleaning, refreshing and sterilising their greenhouses in readiness for this seasons crops. If only the weather would play the game.
Most food crops can be started in the greenhouse which guarantees at least an early start for seedlings, especially for salads which can often be too tender for outside growing so early in the season. Watch night time temperatures if you have an unheated greenhouse as we are still dropping down to -5 or so on a regular basis.
Following the lead of trend setters such as James Wong and Mark Diacono of Otter Farm why not try something different in the coming season. Their philosophy promotes the new or the unusual on the basis that produce of the usual kind or known varieties is widely available in shops and supermarkets when your own crops are ready for harvesting.
Both extol the virtues of oca or the New Zealand yam for example, colourful if rather misshapen potato like roots. With a sweet flavour, when fresh and picked early work they well as an addition to salad although they can be cooked and eaten more like a potato. They need to be started on a warm windowsill or in a greenhouse before transferring them to open ground.
Summer bedding can also be started in the greenhouse with an opportunity now to think of colour schemes and combinations. Productive baskets filled with herbs or salad crops will also work well especially for sunnier small gardens where space is limited.
In the garden
With spring so slow and temperatures low the ground remains cold so don’t be over hasty in getting the productive garden into action. Cloches will help to protect and warm fledgling crops.
Try pak choi as an addition to the plot. Although they can be grown in rows they will also thrive planted into odd unfilled spaces between other crops. Start them in the greenhouse and plant out once the frosts are over or plant outdoors after the frosts. They can also be treated as a cut and come again crop. The variety ‘Red Choi’ also works well in salads.
Of the old favourites peas, beetroot and carrots are all up for spring sowing. If space is tight try growing between other garden plants in the borders. Beetroot, sweetcorn and runner beans all have decorative foliage or flower and even coloured lettuce will contribute towards the front of the border where they will get the best light.
All salad crops can be started in the spring and many will work in containers for smaller gardens. Slug damage can be limited in this way too. Rocket, chard, lettuce and radish will all work in this way and can be partnered with herbs such as chives, tarragon or fennel for greater height.
Investigate the new ranges available in seed tape, mat and carpet form from Simple Sowing a new online retailer dedicated to seed tapes, discs and carpets that has recently launched. They are seeing lots of demand for their wildflower seed carpets and are so excited by this they are launching a brand new British meadow mix seed carpet in the next few days. Visit them at www.simplesowing.co.uk
In the future
As spring finally opens up to warmer days, the RHS show season comes into view. Cardiffand Malvern are the early shows in which plant exhibitors and designers show their skills. Many will be twitchy about the cold start to the season but all will pull something out of the hat.
As well as my usual judging of show gardens at Chelsea this year I am also underway with a garden in the Fresh category designed with my business partner Gavin McWilliam for Cloudy Bay wines. The design can be viewed on our website www.wmstudio.co.uk or our progress towards Chelsea is being covered by designer Jill Anderson in her blog which can be visited on www.andersonlandscapedesign.co.uk/blog
If you are going to Chelsea then come and say hello but keep your fingers crossed for medal success.
Broaden your research by visiting this network of gardeners and designers:
James Wong www.jameswong.co.uk
Mark Diacono and Otter Farm www.otterfarm.co.uk/blog/
Georgie Newbery www.commonfarmflowers.com/
Chiltern Seeds www.chilternseeds.co.uk/
Emorsgate Seeds www.wildseed.co.uk/
RHS Chelsea Flower Show www.rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-chelsea-flower-show/2012
Wilson McWilliam Studio www.wmstudio.co.uk/
Simple Sowing www.simplesowing.co.uk