Great gardening tips for right now!
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Stroud-based horticulturalist and author Rebecca Bevan has not only just had her new book The National Trust School of Gardening published, but she’s also recently launched a business teaching people to garden in their own spaces.
With everyone coming out of lockdown and entertaining in their gardens, the timing couldn’t be better, so we thought we’d ask Rebecca for a few of her seasonal tips to help us all make the most of our own patches of Eden...
For many people planning a garden – especially a small one – deciding how to lay things out is the biggest challenge. My advice is always to take time to get to know the space and what your needs are going to be. Seating is often the most important thing, so start by working out when you are most likely to sit out and position a table and chairs, bench or at least one seat where it catches the sun at that time of day. Work from there, making a path to your seating area and surrounding it with plants.
Another big challenge is choosing plants to suit the site and soil you have. So often people have already bought the plants they love and need my advice on where to position them. I’m happy to help, but ideally it’s better to work the other way around. Think about where plants are needed and what height you want them to reach, then look at how much sun the area gets and whether the soil is sandy and free-draining or gets wet and sticky. Then research plants to suit that spot. A happy plant of any kind always looks better than an old favourite which is limping along.
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In spring one of the most common questions I’m asked is what to do with leggy seedlings. People often start sowing early on windowsills indoors but this can lead to tall, limp seedlings long before it’s warm enough for them to go outside. If this is you, pot them on into slightly bigger pots, pinch them back to a couple of pairs of leaves and move them out of the house to somewhere sheltered during the day, covering them with fleece or bringing them indoors at night until all risk of frost had passed (usually the end of May in the Cotswolds). Make a note to sow a bit later next year. Cosmos, zinnias French and runner beans, courgettes and cucumbers needn’t be sown until the end of April, giving them five weeks to form small stocky plants before they go out.
Another common query is why doesn’t my shrub flower? People are often ready to give up on a plant and chop it down because they haven’t seen enough flowers. For a mature shrub the most likely explanation is that it was pruned at the wrong time. Shrubs which bloom in spring flower on branches which grew the year or two before, so if you prune them in autumn, winter or spring, you’re often cutting off the branches which were about to carry flowers. Try giving your shrub a year or two off pruning to recover and develop its natural habit. Then, in future, prune early-flowering shrubs straight after flowering so they have time to put on new growth in summer and develop flower buds for the following year.
We all love roses and I’m often asked what to use to treat aphids, mildew or black spot. My answer is to avoid those all-in-one products like the plague! No point in spraying an insecticide onto lovely ladybirds if your problem is a fungus and no point in spraying a fungicide onto a plant that is doomed to ill-health. Good strong rose varieties which are well fed, mulched and watered, and pruned to have good air flow through them, shouldn’t easily succumb to pests or disease. Try giving them extra care over the winter (including clearing up any diseased leaves) and if they’re still not healthy after a year, I’d recommend growing something else instead.
Top Tips for Success
- Look after plants in pots. Pot on any that look congested or at least give them a top dressing of compost. Water them thoroughly every day or two in summer and liquid feed every couple of weeks. They will repay you for it.
- Stake tall plants in spring before they fall over. Waiting until they’ve fallen and then propping them up never gives the same effect. If you’re not sure what’s going to need staking, make a note this summer to remind yourself for next year.
- Prune shrubs to maintain a natural shape. Only topiary and hedges should be sculpted into straight lines or domes. Everything else should look more relaxed. Achieve this by shortening stems to slightly different heights and removing a couple of old stems from the base.
- To ward off slugs, you need to be canny. Put sharp sand or grit around young plants which are prone to slug damage and on wet evenings place jam jars with a little beer beside them to lure the slugs away.
Rebecca Bevan is an RHS trained horticulturalist living and working in the Cotswolds. She is the author of the recently-published National Trust School of Gardening and gives gardening lessons in and around Stroud.
The National Trust School of Gardening: a treasure chest of gardening advice and inspiration is available from all good independent book shops and via The National Trust.
To find out more about the services she offers check out RebeccaBevan.com