My family will be so happy to see the back of April, the coldest in 20 years. You see my window sills, dining room floor and dining table are all full of seedlings in varying conditions of success and I am constantly shouting out “mind the seed trays!”. The dog is the least of my worries. I started planting my seeds at the end of February, light levels were low but with radiators providing the heat along with some sunny days things got moving and I was happy. However when we had a number of really very sunny days a few weeks ago there was a lot of playing around with the sun blinds to protect the seeds from scorching and I’m afraid that one morning of neglect set me back – some did not recover so I’ve had to start them again, sad moment, almost tears. It remains extraordinary to me that I’m the only one who seems to notice the sun burning my babies!
Although sunny days and clear blue skies are always welcome these past few days of rain have been wonderful for the garden. I love this time of year when the new leaves begin to show and there is almost a green glow about. The daffodils had a short season with the searing heat in early April scorching the life out of them. Try to leave the leaves standing for as long as you can bear it (about six weeks from flowering), the bulbs will be stronger for it next year. The other extreme we faced was almost a week of overnight temperatures below zero. I’m sure you’ve all seen photos of the apricot blossoms in the Valais being sprayed with water in order to freeze them and protect them from the cold, we’ll have to see what the crops will be like later in the year. I know a lot of gardens had magnolias, wisteria and cherry blossoms all hit by this cold while other more sheltered spots are now enjoying the beauty of these flowering trees and climbers. It is a little reminder from Mother Nature that we are not in control. Hence my reluctance to plant out my seedlings. I really do try to wait until the days of the saints de glace have passed before planting but it is so difficult to resist when the garden centres are heaving with tempting summer plants.
Mamert, Pancrace, Servais and Boniface are perhaps unfamiliar names to you but they are the saints that guide our planting. This year these saints days fall from 11-14 May and they signify the end of the overnight frosts and we are free to plant out our delicate seedlings without worry – we hope.
If you do give in and get planting this weekend, keep an eye on the overnight temperatures and cover up seedlings with horticultural fleece or newspaper if things go south. Don’t forget that although the rain is wonderful it too can have a devastating effect on tiny seedlings crushing them with the weight of the water. I never said Mother Nature was a softie!
As I’ve mentioned before I’ve created a flowering meadow on a steep slope in my garden, most of my garden is on a steep slope. This means there is less mowing of said slope and many more flowers and therefore many more insects which I love. The only problem is that I let a tall lanky daisy get the better of me two years ago and I am still paying the price for that. It is possible that this daisy was introduced in a mixed bag of meadow seed (I really hope not because it is such a pest) or that it just came into my garden for the hell of it from a local field. As I sit here at my desk and write I can see oh so many of these daisy plants now spreading from my flowering meadow into the rare areas of flat grass space. Once the rain stops I envisage lots of weeding. I don’t tend to weed the meadow primarily because it is so difficult to work but I do try and get in there early and dig out the large thistles, the pesky daisies and I pull some of the remaining long grass to allow more space for flowers. This is also the area where I plant my left over bulbs, so early in the season there is colour.
Speaking of bulbs, I splurged before Christmas and invested in a piece of beauty, a long handled bulb planter from Sneeboer, the makers of some of the best stainless steel gardening tools on the market. I planted some bulbs beneath a tree and others in a neglected area next to the bbq both areas I can see from the kitchen. This implement does not plant the bulbs for you but it is great to not be on hands and knees when you have to plant a couple of hundred.
The Tulip Festival continues at the parc de l’Indépendance along the lake front in Morges until 9 May when all of the 145,000 bulbs are dug up and sold by the bag load to the public at a low cost to support future festivals. On Tuesday 11 May from 10:00-17:00 there will be a drive through and walk through where you can buy surprise bags of bulbs for Chf10, maximum of 5 bags. This is the second year anniversary festivities surrounding the festival have been cancelled, let’s hope their 50th anniversary celebrations will belatedly take place in 2022.
Close by at the Château de Vullierens the iris gardens will open to the public from Saturday 1 May. There are now nine thematic gardens with 85 outdoor sculptures scattered throughout the property. Known primarily for irises the gardens also contain a fantastic array of other flowering plants including peonies, roses and dahlias. Check out their new website for full details of events and don’t forget that this is the only RHS partner garden in Switzerland, RHS members gain free admission, don’t forget your RHS membership card.
Easter and Mother’s Day often signal extended opening times for many nurseries and garden centres to include Sundays and both early summer holidays. This year Schilliger in Gland is open seven days a week until Sunday 6 June, Rémy Jaggi in Trélex is also open every day until Sunday 6 June, Nature en Scène in Borex will be open on Mother’s Day from 08:00-12:00, so keep an eye out for special openings at your local nursery.
If you are on the look out for vegetable, herb and salad seedlings there are plenty of options around. Although the wonderful organic Ferme de Budé in Grand Saconnex has had to cancel its annual Marché aux plantons this year due to logistical complications their supplier in Geneva, les artichauts will open direct sales to the public by means of their two weekly markets. See their website for a full list of heritage and local seedlings and head along to one or other of their markets to stock up. A Fête de printemps will take place on Sunday 2 May at La Maison de la rivière in Tolochenaz in collaboration with ProSpeciaRara. Enjoy a close up look at some chicks, hens, cockerels and ducks as well as seeing the selection of seedlings from a number of local organic growers. A little further afield in Montreux sees the Fête des Plantons de la vielle ville de Montreux on Sunday 2 May. A final event for Sunday 2 May is the marché aux plantons at the organic Ferme des Bassanges in Ecublens. Their 65 page list of available seedlings is on their website. The l’Apothèque du Jorat, a herbal and medicinal plant nursery in Mézières above Lausanne will have an open doors event next weekend on 8-9 May where they will have a range of seedlings for sale.
It is difficult to say where to start at this time of year, we are so concerned with overnight temperatures and yet so eager to get planting. This is what I’ll be doing over the next few weeks. My potatoes are in the ground and I’ll be earthing them up as soon as I see green coming through the soil. I’m keeping an eye on the elephant garlic planted in the autumn, I’ve already decided what to plant in its place now I just need the leaves to turn yellow. I do love planting onions and garlic in the autumn and reaping the benefits in the early summer, given how cold and snowy my garden is I’m always surprised that I get a harvest. The sweet pea seedlings will go out soon, I’ve built a framework of chicken wire for them to scramble over and will put that in place tomorrow. I have a small stock of cut flower seeds from Grace Alexander Flowers, let me know if you’d like some and I’ll email you the list. Supports are vital for some perennials like peonies, without them the weight of the flowers can often make the plant collapse. The best time to put plant supports in is when the plants don’t need them – that means right now. I have some semi-circular metal supports purchased over many years from the wonderful Jardins en fête at the Château de Coppet, they do a great job holding the short lived peonies upright. Weeding, weeding, weeding, weeding. Box wood caterpillar – I haven’t seen the signs yet but my box is looking fantastic, lots of new vibrant green growth ideal for munching on so I am being vigilant. Did I mention weeding? With all this new lush growth keep a watch also for greenfly on roses, early in the season just crush them between your fingers or if you are a little squeamish apply a spray of water mixed with dishwashing soap and that should discourage them. Don’t forget to weed, little and very often.
I’m very happy to be planning three workshops in collaboration with Marie-Claude Holdener of l’Heure du Thé in Chéserex. Each workshop will allow you to create colourful pots and containers for summer filled with perennials, herbs and annuals. The workshops will be held outdoors in Marie-Claude’s beautiful gravel garden in Chéserex, a light lunch will be served following the workshops and there will be plenty of time to explore the showroom. Drop me a note if you’d like to participate, Monday 17 May, Thursday 3 June or Thursday 10 June from 10:00-12:00.
Wishing you a joyful start to May filled with happy healthy seedlings and the promise of delicious homegrown produce.