In the garden this week: April 23, 2010

• We are dry. If you dig down a little, you will probably find that even if you have watered, the soil is very dry. Rain will come, we know that. But in the meantime if you have been busy planting, you will need to water until we get some consistent rain. Keep an eye on container plants too. They can get stressed by drought even at this time of the year. If you have laid new lawn or oversown bare patches, it will probably need regular watering.
• It is time to cut back the old Helleborus orientalis foliage and any seed heads that you have left on them. This is optional as an activity but does greatly improve the visibility of the winter flower display. It may also reduce the infestations of aphids in your garden. I have found some heavily infested plants. While you are about it, pull out germinating seedlings to avoid overcrowding. Hellebores are one plant which is less than grateful to be lifted and divided. Raise fresh plants from seed, rather than splitting up established clumps. They can last for years in quite heavily compacted soil. We like to lay a blanket of compost after cutting off the old foliage.
• For cheap winter colour, pansies, primulas and polyanthus can be very cheering. Existing polyanthus plants need dividing often and can be done right now. Proper English primroses are delightful but prefer a cool climate – here we tend to get mostly foliage and little flower. Sadly the auricula branch of the primula family also likes it much colder. Inland gardeners may manage them but in coastal areas, they are more likely to be a waste of effort.
• If you haven’t trimmed your formal hedges, don’t delay.
• If you like silver beet, it is one of the most reliable stand-by plants for the home gardener because you can just keep harvesting off the same plant all season and it will keep growing. Spinach, on the other hand, which some of us much prefer, is picked once and that is generally it. Both can be still be planted.
• Planting in the veg garden continues to be focussed on brassicas but not Brussels (it is a bit late for those now unless you have large plants ready to go in), broad beans, peas and leafy greens. You may enjoy trying some of the quick maturing Asian and oriental greens of the pak choy and mizuna types. Kings Seeds have a superb range of these less common crops available by mailorder but we have also noticed local garden centres extending the range they stock. There are a host of alternatives to silver beet, spinach and Buttercrunch or Iceberg lettuce.