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APRIL’S GARDEN Sarah Gray, Chessington Horticultural Society

Do you have an allotment? I am in awe of those who do; I find it hard to dedicate regular time and effort to my garden let alone another plot, but those who do reap the rewards in produce and satisfaction. My neighbour has just recently started with an allotment this winter; it’s full of weeds, he says, very neglected. Try old carpet, says I, leave it on for a couple of months over the winter and it’ll stifle the weeds. Unfortunately this had been done several years before and left, and the most pernicious persistent weeds had pierced the carpet and formed a thicket through it and over it; poor chap. The unenviable task of clearing the ground finally over, and the possibility of leaving it fallow for a year to thoroughly clear the weeds rejected, he is now considering which vegetables to choose; this involves not only personal taste but how much time he can invest (weekends and after work) at upkeep, how productive the soil is likely to be given several years of neglect, and of course the weeds, which will undoubtedly return. His valiant battle is far from over.

Regardless of the possibility of frosts, things are starting to grow in all directions; blossom weighs the trees, tulips and snakeshead fritillaries nod beneath, chaemoneles (japanese quince) glows along with wallflowers, tulips, auriculas, camellias, and alpines. It’s time for the Easter rush at garden centres, and in real gardens there is activity everywhere; seedlings sprouting, trees greening, hedges getting shaggy, lawns growing, young plants emerging, and always the weeds growing just that little bit faster! There’s still time to: chit potatoes, prepare vegetable beds and borders with a general fertiliser, sow all types of seed. Lawns will certainly need attention, and remember to be careful to protect half-hardy (tender) plants from lower night temperatures and frosts; this includes most bedding flower plants and all the greenhouse-type crops

Some helpful definitions, just in case: ‘Sowing’ is what you do with seed, ‘planting’ is what you do with plants, cuttings, tubers, bulbs, rhizomes! ‘Chitting’ is letting potatoes sprout before you plant them out, best on a cool windowsill as light (but not heat) is important. Remember potatoes are tender so those planted out now need protection from frost. ‘Pricking out’ is separating seedlings from seedtrays or pots, holding by a leaf rather than the fragile stem as the leaves are replaceable but the stem is not, while lifting the roots with a dibber or pencil. Once replanted spaced out in a seedtray or pot, wait for several leaves to grow big before ‘potting on’ into a bigger pot. ‘Thinning’ is separating and removing some seedlings from a row sown direct in the soil, to give more space to those left in place to grow. [by definition, hardy plants or those sown outdoors] ‘Hardening off’ is essential to get young plants acclimatised to outdoor conditions over a week or two before actually planting outside, by placing outdoors during daytime and covering (closing the coldframe or green- house, or bringing indoors) overnight when temperatures drop. [by definition, tender plants or those sown indoors]. This is also a useful process to follow with shop-bought tender plants such as bedding plants, which may have been mollycoddled and would go into shock if planted outdoors directly.

General jobs outdoors: Weed, feed, and mulch borders that have established plants. Don’t cut down bulb foliage until about six weeks after flowering; it’s a good idea to feed with a tomato-type liquid feed so that the bulbs plump up for next year. Prune winter jasmine; clip to shape with shears or take out the oldest woody stems at the base. Sow seed of all types of hardy things, eg broad beans, Brussels sprouts, turnips, beetroot, spinach, carrots, chard and chicory. Sow indoors or under cover: tomatoes, sweetcorn, French beans, pumpkin, squash, cour- gette & marrow, aubergine, peppers. Plant onions sets, chitted potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes. Transplant brassica (cabbage family) seedlings, and thin root crops (beetroot, carrot, swede, turnip, celeriac). Protect crop seedlings against carrot root fly, cabbage root fly, blackfly etc with fleece, and change this once the weather warms up for insect-proof mesh. Open fruit blossom must be protected against frost or snow with fleece or you will lose the crop.

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