Garden Diary - February 2014

The sap is rising, the days are getting longer and as always, at this time of year there is a sudden sense of urgency to sow seeds. The ground has been prepared over the winter months and the soil has received a generous feed of the garden’s well-rotted compost.

Direct sowing of carrots, peas and broad beans has taken place indoors in the glasshouse; the growing room is filling up with newly sown seeds of tomatoes, aubergine, parsnip and celeriac, and many more. Weeding, mulching and forcing continue in the outdoor vegetable areas.

A beautiful pale pink Rhododendron shrub welcomes one and all at the door of the Cookery School, in front of the still flowering, yellow winter flowering jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum).

In the Ornamental Fruit Garden, the Hellebores continue to display a superb carpet of colour; the crocuses in brilliant yellow and varying shades of purple are the latest addition to the spring display beneath the bare fruit bushes. The daffodils are up, ready for their display in the days or weeks to follow. However it’s the tiny snowdrop that really heralds the arrival of spring, clumps can be seen throughout the gardens.

The Herb Garden has been tidied; the stems of the cardoons (Cynara cardunculus) have been covered with cardboard for the past few months; this is a method of blanching the Cardoon stems in situ, it will help to reduce the bitterness and produce more tender stems, the alternative is to blanch them after harvesting. There are plans to include two new small ponds in this garden to replace the beds where the box hedging was removed.

In Wilson’s Wood at the end of the Pleasure Garden, the bare beech trees provide a perfect canopy for the snowdrops and daffodils. Nearby the white reflective bark of the Himalayan birch (Betula utilis var. Jacquemontii) provides interest at this time of year. The shrub, St.John’s Wort (Hypericum ‘Rowallane’) appears to be confused with the mild temperatures of our winter and is displaying golden-yellow cupped shaped flowers.

In the past few weeks, the soil temperature has risen, the new season’s seeds have arrived and sowing is well under way in the glasshouses. Carrots (Nairobi), Beetroot (Detroit) and Peas, have been sown ‘direct’. The potatoes, which were sown just before Christmas, are appearing above the drills. Coriander and the popular Oriental salads continue to do well, e.g. Mibuna, Pak Choi, Turnip Tops, Red Mustard, Tatsoi, Mizuna, and Green Mustard.

This is a busy time in the growing room where conditions are regulated; light, heat and moisture are all controlled to allow germination to take place, some seeds like flat parsley can take up to two weeks to germinate. Tomato seed (organic varieties, e.g. ‘Perlati’(cherry)  and ‘Cindel’) has been sown in 9cm pots, more heritage type tomatoes will be sown also.

Other seeds such as, aubergine, parsnip (‘Halblange’), flat parsley, celeriac, shallots, corn salad, and rocket have all been sown in pots or modules for planting on in the glasshouse in the coming months. Broad beans have been sown in modules for planting outdoors in the Kitchen Garden later once the threat of frost has passed.

In the vegetable area outside the glasshouses, sea kale, rhubarb, asparagus and horse radish, all perennial vegetable plants, have been weeded and are receiving a generous mulch of the garden’s well-rotted compost. The Sea Kale (Crambe maritima) has been covered with black bins to ‘force’ the plants. The stems and leaves should be ready for harvesting as soon as April. Now is the time to divide the grasses in the herbaceous borders and Miscanthus sinensis will benefit by being cut back hard in the spring.

Meanwhile the gardeners are busy with ongoing jobs such as winter pruning; all soft fruit e.g. gooseberries, autumn raspberries (var. ‘Polka’), blackcurrants, redcurrants etc, all need to be pruned before the end of the month. The fruit trees in the orchard will be pruned to encourage growth stimulation. The Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) on ‘Kinoith’ has also received it’s winter pruning.

We are awaiting the arrival of elderflower (Sambucus nigra) and Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) bare rooted plants for planting, these will add to the existing edible hedgerow containing, cobnuts, damsons, hazelnuts and many more.  

Just a reminder: Garden courses taking place in March are;

Creating a Soft Fruit Garden’ with Susan Turner on March 3rd 2014

Compost Making and Soil Management’ with Susan Turner on March 18th 2014.

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