Joe Swift in the garden
TV presenter, author and gardener Joe Swift is coming to Somerset to reveal how a guitar strumming yoof became one of the UK’s top garden designers (and maker of superb meringues). That’s in his one man show A man about the garden next Wed 5 April at the Curzon Cinema in Clevedon. But before he takes to the stage, I asked him what I should be doing in my own terribly overgrown garden at this time of year.
JOE SWIFT SAYS…
Some gardeners are ‘potterers’, others are what I would call ‘blitzers’, leaving the garden till it’s ripe for a hit. It certainly isn’t too late and many plants are best left till the last minute for a cut back as it’s easy to see precisely what’s new growth and what’s old. It’s also an ideal time of year to balance out the existing planting, give it a weed and feed – and perhaps some lawn care too.
Division can regenerate a tired looking plant (many die out in the middle and lack vigour after a few years), reduce a large clump which is getting too big or out of proportion and/or to create some new free plants to pop back into the beds. Lift the entire clump out of the ground and split using back to back forks or cut through using an old serrated bread knife. Divide into fist sized sized chunks looking only for healthy growth and roots, discard any old bits, condition the soil and replant.
Shrubs such as buddleja, cotinus and dogwoods can all be cut back hard or to a height so they grow back and flower at a required height. This will keep them at a manageable size, as well as deepening the stem colour of those grown for their winter stems. Shape evergreen shrubs. Avoid pruning any plants that are in flower or soon to flower unless you feel confident you can take out any dead, diseased or damaged branches (the 3 Ds), without stressing the plant and losing flowers.
Love your lawn
Start mowing on a high setting and slowly lower the mower over the next few cuts rather than scalping it too short. Lawns can be scarified, aerated, top-dressed and weeded. Well some, if not all of those! It’s also a good time to lay a new lawn too, patch up an old one or replace or re- seed particularly warn areas.
As the soil warms up, the weeds will grow. If you deal with them early, especially the perennial weeds, you’ll save yourself a huge task before they creep, seed, and get hold. Make sure to dig out every bit of root out. Inorganic gardeners may want to use a glyphosate-based weed killer on large areas (read instructions carefully)
Once the soil has been weeded and any divided perennials or new plants planted back in, mulch the soil when it’s moist. This will lock in the moisture, improve soil fertility over time, suppress annual weeds and show off your plants. Don’t scrimp – always apply a thick layer about 2 inches deep (5cm). Homemade compost, mushroom compost, well-rotted horse manure and composted bark are all good choices; mushroom compost is too but is alkaline whereas composted bark tends to be acidic.
You can see Joe Swift at the Curzon Cinema & Arts next Weds 5 April.