Handy Hints through the Year


Our dear little English bluebell, like a delicate ballet dancer, bows her head, has deep purple-blue flowers on one side of the stem and yellow stamens. The Spanish one on the other hand is more like a robust flamenco dancer. The flower stems are strong, upright, the paler blue flowers grow all around the stem and have green stamens. The hybrid is more like her Spanish antecedent but with darker flowers that turn mauve with age, slightly bowed head and green stamens.

How to identify the different varieties of bluebell

Tips for February

Sweet Pea seeds should be sown now into tall pots of seed compost, 5-6 seeds per pot, 1 1/2″ deep, and placed in a greenhouse or cool conservatory.

Many roses can be pruned from the end of January onwards. The structure of hybrid teas and floribundas should be goblet-shaped, with last year’s stem growths cut back to about 6” (15cm) to an outward facing bud.

Pruning encourages growth, so vigorous stems should be cut less hard, weak ones harder. Climbers should have their stems trained as horizontally as possible and all shoots from these pruned back to 2 buds.  Rambling roses should not be pruned until after flowering.

The techniques for pruning shrubs and roses will be covered in my pruning course this month.

Enrich the soil around all plants with a 2”/5cm layer of well rotted manure or other organic matter, making sure the manure does not touch the stems.  Doing this will improve the soil’s structure and fertility, help to retain moisture during the summer and reduce annual weeds.

Tips for March & April

Snowdrops will grow much better if they are planted “in the green”, that is, in growth after flowering, rather than as dry bulbs in the autumn.  Compacted clumps can still be lifted, split and replanted now in groups of about 6 bulbs, with a few inches between each bulb.

There is still time to lift and divide perennials.  Discard the old, woody centre of each clump and replant the young growths from the edges of the plant.  Each clump should have at least 3 young shoots.  Plant at the same level as the parent plant into soil that has been forked over and improved with organic matter, such as garden compost, leaf mould, mushroom compost or well rotted manure.

Put in supports for your perennials now while they are still small.  Once the stems have grown they can easily be broken or damaged.

A quick tip for making your garden look manicured if you are pushed for time. Neaten the edges of your lawns by cutting them with a sharp spade. Bank the soil away from the lawn up into the border, thus forming a shallow trench between lawn and border. This also helps to prevent lawn weeds such as couch grass spreading amongst your plants. Any waste turf is a good activator in the compost heap as it accelerates the rotting process.

Tips for May & June

The end of May to mid-June is the time for doing the Chelsea Chop on perennials.  Cutting back stems by one half to two thirds extends the flowering times of many plants, results in better blooms and sturdier plants.  Asters, phlox, achillea, perovskia and rudbeckia are some examples. Later on in the summer some perennials should be hard pruned after flowering, such as alchemilla, aquilegia, geranium and oriental poppies. The techniques for pruning perennials will be covered in my pruning course in July.



A 2 – 3” thick layer of organic matter spread over all your borders (but not touching the plants) will retain moisture, reduce growth of annual weeds, and improve the soil, thus giving the best possible growing conditions for all your plants throughout the growing season.  The best mulch for improving the soil is well rotted manure but mushroom compost or your own garden compost are also excellent soil improvers, and composted bark chippings can also be used.  It is not only unnecessary but also damaging to dig your borders:  give your soil and your back a rest!  Let the worms do the work for you.
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