A plan for all seasons | Spring Gardening

Put a spring in your step sharpish!

It may still be dark in the mornings, but spring is not too far off, and its herald marks the beginning of the gardening year. It’s a busy period, so it’s a good idea to plan ahead, and since there are many maintenance and preparative tasks that can be carried out in February and March, that will take the pressure off in the coming months. And if you put the work in now, you can also get yourself an earlier harvest of vegetables.

Have a bulb moment before it’s too late

It is also the season of bulbs, and it is so cheering to see the first erantis (winter aconite) and vintergæk (snowdrop) open their flowers. One tip for the latter: unlike other spring-flowering bulbs that are planted in the autumn, snowdrops should be planted ‘green’ − that is to say, with their leaves still attached in the weeks after they have finished flowering. And for all spring-flowering bulbs, give them a good feed of organic fertiliser once they have flowered, and don’t cut off the leaves. Do this and they will both multiply and put on a great show again next year.  

Also, once the soil has warmed up a bit, it will be time to plant summer-flowering bulbs such as lillies, alliums, nectaroscordum and crocosmia − but be warned that gladiolus will not survive the Danish winter outdoors

Neglected lawns can leave you forlorn come May

If you have used that wonderful and wholly appropriate double-whammy excuse of not cutting back the perennials and ornamental grasses so that birds can feed on the seeds, and so you get a winter show – now is the time to do so, so that they get a good start this spring.

But do not forget to continue to feed the birds, and put water out for them if it is freezing.

With the proviso the soil is not frozen or waterlogged, it’s still okay to lift and move dormant plants around the garden – but make sure you get as big a root ball as possible. And if you have seen places in the garden where water is standing, improve the drainage by digging in a mix of well-rotted horse manure and sharp sand – half a barrow and quarter of a barrow of each respectively per square metre. You can use coarse grit as an alternative to sand, but it’s much more expensive.  

Get the lawnmower serviced if you didn’t in the autumn.

Before the spa begins to rise and after the worst of the cold weather, prune the roses and trim the top rosette of leaves from mahonias to get good bushy growth this summer – but only once the flowering has finished.

Towards the end of March, it will be time to sow the seed of tender and half-hardy bedding plants, and tender/exotic vegetables − but remember they will need a minimum temperature of 10-18 Celsius, so make space on a warm window ledge (move them away from the glass if a cold night is forecast) or put them in a heated greenhouse or frame.  

Reap the rewards of early planning

If you have a heated greenhouse or conservatory, from the middle of February onwards, you can sow the seeds of indoor tomatoes and cucumbers, but remember to keep them warm but not over-watered.  

To get an early crop, sow bulb onions, early beetroot, carrots and parsnips into the ground come March and keep them warm by covering with cloches or a horticultural fleece.

Once you’ve bought your seed potatoes, ‘chit’ them by standing them in an egg box with the ‘rose end’ – the one with the most shoots, upright. Let the shoots grow to about 2.5cm long before planting outside

In terms of what to sow, I am making a plea that you consider heritage (heirloom) varieties. Not only do they taste great and have good stories to tell, but by growing them you are also helping to preserve our gardening heritage.  One great website from which to purchase is www.thomasetty.co.uk. He has a great range of seeds, a fun website (take a look to see what I mean) and also produces a very useful monthly newsletter.

Also, get ahead of yourself and have a spring clean of pots and seed trays ready for the main seed sowing period (you can sterilise them with a wash of Rodalon) and get in a stock of seed compost (peat free, please) before the rush.

Finally, before the sap rises, prune the apple and pear trees.

Feed the birds, don’t shoot them

The daphnes are a group of small-to-medium sized shrubs that are grown primarily for their deliciously scented flowers. The mezereon (daphne mezereum) is one of the first to flower in the spring and has been grown in Danish gardens for centuries. It is a most striking shrub, boasting purple-red and very sweet-smelling flowers that cover the bare twigs of last year’s growth, turning this upright shrub (height 1.2m, spread 1.2m) into a riot of colour and scent.  But keep an eye out, as hungry birds will eat the buds. If you see this happening, feed the birds and cover the shrub in mesh net.

Flowering a little later in spring is the star magnolia (magnolia stellata) This lovely shrub bears white flowers, with petals which, as its name suggests, are arranged like a star. Not only are the flowers very delicate, but they are also sweetly scented and open from attractive silky buds. It is relatively slow growing, but will eventually reach a height of 3m and a spread of 4m. It has quite a delicate form, and the narrow, deep green leaves that appear after the flowers are very attractive.