Take a rain check... it's still wet out there
Published 11/03/2014 | 05:42
'A grand stretch in the evenings'.
I heard it said for the first time this year a couple of weeks ago. Surely then spring is upon us, I thought, like the heralding call of the first cuckoo signalling that winter is over.
Maybe I should wait for that cuckoo as the last few weeks haven't exactly felt spring like to me. Wind or rain, rain or wind and frequently both.
Gardens have taken a battering out there. But us gardeners are an eternally optimistic and stoic bunch approaching each new year with a fervour and enthusiasm that this will be the perfect growing season. We also have a tendency to want to get started at the earliest opportunity, but I would suggest that, if you'll pardon the pun, we take a rain check this year and heed another great gardening trait - patience.
It's wet out there. The ground is pretty much unworkable and trying to do so can create soil glazing and compaction problems especially on clay soils. Give it a couple of weeks and regardless of the weather, allow that grand stretch to get bigger, you'll find that it's almost as if the soil starts to breath again and things will dry up regardless.
I have though made some concessions to spring in that I am chitting potatoes. This is pre-sprouting seed potatoes in boxes, eyes upwards. Somewhere dry - a shed or garage - is fine, in order to give them a head start before planting.
I only grow first and second earlies and would recommend this if your'e short of space, there isn't anything quite like lifting new potatoes from your garden and taking them straight to the pot.
I'm growing Sharpes Express, great flavour, and Maris Peer, ever reliable. There is a huge range of seed potatoes available and I'm sure we all have our own preference.
I doubt that I will get to plant any, as is tradition, on St. Patrick's Day. I haven't found any great advantage planting this early anyway as often three week later sowings catch up. I guess though the tradition is the point so I may sneak a couple of unfortunate spuds into the unwelcoming soil on the day.
Another spring garden job i have done is to cover my rhubarb with old, large plant pots to encourage or force tender shoots for early harvesting. I am growing the varieties 'Victoria' and 'Timberley Early' as both have done well, so would recommend them.
I did try a variety called 'Champagne' but found it rather weak so discarded it. Mulching with manure now is also highly recommended.
One thing you will find if you cover your rhubarb is that it becomes a great meeting place for slugs and snails. If you are a mollusc sympathiser you might like to collect theses by hand and escort them from the premises; otherwise select your bait of preference and sleep soundly at night.
While I might be a little lethargic in my attitude to spring, nature is on the move and lets not question her authority.
Buds are fattening, grass is growing, although when a mower will go anywhere near it is anyone's guess, and flower bulbs are prolific. Snowdrops are still going, some early narcissus like 'Tete A Tete' (dwarf flowered and 20cms) and as you would expect by its name 'February Gold (large flowered and 30cms high), are both golden wonders at the moment. Iris reticulata in shades of blue are so delicate they look like they've mistaken it for summer and crocuses of all shades are ablaze.
A few early perennials are flowering too. The inauspiciously name Lungwort [Pulmonaria] deserve a mention and a better common name. I love P. saccharata 'Sissinghurst White' with its flowers seemingly luminous at twilight and P. angustifolia 'Blue Ensign' with eye watering blue flowers that would make Sinatra envious. All grow in most soils, are low growers, 30 cms, and tolerate shade. If the foliage is a little woebegone after flowering cut it back to the ground liquid feed it and it will repay you with luxuriant foliage for the rest of the summer.