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Racing the weeds; welcoming the flowers!

Now well into spring, we have been enjoying our gardens waking up, longer days and the warmth of sunshine. I say the warmth of sunshine, and yet the last few week have felt decidedly chilly, with average temperatures well below the normal trends. This consistent cold spell is holding some plants back a little, confusing others, and we are seeing damage to delicate leaves and buds in places. Despite this, we are all enjoying the coming of summer, being outdoors and the promise good things to come.

Tulips 'Marianne' and 'Atilla Graffiti' in large clay pots, Lady Baillie Garden (Photo: Matt Jackson)

The gardens at Leeds Castle (where Matt provides consultancy support) are still full of spring bulbs, with Tulips giving a great display in pots, borders and naturalised grassland. I have always loved planning Tulip displays, planting them out and then being overjoyed by their appearance in spring. It is a great way to brighten the garden early on, and easy for each or us to achieve. The trick is to plan ahead, ordering bulbs the previous autumn, planting them out before Christmas, and keeping off the borders in late winter. I personally like to treat them as bedding plants, removing them every year after flowering to prevent disease build-up, and to ensure colour schemes are not muddled. In naturalised areas they are left in, which again requires good planning and record keeping if you care about colour harmony.

Naturalised Tulips in Grassland (Photo: Matt Jackson)

There is one group of plants that does not wait just because it’s chilly; our nemesis, the weed. Warmer soils and longer days trigger weeds to burst forth, and for the months of May and June it can feel like an endless fight against floodwaters for the gardener. It is weeding that will keep the gardeners and volunteers completely occupied throughout May, as they endeavour to hold back the flood, which will ease off in July and August. We struggle just as much professionally as you go at home, so do not feel disheartened. TOP TIP: digging soil disturbs weed seeds, brings them to the surface, and encourages germination. Soil is much better left un-dug, not only reducing weed germination, but being better conditioned to hold moisture and nutrient. Only dig to plant things or remove things! A good thick mulch can suppress weeds significantly.

Weeding in the herbaceous borders of the Culpepper Garden is now a full-time task (Photo: Matt Jackson)

The garden team will also start to consider staking herbaceous plants, that as they grow are likely to flop and collapse. This is best done early, with the new growth winding up through the stakes, rather than trying to bundle up the stricken stems after summer rains (which never looks nice). Normally we would look to use ‘pea sticks’, collected in the winter from hazel coppice but something got in the way of that! This year the team are trying a new stake with a series of wire loops, which we think will do a nice job. Why not come and see what you think!

Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii is a wonderful, bright spring/early summer flower, seen here in the Lady Baillie Garden (Photo: Matt Jackson)

May will warm up soon, and the slow runners will catch up too. Before long there will be flower all over the place, and June will be near. At the moment the fresh green flower heads of Euphorbia can be enjoyed in the Lady Baillie gardens, complementing the bold, structural forms of the succulents, palms and herbs. Very soon the Wisteria will explode, take centre stage and little else will seem to matter. The great drooping flowers will delight us, and the heady scent will fill the air, before handing over to June, summer and Roses!

Wisteria flower bud just waiting to bloom; we'll post again as soon as it does!

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