LADY PENELOPE’S GARDENING TIPS FOR APRIL

The kaleidoscope of colour to be seen in every area of soil around us at the moment is breathtaking; yellow daffodils and primroses, camellias, magnolias, wild flowers, celandine…. So beautiful. Just as prolific though are weeds rushing to establish and set seed before we have even noticed them. You must be vigilant with your hoe if you are not to spend the rest of the season groaning at the success of these early seeders.
Other tasks to tackle this month are feeding containers; planting out chitted potatoes; sowing carrots and salad leaves; pruning penstemons; potting up shooting dahlia’s; planting lily bulbs; and planting up hanging baskets although these should be kept in a greenhouse until the danger of frost has passed. Planting them now will give the plants time to root and settle in before active growth begins in earnest. No doubt your grass is declaring the need to be cut, if you haven’t already begun this. According to new research, the mowing season now lasts for eight months of the year, with 26th March being the most popular day to start mowing.
If you like to have cut flowers in the house, have you considered allocating a particular spot in the garden to grow flowers for cutting? The size is irrelevant, it only dictates how many flowers you can grow, but even a thin strip can be planted with gladioli to come up in late summer, and sown with seeds on top such as Cornflowers, Larkspur, Bells of Ireland and Cosmos.
If you have a pond that is choked by water lillies, now is a good time to divide the plants. You would be very popular with your friends if you shared the surplus, as they are pretty expensive to buy. If you do not have a pond in your garden, please read my design tip and see if you are converted.
Pest of the month: Rabbits – if your garden is accessible to rabbits, you will no doubt have herbaceous perennials munched down to the ground, vanishing young vegetables and trees with the bark gnawed away. The droppings will clarify that it is rabbit rather than deer or very hungry slugs. The only real way to protect your plants is to put up chicken wire fencing dug into the ground about 1ft and sloping outwards. Alternatively, you could fence or net around your pots or vegetable area. I have noticed a real decline in the number of rabbits and this was confirmed by finding an article in the Telegraph citing a study by the European Journal of Wildlife Research.
Design tip of the month: Even the smallest pond will draw in wildlife. You do not have to commit to digging a big hole in the ground. It could be as simple as placing a container that does not have holes in the bottom, such as an old tin bath, an old sink (with the plug hole bunged up), a decorative garden pot or even a washing up bowl, (which was done with my children about 4 years ago and is the only area of the garden where we are guaranteed to find a frog even though I have two other purpose built ponds!). By using containers such as these, you can put the pond anywhere. Always add some stones or bricks piled up in one corner so that visiting wildlife can get themselves in and out of the water. You could add some small plants such as a dwarf water lily eg Nymphaea ‘Pygmaea Rubra’ too. The best improvised pond I have seen was in a water tank taken from a loft. The metal finish looked amazing and the height (about 2ft) made it a real focal point on a patio.

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