As we venture out now into the gardens and there is a very definite sense of spring in the air, the landscape changes day by day. The winter-flowering cherries, magnolias, camellias and rhododendrons are still giving of their best, with some of the earlier-flowering forms coming to an end for 2020 already. Pieris are announcing their awakening with vivid, bright red new growth along with lily of the valley type flowers which will stay on the plants for the next month or so.
Our thoughts will turn to summer and the months ahead as that is how, we as gardeners are programmed, we are always thinking of the next season. What new projects will we take on in the garden this year: perhaps we will try the very worthwhile and rewarding pursuit of growing some of our own food, maybe a few new beds to be cut out from the lawn or perhaps a complete overhaul of the garden is on the cards for you this year.
Whether you are growing your own food or you simply want to create an ornamental bed full of flowers to enjoy and sustain the pollinators think about raising that bed.
Raised beds are great for many reasons, get the height right and you will be removing any backache from gardening as the bed is raised to a manageable height for weed control, pruning, harvesting or deadheading. Also, plants can do much better in a raised bed as they are elevated from the ground that little bit and so drainage is better along with being slightly warmer as they are raised towards the sun.
You can completely control the growing media within beds like these, opening up the world of possibilities when choosing what to grow. Perhaps your soil is limey and you yearn for camellias and azaleas, well you can fill a raised bed with ericaceous soil or compost and grow these acid-loving plants within.
So too with vegetables, if your soil is too stony to grow a crop such as carrots, well then stone-free soil in a raised bed will allow you to grow as many as you can fit also bringing the further advantage of preventing carrot fly if the raised bed is high enough as the fly which isn’t a fly at all as it can only hop, cannot reach beds which are higher than 1m or 3ft high.
Many different materials can be used to create raised beds, namely timber, metal, plastic and concrete. The easiest way is probably to get a ready-made raised bed kit. These are made from timber and should be safe to use for food crops. Do be careful not to use old railway sleepers or scaffolding boards as the toxins within will leech into the soil and can be extremely dangerous.
It’s not just us humans that beginning to admire the gardens once more now that the weather begins to improve. So too, our most common plant and garden pests, slugs and snails. Whilst they are active all year round, they are seemingly omnipresent at the moment as eggs laid over winter begin to hatch and a new army of hungry molluscs attack.
Maintaining and restoring a natural balance in a garden is by far the best way to manage any form of pest control. By promoting and sustaining a rich diversity of plants and wildlife in the garden you can prevent an unnatural build-up of any one species.
Unfortunately, many chemical companies would like us to believe otherwise and have fooled many over the years into thinking that we cannot have good gardens without pouring poisons onto them. Methaldehyde is the active ingredient in many slug killing products. Methaldehyde will kill slugs and snails, yes, but it is also toxic to birds and hedgehogs which are the natural predators for these garden pests.
Thus, using pellets containing methaldehyde you are interfering with that precious natural balance and as the slug population will recover far quicker than that of the birds or hedgehogs you are simply creating an unnatural situation whereby you will need to apply slug killer with increasing regularity.
There are slug pellets, now widely available, containing Ferric Phosphate which controls a wide range of slugs and snail if not all but is completely safe for surrounding wildlife. There are also a multitude of barrier products which will protect the plants in your garden but will not kill the pests, leaving a healthy population available for their predators, the birds and hedgehogs and by doing this we help to restore that natural balance.
The caffeine in coffee grounds will deter slugs but be careful not to use too much as it can be quite toxic to plants if overused. Crushed eggshells are sometimes used as a barrier but in truth, I have never had much success with them, though they are a great addition to the soil as they break down releasing calcium into the ground.