So on Thursday 19th April we went away for The Long Weekend (more of that later). 27ᵒc. Evidence of new shoots emerging in garden at last. Daffodils coming into bloom. Last minute seed sowing completed.
Fast forward to Sunday 22nd, 24ᵒc, daffs gone over, tulips out already! Fern coils, emerging from the soil, now 12” tall; hostas, from spears to full leaf in three days; ricinus seedlings sown on Wednesday, up 4”. Woodruff marching all over the central bed and helianthus Lemon Queen rampaging through the tubs on the roof terrace.
And now, one week later, 13ᵒc. If the plants knew how to retract their foliage, now would be the ideal time. My poor cannas, liberated from under cover one minute, back inside the next. Greenhouse needs a revolving door.
Still, undeterred, I’ve been keeping busy (and active, just to keep warm) in the greenhouse, potting on all the T&M Trial seeds: tomatoes Artisan, Rainbow Blend & Sweet Baby and cucumber Nimrod (100% germination – note to self: need a polytunnel!), ricinus (4 out of 6 seeds germinated), mina lobata (supposed to be so easy, eh? 4 out of 16 seeds germinated, huh!) & cerinthe Purple Belle (5 out of 10 seeds germinated). Rooted cuttings of fuchsia thymifolia, erysimum Bowles Mauve and salvias Confertiflora and Involucrata are sulking now that I have switched off the propagators. Jumbo plugs Petunia Sweetunia Suzie Storm are storming ahead (ha, got it?) as are Begonia Fragrant Falls Orange Delight and Solenia Apricot, but I’ve lost over a third of my 36 Begonia Non-Stop Mocca cartridge plugs; I think I’ll stick to the larger plugs in future. What exactly was I going to do with 3 dozen of them anyway? Prize for the Greatest Endeavour goes to Foxglove Illumination Flame, already potted on twice and ready for planting out after all risk of frost has passed. (August maybe?)
What a learning curve this winter has been though, seriously. Plants I felt sure would perish, such as salvias involucrata Boutin and Black & Blue, are up and about, whilst other more robust shrubby salvias, deadski as one New Yorker friend used to say. Melianthus major and fuchsia thymifolia are resurrected from the depths of the earth, while I’ve managed to lose lamium. Who could kill that? Just shows how crucial it is to apply thick autumn mulch. That, coupled with the T&M plastic tomato rings, has saved the day. To that end, I carried out a controlled experiment: two agastache Golden Jubilee with ring surrounds and one without. (In truth a happy accident, as one of the rings was blown away in a gale). All three survived, however the unprotected one is markedly smaller at this stage in the game.
Ascot Spring Gardening Show
We’ve been getting out and about. The new Ascot Spring Gardening Show mid-April was a real treat, especially as it wasn’t actually raining or snowing for once. Much larger than I had anticipated, there was a Plant Village with about 3 dozen specialist nurseries, and as Spring is my favourite time of year (hmmm, usually…) the array of pulmonaria, brunnera and ferns was right up my street. Good job there was a Plant Crèche too! There were six show gardens from established designers and six created by talented horticultural students for the Young Gardeners of the Year Competition, horticultural trade exhibitors, and a programme of free talks, as well as floral demos by royal florist Simon Lycett.
So, to the birthday celebration weekend in Norfolk, bathed in glorious 28ᵒc sunshine, so brief but so welcome. (Enshrined in the canon of clichés since the 1730s, George II is supposed to have characterized the British summer as “three fine days and a thunderstorm”.) We had a lovely time; the boutique hotel was very shishi, the food surely cooked by a Master Chef finalist, and the two resident cats begrudgingly graced us with their presence. At Sandringham, my new concessionary status saved me £2 on the entry fee. But it was the Norfolk Nursery Network that was the highlight for me. Poor David, destined to languish, with all the other bored partners, in the café of one such nursery, while I ran around semi-hysterical, swooping up such gems as clianthus puniceus (Lobster Claw climber), nepeta Six Hills Gold (variegated version of Giant) and centurea pulchra Major (pink thistle to the uninitiated), clematis recta purpurea and geum coccineam EOS. Pure Joy. Where are they going to go? Who cares! Mind you, David satisfied his craving for buying Souvenirs That Seem like a Good Idea At The time. In Southwold he got some funny looks as we strolled around the town centre, swinging an anchor from his shoulder, (it’s for our Beech Hut Summer House, silly) and in Swaffham it was a rusty old petrol can. (I stand corrected – it’s Vintage apparently. Heaven knows what he’s got in store for that!)
Another highlight was our visit to Holkham Hall to see the 6 acre walled garden, surely the largest in England. An exciting project is underway to restore the walled garden which was originally laid out by Samuel Wyatt during the late 1700s. Huge greenhouses adjacent to the substantial walls, others sunken to avoid extreme temperature fluctuations; an ‘Arena’ of plants, vineyard, kitchen garden, one ‘room’ complete with lawn surrounded by ornamental beds. A veritable work in progress with knowledgeable guides and a team of local volunteers. How I wish I could have rolled up my sleeves and joined in. Nearby Gooderstone Water Gardens was a haven of tranquility: One Man’s Dream fulfilled. Billy Knights, a retired farmer, began designing and creating the Water Gardens in 1970 in his 70th year, on a damp site too wet to grace cattle. He worked on his garden until he died aged 93.
Inspiration was another thing we brought back from Norfolk. Driftwood is very prevalent in the coastal gardens of East Anglia, and so on the patio, our multistriped fence will be transformed into a driftwood groyne, engineered from old scaffold planks. Mercifully the stripy bench has now fallen apart (nasty looking thing) to be replaced by a stylish (by that I mean subtle, not a concept usually associated with us Broomes) bleached wooden bench.
The weather forecast is set fair from early May so maybe now I can get on and do some actual gardening! There’s the new plants to go in, the overwintered ones to go back out. The hardstanding is smothered in slippery moss but the reclaimed sets are too delicate for pressure washing, so its hands and knees time. The rill is fowl – full of pond weed, rotting leaves and stagnant water, but also full of tadpoles so no action required for now. The living wall needs replanting. The hanging baskets need filling.
And so it goes on……..Happy gardening! Love, Caroline
Caroline Broome has been gardening for more than 20 years. Having passed the RHS General Certificate, she has since developed her East Finchley garden into a “personal paradise” that she and her husband invite the public to visit each year via the National Garden Scheme. Learn more about our contributor using T&M’s ‘Meet the experts’ page.