Harriet Rouse shares her spring tips, including how to attract bees and preparing a cutting garden
Hear that noise? That is spring. The familiar sight of birds carrying improbably large twigs, of the blossom on the trees and the lengthening days that mean we can finally get back in the garden.
Alongside general maintenance such as weeding, checking on fence panels after the storms, jet washing the patio and tidying up, there are some great spring projects that you can get involved with that will ensure optimum enjoyment of the garden in the coming months (by which we mean the bit where you sit down with a glass of something chilled and look at your handiwork!)
Welcome the bees
Whilst some pollination is wind-born, bees are crucial to our gardens. The good news is that it’s very easy to make your garden welcoming to bees and other pollinating insects, and – the more you encourage them – the better your garden will look.
Why not put out a bee hotel? If you decide to give it a try, opt for the smaller versions that encourage solitary bees as honeybees are content in their hives.
If you ever see a nearly dead-looking bumblebee the chances are high that it just needs a feed. By placing down a saucer with some sugar water (or even just honey watered down slightly), you should see it reaching out to drink and, with any luck, flying off refreshed, ready for the spring and summer pollinating.
If you followed the advice in our autumn edition and popped in some bulbs these will now be flowering. The good news is, you don’t need to do anything to them as they’ll die back and flower again next spring. Alongside bulbs, there are some other great early pollinators that give colour and interest to your garden, but also encourage bees and insects.
Why not try planting out some Broom? With its delicate early flowers readily available in light pink and yellow varieties, it is a hardy evergreen that continues to give structure throughout the year.
Skimmia is another great addition to any garden. It not only smells amazing but flowers early and is great for winter foliage as well, with the clusters of red buds being a great addition to any winter wreath.
Prepare and plant a cutting garden
There are very few people who don’t like to bring the outside into their home with flowers, plants or foliage displays, be they real, faux, or a mix of the two. One way to do this and keep your cost down is to plant a cutting garden. It might sound like you need a lot of space, but you really don’t. You just need time, and a little bit of planning and preparation. You also need to keep cutting as the more you cut your blooms, the more they’ll come. Here are some ideas that can work for your space, be it a window box or two, or an unloved bed.
It’s worth remembering that while the rest of your garden might be designed to look nice all the time, a cutting garden is designed to be, well, cut. And it will be functional and pretty, but not a border for displays.
First, choose a spot, ideally sunny, and perhaps a bit tucked away so that it’s not the first thing people see. If you’re lucky enough to have room for a veg patch, you can borrow a couple of rows of that to try out a year of working on a different crop. If space is limited, then a couple of small planters can be surprisingly productive, just make sure you keep them watered and fed.
You need to plan. Group plants by height so they all get sun. Group them by when they start flowering and make sure that you have access by planting in rows.
No matter whether you’re opting for a couple of window boxes or have a larger area, preparation is key. Weed thoroughly so your flowers don’t have any competition, and mulch at least twice - once at the start of the planting, and once halfway through the season. Mix in some organic fertilizer and compost and you’re going to be giving your blooms the very best start in life.
Choose your flowers
Choose what you love. No point putting in Dahlias if they leave you cold. Likewise, if you’re all about the modern striking arrangements, then go big – foxgloves (biennial) or alliums (bulbs). Remember though that if you go tall, many plants will need staking to support their growth.
Traditionally cutting gardens use annual plants, though bulbs and biennials are also suitable. An annual is – quite simply – a plant that completes its life cycle in a year. From seed to flower, to seed again (and because they want to go to seed, the more you cut, the more flowers – and therefore seeds – they produce which makes them the perfect plant for cutting).
Remember that a cutting garden is all about the flowers… foliage can be cut from elsewhere in the garden or purchased inexpensively in the market. The main thing to do is plant what you will use. If you’re fond of a small, country-style arrangement in a small vase, anemones, sweet peas, poppies, and other short-stemmed plants are a great place to start – though poppies do not last more than two or three days in a vase.
One of our favourite plants is a sunflower – they look gorgeous displayed and you only need one or two to make a real impact. They’re also a great way to get the kids involved with your planting (or to give them something to do in their own pot!). Choose a variety with multiple heads to get as many as possible for your displays – you can find the details on seed packets.
If you need further cutting garden inspiration, then Instagram should be your first stop. Search hashtags and go down a rabbit hole of inspiration. But do remember the Jersey climate when it comes to ordering seeds!