I do so love a snowdrop! One of the very first signs that the depths of winter are behind us. Their delicate hanging flowers suspended from a tiny stem piercing the earth with the message that spring is on the way. Although we have been rather spoiled this year with a mild winter season it is still rather nice to see the changes in the garden. With bulbs forcing their way through the soil and shoots appearing on everything from roses to forsythia – it is time to get ready to get back to work.
I have found it to be quite challenging to find interesting Snowdrop bulbs here, most garden centres sell the traditional Galanthus nivalis, common snowdrop. I am always on the look out for something a little more special like the Galanthus nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’ pictured above. If you are lucky enough to have some in your garden and your drift is looking a little cramped now is the time to split them. Snowdrops do not like to dry out whether in bulb form or in the green (the term used for the way snowdrops are dug up for planting once the flowers have gone over) so be quick. By digging up a dense clump, gently teasing the bulbs apart and replanting the new smaller clumps you will increase your display. When replanting make sure you add a few handfuls of fresh new soil to the hole and water them in well. As they are one of the first bulbs to show up it is important that they are planted where they can be easily enjoyed, next to a front door, or along a hedge to a gate. Splitting them like this encourages the growth of tiny new offsets thus bulking up the new clump. There has been quite the renaissance in interest in these tiny bulbs, a new world record was set in February 2015 for GBP 1390 for a single bulb Galanthus placates ‘Golden Fleece’ – it took 10 years to breed and another eight to produce enough to sell! If you are interested in more out of the ordinary snowdrops take a look at this website run by the galanthophile Joe Sharman from Cambridgeshire, I may have to order some bulbs later this year.
With the snow behind us, we hope, and the sun warming things up there is plenty to do outside. Here are a few suggestions: having enjoyed the bright red, green or yellow stems of the cornus (dogwood) all winter now is the time to cut them back to the ground. While a very dramatic task it will ensure brightly coloured new growth to be enjoyed next winter, if you leave it be and do not cut all the way back the brightly coloured stems become darker with time and you loose the wow factor.
The now untidy perennials which were left standing for winter interest really do need to be tidied up. Cut them back to the ground being careful to not damage any new growth at the base. This is also the ideal time to split these herbaceous perennials thus creating more plants for your garden. The pretty flowerheads of the Hydrangea paniculata which may also have been left standing over the winter are now ready to be trimmed back. Dead-head the dried flowers and cut back to about one third of last year’s growth.
The next stage is mulch. Mulching your beds does three things, it improves the soil structure, it keeps the weeds down and it helps the soil retain moisture. Once you’ve tidied up your perennial beds, weeded them, and turned the soil add a good 10cm layer of organic mulch. There are a number of different types of mulch to use, well rotted manure from the local stable, compost or leaf mould from your own garden, compost from your town supply or inorganic matter like stones or pebbles for smaller spaces.
Looking at the vegetable plot now is the time to work the green manure you planted before the winter into the soil (I used winter spinach this year). Turn the soil containing the green manure and leave for at least two weeks to allow it to rot down. The other beds should be turned, removing weeds as you work and adding as much compost as you have to hand. As it is a little early to think about planting outside why not spend some time gazing over a seed catalogue identifying what to grow. One of my favourite seed catalogues is from the British company Thompson & Morgan but local garden centres are packed with choice at the moment, it is time to make decisions about what to grow this year. I’ll be trying out a variety of chili pepper seeds to see which work best in my garden.
If you are lucky enough to have a permanent strawberry bed now is a good time to rejuvenate it for this growing season. Take a secateurs and trim back the outer larger leaves damaged by the cold weather. The new growth from the crowns will develop into blossom and eventually fruit. Weed the bed and add a granular slow-release fertilizer along with some compost to act as a mulch.
Another perfect job for inside is to start off potato chitting. Pick up some seed potatoes from you local garden centre. Place the seed potatoes into egg boxes in a sunny warm place until the knobbly dark shoots develop, about 10-14 days, this process allows them to get off to a great start when they are planted in the ground. This waiting process also allows you a little time to prepare the space into which you’ll be planting them in a couple of weeks. I’ve stared some earlies on a window ledge, a variety called ‘Sirtem’, once planted they should be ready to harvest in 60 days – now that is something to look forward to.