05 March 2014 By Katherine Crouch
Looking back at the March articles for the last two years, I notice I made references to the month being cold with drying winds, rendering the soil pleasantly dry to work.
Not so this year, for at the time of writing it is still inclined to rain more than shine. However, planting a large camellia in a Chard garden in the drizzle last week in a heavy loam border, I noticed that although the top three inches of soil were pretty sodden, underneath was surprisingly friable. Chard is the highest town in Somerset and I do not expect to find the same conditions on the Levels just yet. The books will tell you not to dig the borders while the soil is so wet but when needs must, working while standing on a plank will avoid too much goo sticking to your boots.
Despite the most miserable rainy winter ever, it has not been cold. The snowdrops are going over, the daffodils are early and a few days of sunshine will expand the blossom of early cherry trees. I shall be splitting the snowdrop clumps in mid March. This ensures they establish quickly and they are the right way up. Not that they will mind being upside down, but not only would planting dozens of dry bulbs in August be extremely tedious - first you would have to find them!
I have ordered many seed catalogues which make great reading at this time of year. If I had a greenhouse, I would certainly be ordering seeds with a view to imminent sowing. However I have only an unheated conservatory with every window sill chock a block with pots of succulents. I shall wait another week or two before starting to sow seeds. The trouble is with starting too early is not that the seeds don't grow. They will grow very well on a kitchen window sill and even better if you start them off in a propagator. No, the trouble comes half way through April with seedlings sprouting and no space to prick them out into seed trays, and the conditions still too cold for them to go outside unprotected.
With this in mind, I shall be sowing seeds only in 9cm pots and probably only 30 - 40 seeds to the pot. Each one if well germinated will fill a full sized seed tray. I usually plant 6 x 4 rows of seedlings, a more generous spacing than is usually suggested but this ensures that each plant has a decent wodge of soil with a healthy root system, thus able to establish quickly and grow to a plant with handsome proportions. Sowing 7 x 5 will be fine for lettuces but 8 x 6 spacing should be used only for tiny seedlings such as begonias and lobelia.
Not having a heated greenhouse, I sow hardy seeds in late March and buy tender bedding plants as plugs in late April, by which time they will be OK to grow on in covered but unheated conditions. That being so, I will put up my pop up 4 tier greenhouse on April 1st and put my seed pots and trays in it. I put a breeze block on the bottom layer as a strong wind can play havoc with these lightweight structures.The greenhouse comes down on 1st June, once all the seedlings have been hardened off or planted. All danger of frost passes by mid May.
To find out more about Kathy and her Garden Design practise click here.
In 1999 Kathy entered and won the first BBC Gardener of the Year competition, and the following year the queue on her garden open day went round the block. As clients were now demanding her services she set up Katherine Crouch Garden Design in early 2000 and has since been designing gardens all over the South West. Proving it wasn't just a fluke the first time round, she then won BBC Gardener of the Decade in 2008 and the enjoyment of developing gardens continues. Projects range from tiny to large private gardens and commercial work for local town councils and businesses.