March and April brings the beginning of the new season and this means clearing away the winter debris, pruning plants that flower from July to October and are deciduous, such as buddleja, fuchsia, hydrangea paniculata, spirea japonica; and feeding borders with a good slow release organic fertiliser, such as fish blood and bone or poultry manure pellets and mulching! Whether it’s spent mushroom compost, seaweed or bark chippings, this will help to reduce weeds (or make them easier to pluck out), seal in moisture and as it breaks down, provide extra structure to the soil.
But now is also the opportunity to plan new borders and revamp old ones, or extend existing areas of your garden. I’m often told that this can be quite overwhelming so here are a few tips to help.
Access the space that you want to develop. What are the attributes and challenges – sunny, shaded, sheltered, windy, small, large, raised, ground level, rich soil, clay, sandy?
Decide what would you like to grow – vegetables, herbaceous plants to encourage wildlife, ornamental
evergreen and deciduous shrubs?
Investigate the needs of these choices and examine whether or not the conditions are going to support them? Or do it the other way around perhaps? My border is a sheltered and sunny one, which plants like these conditions?
4. Plan it.
Having established roughly what you are going to grow, the next stage is to plan it out.
There are various ways to approach this and nowadays there are quite a few online tools at your disposal. However, if that is not for you then graph paper is very helpful. 1cm = 1 square metre should work for most garden areas unless very large. Measure out the area to be developed and map this onto your graph paper.
Now you can start to plot your preferred scheme onto the plan. It’s best to do this to the mature size of whatever it is you are growing so you can see how your grown up garden might look. It is very easy to fall in love with a small plant in the garden centre only to find that it grows to 2m x 2m! There is a huge amount of support online where you can get advice on what grows to what size and many books available on the subject.
If you are developing the shape of an area or border for the garden, I suggest that you mark it out using string and garden canes or rope so that you can visually confirm the shape and size you want and see how this fits in with everything else, then plot this onto your graph paper and begin.
Once you have got your plan together, it’s a case of doing some research to find out the best time of year to plant your chosen species and root types.
For instance, in the case of hedging such as beech or hornbeam, this can be planted between November and end of March/beginning of April, when bare root plants are available and much cheaper than container. Evergreen varieties are often available as root ball plants at the same time of year as bare root. Trees and shrubs grown in pots can be planted at any time of the year providing the ground isn’t solid, too wet or temperatures too low. It’s better to carry this out in autumn or winter as they require less watering than those planted in spring or summer.
6. Buy it.
Now you are ready to develop your plant schedule or shopping list and decide how you are going to go about sourcing the plants. Good local garden centres are invaluable because they will have carried out some level of research to ensure they stock suitable plants for the general area, and they often have very experienced and knowledgeable staff who can advise you. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have to research the suitability of your choices.
7. After Care.
Having everything in place, you can now create a diary to include such information as when to water, when to feed, prune etc., and general aftercare.
8. Record it.
Take photos. Taking photos of the ‘before’ and at regular intervals will really help you see the overall progress and could also help you to learn what you might do differently or change, which is what gardening is all about.
It’s not an exact science, there is rarely just one way to do anything and if you get it wrong, you won’t be alone!