In this country we tend to garden for 12 weeks in the spring and then leave our outdoor spaces to get on with it. Traditional planting schemes used to highlight a particular plant, but a more modern approach is to layer in plants to ‘take over’ from earlier flowering ones so have a look at what is emerging in your borders.

This is the ideal time of year to add in some later players to your existing borders or containers. With a bit of effort now, these same spaces can be colourful havens throughout the year. We are lucky to live in a temperate climate that allows us to build layers of plant varieties to work with each changing season encouraging biodiversity and attracting pollinators.

Great British Life: Nige EatonNige Eaton (Image: Nige Eaton)

The tree canopy sits over the shrub layer, which in turn can be underplanted by perennials and bulbs. At this time of year, whilst the leaves are just emerging, arm yourselves with some sharp secateurs and remove the lower branches of trees and shrubs to raise the canopy. By letting in natural light, you will encourage good growth later in the season and allow for underplanting, extending the range of plants providing colour and interest through summer and into late autumn.

Improve the soil with some well-rotted compost, manure or granular feed, and get planting. Following the unseasonably wet start to the year plants put in now will root well, giving them a great start before summer. Hardy Geraniums, Astrantias, and Salvias are great companions for roses. Scabious, Clematis montana, and Campanulas will all plug your gaps and provide a transformation to last for months to come.

Great British Life: Worth a visit - tulips at Burnby Hall Gardens. Worth a visit - tulips at Burnby Hall Gardens. (Image: Newsquest)

Gardens to visit

At this time of year, a particularly special place to visit is Burnby Hall Gardens in Pocklington. Known as ‘a jewel in Yorkshire’s Crown’, the lakes’ National Collection of over 80 varieties of hardy water lillies bloom between June and August but towards the end of this month the annual Tulip Festival takes place. With over 18,000 tulips of 130 varieties formally displayed in tubs and the main flower beds across the whole site, the festival takes months of planning by head gardener Jill Ward and her expert team. Designed around a restored Edwardian summer house as a focal feature, it is a spectacular sight.

Great British Life: Agapanthus BlackjackAgapanthus Blackjack (Image: M&M)

Plant of the month

Agapanthus Blackjack

RHS Chelsea Flower Show plant of the year for 2023 is an impressive perennial which is only just becoming available on general sale.

Blackjack thrives in peat free compost, brings drama and structure, growing well in containers. The semi-evergreen foliage arches attractively over stylish pots, with tubular green stems and dark purple almost black, trumpet-shaped flowers blooming to form a sphere. Plant in a container filled with loam-based compost, adding slow-release fertiliser, water well and enjoy this relatively low maintenance plant. Once flowering has faded, deadhead by cutting back the stems unless you want to retain for early winter interest.

Great British Life: Hostas were saved from severe damage with Nige's solution of slug traps filled with yeast water. Hostas were saved from severe damage with Nige's solution of slug traps filled with yeast water. (Image: Getty)


I plan my garden and invest in perennials and summer bedding that end up decimated by slugs and snails. Can you let me know if there are organic remedies that will protect my plants this spring?

I think I’ve been asked this question more than any other in my horticultural career and I can give you a two-pronged strategy to stop your plants succumbing this season. I must first congratulate you on your organic approach to the problem. The first line of defence is to choose slug proof varieties that will withstand the onslaught in the first place.

Plants such as Astilbe, Euphorbia, Ajuga, Artemisia, Campanula, Astrantia, Begonia, Dicentra, Pulmonaria and Stachys all display slug proof qualities, such as hairy leaves, distasteful saps or leathery foliage that slugs and snails avoid.

However, if you want to be more adventurous, I have a solution, but it’s a little unusual. I was first in service as an under gardener at a manor house with a beautiful hosta collection and the head gardener used slug traps filled with yeast water. It was my job to replenish these traps each day. There were no holes in the leaves of those hostas. They were placed at 1m intervals through the border and then emptied onto the bird table every morning (the birds loved it!). It’s not the big battleship slugs that cause the damage, it’s the small flotilla of tiny slugs and snails that live in the top four inches of soil that come out and feed at night.