April 9, 2009 In the Garden
· As predicted, the autumn rains started just prior to Easter but before you relax, have a little delve down in your garden or lawn and see how far the water has penetrated. That said, it should be safe enough to sow new lawns this weekend and to over sow bare patches in existing lawns. If the worst comes to the worst and we get very dry again, you can give the new areas a water but it isn’t likely to be necessary.
· The autumn rains will bring an explosion of freshly germinating weeds. Be vigilant on these varmints. With leaf drop just starting, using fallen leaves as mulch will suppress weed germination and there is a surprising amount of goodness as well as useful humus in rotting leaf litter. Frankly it is no longer acceptable on this planet to burn fallen leaves. Compost them or disperse them through the garden.
· Hellebores (winter roses) will be coming into growth soon. Cutting all the old foliage off means you can see the charmingly understated nodding flowers of helleborus orientalis. Heavy aphid infestations in the spent flowers in spring are a good reason to deadhead these plants (so too is their habit of seeding promiscuously), but we have also found quite heavy aphid occupation on the old foliage this year, which is another reason to cut it off and cart it all away to the compost heap. If the foliage is clean, you can leave it lying as a mulch. If you don’t remove the old foliage, the flowers tend to hide beneath the big leaves. If you leave it any longer, you have to trim around each plant taking care to avoid the new shoots but done this early, you can slash and hack your way through with little precision. Some have even been alleged to use the motor mower (but not here). Hellebores are excellent bedding plants for open woodland conditions but orientalis does not like being lifted and divided (will sulk, sometimes for years) so if you want to build up numbers, do it from seedlings.
· In the vegetable garden, make the autumn clean up round a priority for Easter. Most gardens will have mildew and bug infested crops well past their best now. Don’t leave these to rot where they are. If you make hot compost, bury the diseased crops in the middle of the heap, or feed them to your worm farm. Good hygiene and tidy habits can reduce pest and disease infestations in the future.
· Peas prefer the cooler weather so you can be sowing them now. Inland gardeners may be wanting to sow their first crop of broad beans. While the yield on peas for the home gardener can be disappointingly meagre and the frozen product is actually very good and cheap, the opposite applies to broad beans which can crop extremely well and are infinitely better than the bought product.
· Get any bare areas of the veg garden sown down with a green crop as soon as possible. Oats, lupin, vetch, phaecelia, mustard or even plain rye grass are all options.
· If it rains incessantly over Easter, take heed of John Lubbock, aka Lord Avebury, who wrote: There is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.