With the garden centres and DIY shops heaving with beautiful summer annual flowers, salad plug plants and vegetable plants it is understandable that you could be fooled into thinking that it is time to plant up the garden. But no, as the weather over the past few days has confirmed there is still time for snow and late frosts. When temperatures drop overnight to around zero significant damage may be done to immature and tender plants. Local advice dictates that nothing tender should be planted outside unprotected until after the days of the “ice saints”. These ice saints, Saint Mamertus, Saint Pancras and Saint Servatius, celebrate their feast days on 11, 12 and 13 May each year. Each year of course differs from the last and often temperatures are accommodating and we have no issues with chilly nights but when we do we really do. With temperatures due to stay low cover your veggie beds with horticultural fleece and move your pots next to the house for a little protection.
There are so many garden-themed events going on at the moment that it is difficult to keep track. This weekend sees the Bucolique in Ollon, the “rendez-vous au jardin” at the Château de Prangins, the tulip festival continuing in Morges, the opening of the iris garden in Vuillerens and quickly followed by the wonderful three-day event, Jardins en fête at the Château de Coppet. The Swiss Gardening School will be present, come and say hello at stand no. 58, in a new location this year beyond the pond on the left.
The early spring bulbs have gone over and we are now enjoying the majestic beauty of the tulip. If you can manage to squeeze in a visit to Morges you won’t be disappointed by the fantastic display of an impressive variety of tulip size, shape and colour.
I am frequently asked what do with bulbs when the flowering has finished. Firstly and most importantly enjoy the flowers, whether you leave them in the garden or cut them for the house. The next tip is to dead head all the daffodils, only trim the flowering stem, this prevents the plant from producing seed. Allow the leaves to turn yellow, and I’m afraid this is where patience is necessary, the longer you wait the greater the show next year. When the leaves are limp and yellowed only then it is time to cut them back. Daffodils do very well when left in beds or naturalized in the lawn, tulips are a little more temperamental. In public spaces the tulips are always dug up, and new ones planted later in the year, this is not terribly practical or economic in a private garden. To get the best repeat show with tulips make sure they are well planted by December, three times the depth of the bulb, make a note in your garden notebook as to where they are (you will forget); there is nothing worse than digging up bulbs inadvertently when they are dormant in order to plant something else. Ensure the area does not dry out over the summer and don’t forget to fertilize the space with a general purpose fertilizer later in the year when all signs of the tulips have disappeared.
If this sounds like too much work why not plant the bulbs in a pot, bring them out in the spring when they are ready to bloom, enjoy them and then retire them back to a space where they remain hidden but watered until next year. Plastic pots of bulbs can also be added to borders temporarily to lift the colour in the spring and then moved away to allow the perennials to come up in the empty spaces. If you didn’t get around to planting your own bulbs in the autumn you can always buy flowering bulbs in plastic pots from garden centres – fantastic instant impact.
Although the outdoor temperatures are still a little low for seed germination, sunny windowsills work wonders. As my winter kale has now dramatically gone to seed with the most fantastic yellow flowers (time to dig it up and throw it on the compost it) I’m getting ready to plant some seeds. I’ve got some super easy cucumber, yellow courgette, spinach, french beans (my favourite) and kale to get started. Plant what you like to eat, rotate the crops Follow the directions on the seed packets and try to not overseed your little pots as it is always very difficult to thin out the seedlings. Watering can be a little tricky, why not plant the seeds into already damp seed compost and use a small water spritzer bottle to keep the soil moist. The seeds should germinate within about 14 days and should then be allowed to grow on until the first real leaves appear, at least another two weeks. By then the ice saint days will have passed and the vegetable garden will be ready
At this time of year the greatest thing you can do is to keep on top of the weeding. It will take only a few days of rain followed by warm sunshine and the vegetable garden will be overtaken. Little and often is the only way.