Gardening Club - Spring at last
1 May 2018

Chieveley Gardening Club on spring in the garden. Plus May garden activities for you. 

Yippee for Spring, at last. The garden is changing rapidly as it wakes from our dull and overlong winter. It alternately excites us and exhausts us as there is so much to get done. The countryside is also buzzing; bluebells are still at their best in the woods around Chieveley, flowering most freely after any undergrowth has been cleared or coppiced to give them some sunshine.

There is still time for sowing some annual seeds. Zinnias, for example, flower in late summer when other annuals are fading. They germinate easily and, if sheltered in a greenhouse, will soon make stocky little plants to bed out at the end of the month. They resent their roots being disturbed, so are best grown in small flower-pots or peat-pots. Once planted and watered-in, they thrive in warm sunny areas and, hopefully, reward us with zingy bright double flowers at the same time as dahlias crescendo.

As the opportunity for sowing this year's annuals diminishes, turn your thoughts to sowing biennials for next year's spring show. For many of us, forget-me-nots return unbidden and seed thickly in the right (and not so right) places. Unless you are the ultimate tidy gardener, let yourself enjoy the randomness of these self-seeders.
Classically the biennials to sow now are wallflowers, bellis (daisy), foxgloves, honesty, polyanthus and sweet william. They should be scattered on a spare patch of soil where they can be ignored, except for thinning, until planting out in autumn in their final destination where they will replace the waning summer display. A spare area of a well-cultivated vegetable garden will allow the plants to grow throughout the summer and without competition and provide you with plenty of big strong plants to set out in September and October ready for a bold display next spring. We have had great success with foxgloves and sweet williams.

There seems to be mystery to when and how to prune shrubs. At this time of year, it is good to tidy up shrubs that have flowered or been showy in winter and spring. Winter-flowering Jasminum nudiflorum is often trained against a wall and will even flower if north-facing. If left unpruned it gets stringy and bare, so go over it with shears.

The coloured stemmed Cornus and willows need cutting back. Taking out a third of the stems to within a few inches of the ground will encourage the regrowth of strong, straight well-coloured stems for next winter. I think that the best way to learn about pruning is to cut back a few stems, then leave well alone and watch the result - and learn from it. We all learn by our mistakes and successes and we have a better chance of really understanding by using our eyes and brain rather trying to read tedious instructions.

Happy Gardening, Giles Derry

Dates for your diary

Saturday 28 April. Coach outing to Exbury Gardens near Beaulieu. Exbury is a Rothschild mansion, with 200 acres of woodland gardens stuffed with fine specimen trees and shrubs. It is predominantly a spring garden with camellias and magnolias and famous rhododendrons. A coach will collect us from the village hall at 8.30am and return by around 5.00pm. All for £20. Contact Michael Pocock.

Tuesday 8 May. 7.30pm in Chieveley Village Hall. Paul Cumbleton will talk about and show ‘Tips, tricks and technology'. Whether you are a beginner or experienced gardener there is always something to learn. Do join us; guests are welcome (£2).

Sunday 13 May. The Plant and Produce Sale returns to Chieveley House this spring. It is a gem of an event in a gem of a garden, and the sun (usually) shines. You can enjoy a glass of wine before departing with bags full of plants, cakes and jams. So, my annual plea - please pot up any spare seedlings, divisions, rooted cuttings or other spare plants, keep them safe, grow them on, make them look impressive and generally be generous so we can sell them to raise money