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Garden Newsletter: April

Well it’s not exactly April, and the weather is rather cold but it is time for the Weeders Newsletter for the month, because as I explained in the last newsletter, I have to bring the Sunday meeting forward to avoid clashes with Easter and family commitments.

March/April volunteering dates are Friday 20th March, Sunday 22nd March (9.30am- 1.00pm),  Monday 23rd March, Friday 27th March, Monday 30th March, Friday 10th April, Monday 13th April, Friday 17th April, Monday 20th April, Friday 24th April and Monday 27th April. The Sunday May meeting is on May 3rd.

At this time of the year I always feel a little ripple of excitement Spring gets underway. The early flowers, so visible in the bare conditions of the winter, are now fading but there place is now taken by the many green shoots of emerging perennials- and of course the first weed seedlings, usually speedwell, but in sheltered places Cleavers or Goosegrass starts to grow. When weeds really start to grow well it is, of course, a good indication that the soil is warming up and it’s time to sow the seeds of more desirable plants. Gilbert white is recorded as sowing what he called Persicaria (formerly Polygonum orientale now Persicaria orientale, that very tall annual with hanging red tassels also known as Kiss me over the garden gate’) on January 3rd 1761 under the dining room window. It needs a cold period before it can germinate, but obviously Gilbert White knew that a sheltered situation was his best bet in getting it to succeed. I note that Cleavers is germinating well right by the great parlour windows. If allowed to get away, its sticky stems climb into everything and take a long time to remove. During which time the seeds have stuck to your clothing and you spread them everywhere!  And when you go to pull them up the stem tapers at ground level so that you pull, it breaks, roots remain. But does it re-grow? It would be interesting to experiment with this. If it doesn’t, we could be wasting our time trying to get it out ‘roots and all’. Food for thought!  In fact of course, feed for geese, apparently, the name derived from the custom of feeding the herb ‘chopped small’ to goslings on the Isle of Wight, at least(Bromfield 1856). The weed is of course widespread and common- classed by some amongst Britain’s ten most common weeds. Darwin collected it in Patagonia in 1832- a whole sheet of herbarium seedlings! And Gilbert White noted it ‘Growing from the beginning of the year’ (Flora Selborniensis, 6 Mar-1766) So, after a few early flowers, my spring commentary turns to weeds! At this stage it’s easy to hoe them off, and that’s what many of you have been doing all around the garden. The hoe stops, no, sorry, REDUCES laborious hand weeding later in the year! You just have to believe in the hoe- and associate it with sunshine, which is the best time to hoe, that and wind kills off the disturbed roots of the weeds- but other plants too if you’re not too careful!

Near the old back door the six hills giant catmint is beginning to shoot- by pulling off these when they are only a few inches long we can easily make new plants. The ranunculus bed right next to the Magnolia has yet to sprout, but we must be alert and cover new shoots with straw if a frost threatens. As I mentioned earlier the cleavers or goosegrass is growing fast by the great parlour windows. There’s also the running roots of the Lemon balm here (Melissa officinalis) noted by Gilbert White as ‘Melissa nepeta’ in his Flora Selborniensis 1766. Philip miller called it garden baum and noted its culinary and medicinal uses- it makes ‘a pleasant and cooling tea for feverish patients in cases of catarrah and influenza’. (Herbal 1931) Have you tried it- I believe you don’t need to dry the leaves to make a good tea. However, it’s dreadfully invasive, and needs taking out of this bed. Try some at home? You have been warned!

The bulb bed is sprouting eagerly- the dramatic thick stemmed Crown Imperials have been thrusting their way through the soil for some time now- we will soon be able to tell where the gaps in the rows are, and fill in with those we potted up last autumn, also emerging from their pots at a rate of knots. The thing that strikes me most, having got my sense of smell back for quite some time (and quite acutely) is that unusual musty smell emitted from the leaves as the wind rustles through them. Some say they smell of foxes or worse, others like the fresh smell ‘like spring’. I’m not sure either way, but it’s lovely to be able to smell them anyway.

In the six quarters most of the roses have been pruned, and there are signs of life in borders that were previously very dormant! Sweet violets are in bloom in the first (SE) quarter, most of the roses have been pruned, there are still lovely red berries on three of the four Butchers broom (Ruscus aculeatus) plants beneath the tulip tree. Snowdrops are fading everywhere, crocuses are largely over- except for the large yellow ones each end of the South rose border, which are still at their best. A few large snowdrops in a sheltered spot behind the trunk of the tulip tree still look fresh and bright. There’s a fine clump of small daffodils in a clump by the entrance to the plant sales area. Somewhere here too will be the Veratrum, nearer the path than the sign (which has been moved!) suggests. Care needed with weeding here!

 

The plant sales area is beginning to come to life with gladioli, miniature daffodils  and lots of Anemone blanda for sale. Nearby Peter has clipped the laurel hedge, some trimming of the rest and the job will be complete. In the bulb borders a myriad of white hyacinths are emerging, but I can’t see any blue ones at this stage. All borders are now sprouting, and hoeing will be needed to control that green sheen of weeds that is starting to appear. Most squares in the herb garden are now weeded and up together: we will need to manure the mint beds. In the North rose quarter Lungwort (Pulmonaria) is in bloom, along with some primroses. The wild tulip leaves have emerged here, although somewhat covered by the red dead nettle (Lamium purpureum). Of the two dead nettles, white (Lamium album) & red you might think red spells danger, but it is in fact the white version that is the most troublesome weed being perennial and running through other plants with its creeping stems, rooting as they go. The red version, on the other hand, is annual and easily removed. It’s also quite an attractive low growing plant that might usefully be transplanted to the pond or wild garden. In the Giant reed (Arundo ) quarter we have fine new tripods to support the everlasting peas, and the silvery, finely divided young leaves on the cardoons looks most attractive.

The tulips by the fruit wall continue to grow well and have been nicely hoed (thanks Mabel) Arnold has made a temporary structure so we can protect the blooms of the newly planted nectarine from frost on the blossoms. At the moment there are four clusters of buds. We may need to do some pollination by hand if the weather continues rather cold- there are not that many bees around at present!  The double flowering cherry on the main lawn is now in bud, and the lawn itself has had its first cut and is shortly to have a second trim. The edges need attention!

Out in the park Rose’s friend and neighbour Madeleine has provided us with a magnificent owl box which has been carefully installed in the big beech tree, where the brick path and bird hide used to be. Let’s hope some owls will take up residence. I see there is a similar one in the big oak tree in church meadow. We are all doing are best to encourage these beautiful creatures! The basons are in pretty good order- particular thanks to Len.  The Persian Lilacs (Syringa persica) are covered in buds in the bason just down from the vegetable garden gate, and I’m hopefully of a stunning display of bloom.

Keith has also been busy in the Melonry-a new hot bed has been made with the help of Janette , and David Blacklaws. We will shortly been topping it with soil and a frame- and also making a second bed. Melon seeds have been sown in anticipation of getting one bed up and running soon! The cutting beds remain also in good order, thanks to continual hoeing and some hand weeding. As I make these notes a pheasant dashes across the upper orchard here- a bird that’s been present most of the winter. A badger has also been trundling around, and both have been caught on Amanda’s new time lapse camera, with which we hope to find more of our wildlife!

 

As the garden comes to life, your help is essential. There were only 2 at the last Sunday session, I hope more can come this month (although I know I’ve changed the date!!) Weekly help has been great- please keep coming!!

 

Best wishes & Good Gardening,

 

David Standing

 

Just a selection of the hundreds of jobs to be done this month

  • Continue to Control weeds in bulb beds
  •  Plant trees in the park
  •  Finish Pruning all old roses as needed
  •  Clean all interpretation boards of dirt & green algae, esp welcome to GW’s garden sign
  •  Check new Dianthus collection for damage, keep watering when needed
  •  Finish Cutting  yew & laurel hedge by annual garden/plant sales area
  •  Treat box hedge for blight
  • Continue to Tidy and weed herb garden, make first sowings in situ
  •  Protect Ranunculus with straw as needed
  •  Cut down asters in SW Autumn bed
  •  Continue to process & packet seeds
  •  Weed out ivy etc under all hedges
  •  Continue planting/design work in pond garden: add water tub and bee skeps bee and other wild plants
  •  Remove last ground elder and plant ferns by stone seat in pond garden
  •  Continue digging Veg garden when not too muddy using hot bed manure, continue sowing veg seeds as appropriate
  •  Transplant red dead nettle six quarters to pond garden
  •  Continue to make hot beds
  •  Check, de-slug plant stands regularly
  •  Water pots and plant stands regularly in dry periods, esp the pots and front troughs
  • Mend irrigation system
  • Continue to print new stick in labels
  • Clear up Blackthorn in Ewel
  • Stock up plant stands with new plants

And much, much more!