January –February 2023 Gardener
Secondary science resource for RHS School gardening
Planning and refreshing - the exciting year ahead for your garden
How content and happy are you with your garden? What do you really want to achieve? Will a simple plan enable you to make changes and improvements and provide interesting ideas for thought and discussion? Was last year’s gardening experience up to your expectation? What plants did you enjoy looking at? Try and make a list looking back to those warmer months. Can you remember ideas you thought might motivate you to make those exciting changes you always wanted to? It’s not too late to make decisions for the coming gardening year so grab a pencil and paper and make a start.
List any structural and planting changes you’d like. Do you want to create more space? Do some raised beds need adding? Especially useful if growing tap root vegetables, the Umbelliferae (parsley) family eg carrots, parsnips, celery etc require depth which also helps to stop that surface resident the dreaded carrot fly. Drainage also improves hugely with a raised bed and you can add attractive and fragrant companion annual plants such as tagetes (marigolds) that many vegetable pests hate. Yes it does work!!
Be bold - get rid of poor and unsightly shrubs and plants that no longer contribute to your garden enjoyment. Add fragrance and attractive foliage and more colourful longer flowering spring and summer species. It’s worth having a look in a garden book/website/garden centres for ideas. The RHS website is helpful in describing a plant’s horticultural requirements. Spend time double checking plant labels to assist your planting decisions. ‘Buy me plant me now’ - garden centres can offer an instant seasonal pick-me-up plant for your gardens as well time to meet up with fellow gardeners to exchange ideas over a warming cuppa.
Quick planning priority list
Of vital importance your soil - Acid, Alkali or Neutral - try to do a pH check with an inexpensive testing kit. Take a small sample of soil, add some distilled water and shake then use the indicator to see what soil pH you have. If that’s a bit too time consuming look and see if you have acid loving (ericaceous) plants thriving such as Heather, Azaleas, Rhododendrons as that is a certain sign of a low pH acidic soil . Is your soil sandy or clay or is it nice and mixed and crumbly? Tip some into a jar and add water, shake up and you will see instantly the mixture you have stones, grit and sand sinking and clay and silt particle high up with some organic (composts) floating. Estimate visually your soil mixture. The ideal loam soil is an even mixture of (inorganic-non living) clay, sand, and fine silt and 10% (organic –living matter).
Add plenty of fresh organic matter (compost – manure – leaves or leaf mould) your plants will soon respond as this creates fresh nutrients, holds moisture and restricts weeds effectively. Some moderate slow release feeding will be welcome in March onwards, then moderate liquid feed when plants start to flower. Different vegetables will have their own feeding requirements, so do check first.
Plant for size, not just colour or fragrance – consider height AND width, and, so often omitted, spread and space occupied in full bloom as well as light and air circulation. Shrubs are small trees so plan and prune carefully.
Ground cover may also be just what you want in difficult planting areas. Climbers should give great pleasure and lift colour up above all the other plants and can be used for covering up unsightly objects.
Containers can be used successfully for bulbs, summer flowering bedding plants and annuals as well as specimen standard shrubs. Try some vegetables such as new potatoes in a deep container if you haven’t done so before, they taste superb. Containers can be moved around to achieve the best position, but do so before adding water as they become too heavy. Keep them well watered during hot weather and add water crystals before going away. They work well!!
What Action next
May I recommend spending a cold or gloomy day enjoying some relaxation and making a list of what improvements you would like to see. Next month I will suggest some plants that may be worth looking up in books or electronically that may guide you and quick ways to improve different soil.
Enjoy the new year planning and look after our wildlife, two and four legged.
Tony Arnold MCIHort
Author Science for the Gardener Book available on website