April showers bring May flowers, or so the saying goes. If the past few days have been anything to go by May will be colourful.
For me Easter marks the start of the gardening season, warmer temperatures and longer days signal hours in the garden. I’ve been busy planting seeds, kale and broccoli, sweet peas and nasturtiums – they are taking up space on window ledges throughout the house. Without a greenhouse for controlled heat and protection from the elements I now wait until April to sow seed. While it means plants are a little behind Monty’s they catch up fairly quickly once the weather warms up. I’m again concentrating on cut flowers just because I love them. This year I’m trying Dacus Carota, a wild carrot with a wonderful umbellifer flower head and a creamy apricot pincushion flower, Scabiosa. These particular seeds are from Grace Alexander Flowers in Somerset, the paper packaging is so beautiful they are hard to resist, I continue to have a small selection for sale drop me a note if you’d like to see the list. The vegetable garden is not entirely neglected, the kale and broccoli are coming along nicely, the chilli peppers are breaking through and the salad and herb beds are slowly taking shape. I like to mix aromatics with my cut flowers, I use rosemary, sage, chives and different varieties of mint to mix with flowers for the house, the fragrance is wonderful.
At every turn there is something to do in the garden, some jobs more urgent than others. The forsythia has finished flowering and I’ll soon be busy with my secateurs reducing its girth. I take out a third of the the woodiest stems at ground level, this helps to maintain a manageable size. You can even do this with a really old and overgrown shrub. I then tidy it up a little especially if its a bit unbalanced with branches growing where I don’t want them to grow. This is the perfect time to trim early flowering shrubs, next year’s blossoms will flower on this year’s new growth.
Your lawn like mine I’m sure needs mowing. Set your mower blades on a higher setting than the usual summer setting and just take the top off the grass. Give the grass some time to recover from the winter and allow it to put on some good growth before its next cut. It will already look so much better after this first trim and will gently bulk up and fill in over the next few weeks. Have you considered reducing your mowing, leaving an area wild, adding wildflower seeds to the lawn and just letting it go? Areas of long grass with just a path mown into it can look really lovely, it is also really beneficial for the biodiversity of the garden, birds, insects and pollinators would be really happy. I have a steep garden which is a real nuisance to mow – to be clear I am not the one doing the mowing. About three years ago we cleared a spot of about 25m2 and scattered wildflower seeds. Each year since more wildflower seeds get sown and we wait to see what comes up. There is a lot of grass because grass just grows everywhere and is impossible to remove, there are thistles and the terrible tall invasive daisy (which I pull as soon as I see it) but there are also a vast array of flowers, lots of California poppies, ox eye daisies, calendula and cornflowers and when there are flowers there are butterflies and bees.
As the narcissus come to an end I pinch the spent flower heads off, I want all the energy returned to the bulb to create a show next spring also encouraging the bulb to bulk up and eventually divide and create more bulbs. It’s important to leave the long leaves for as long as you can bear it for the same end result. Bulbs can be dug up and transplanted into pots and left in their shabby glory to await the autumn when they can be replanted. Its important that they don’t get too wet as they will rot but they can be left to dry out completely.
While plants are small this is the ideal time to consider which ones will need supports and stakes later on in the season. Although perennials like peonies look very stable as they grown on in your beds once those massive heavy blooms appear they become much more susceptible to bad weather issues and damage by high winds during summer storms – the time to add supports is now when you don’t yet need them and you can get into the beds and see the plant. It’s really hard to do that when the bed is filled with plants. After a few weeks the supports become invisible hidden amongst the new growth on the perennials.
Mulch and feed your beds. Five to 10 centimetres of mulch will help the soil retain moisture throughout the growing season and any extra nutrition you can add to your beds will only improve the quality and quantity of your plants. As always weed often, small weeds are easy to deal with big woody thugs are not!
I love snowdrops. They are the first sign of spring, knowing that the winter is coming to end when the delicate flowers begin to show is all I need to get me through to the abundance of spring. Snowdrops are not always easy to find and interesting varieties even less so, I was delighted to recently discover a Swiss specialist located in Appenzell. Swissdrops was established in 2016 by Yanik Neff a self confessed galantophile. There are over 50 varieties available for sale, they can be ordered now for delivery in late summer for immediate planting. Even if you are not interested in growing your own snowdrops its worth taking a look to enjoy the wide range of varieties this tiny little flower represents.
If you enjoy watching the birds in your garden and you have an hour to spare between 4-8 May join the official Swiss bird count for 2022, Action Oiseaux de nos jardins. The online form will be available at the beginning of May from the Bird Life Suisse website, record what you see in your garden or your local park and submit it. Each entry has a chance of winning a great pair of binoculars.
I’m delighted to see the return of Les Bucoloique – week-end des plantes et du jardin, Abbaye du Salaz, Ollon 29 April – 1 May. Located just 10 minutes from Aigle it brings vendors and plant specialist from the Valais and further afield. The well-known organic seed producer Zollinger will run a Marché aux Plantons from 11-14 May with tens of varieties of tomatoes, squash and peppers among other edible summer plants. They are located in Roche at the far end of the lake, ideal for those of you in the Aigle area. With the end in sight Anne-Catherine and Anne-Claude at La Noyère in Mont-sur-Rolle welcome you for a final time before closing their flower arranging and cooking workshop business with a sale of organic Swiss cut and to plant peonies on 14 & 15 May from 10:00-17:00. The lovely Journées des plantes inhabituelles at Vaumarcus on the banks of Lake Neuchatel will take place from 20-22 May. Situated 30 minutes above Lausanne the traditional Fête de la Rose spring plant fair in Romainmôtier, Saturday 28 May 09:00-18:00 will be held in front of the medieval abbey. There will be plenty of expert perennial growers and vendors from Vaud, Valais and France to tempt you with gorgeous plants.
Don’t forget to sign up for my two summer container workshops on integrating aromatics into your summer planting schemes. I’ll be in the beautiful walled garden of L’Heure du Thé in Chéserex above Nyon on Wednesday 4 and Thursday 5 May from 10:00-12:00. The workshops are followed by a light lunch and the opportunity to visit the spring open house of L’Heure du Thé. I look forward to seeing some of you there.
Until then keep busy in your garden.