Time to prune
It's a good time to prune penstemons and other slightly tender plants such as Teucrium, myrtle and lavender, now that the risk of frost has passed and the weather is warming up. If you only have a few plants, make cuts just above fresh new shoots. If you have a large area to tackle, it will be easier to run over them with a sharp pair of shears.
Spring is the best time for planting all those lovely herbaceous perennials that make summer sizzle with colour. The soil is getting warmer and there are plenty of perennials in the nurseries and garden centres. it's a pleasure to look out for any bare spots in the borders and fill them in with hardy geranium, oriental poppies, iris and scabious to name but a few. It is also a good time to divide existing clumps of herbaceous perennials to rejuvenate them.
The Sweetest Scent
I'm a sucker for a sweet pea. I don't mind what colour: pink and frilly, pale and classy, whatever, as long as it's got that knockout scent it'll suit me fine. Happily they're terribly easy to grow and, although I know you get lots of seedling plants in the garden centres, growing your own gives you access to more colours and more scented varieties. You can sow directly into the ground but small furry critters have a penchant for peas and you may never see a plant come up.Far better to sow indoors: five seeds to a 13cm (5in) pot about 1cm (1/2in) deep. Chip the seed with a knife before sowing as this will help them to germinate and stick to two or three pots – that will be plenty for a couple of twiggy tripods which you could easily knock up yourself if you're feeling a bit Ray Mears.
Is there anything more cheery than a potful of daffodils in the spring? I love playing with pots and containers, especially springtime ones filled with primroses, tulips, pansies, whatever I can get my hands on. Early bloomers have often faded by now and it's a great time to get to the garden centre and put together a couple of late spring pots to see you through to the summer. I'm a fan of keeping it simple with a cheap-as-chips terracotta stuffed with apricot pansies combined with a purple leafed shrub of some sort – ideally a tiny cut leafed Japanese maple if the budget will stretch. Use perennial plants and grasses as well as shrubs to give your pots some height and ‘oomph'.
Bring in the Bees
With bees in decline it's crucial that we gardeners do our bit to support these vital pollinators – I can't imagine a garden without the background buzz of bees. In spring I'm always surprising sleepy bumblebees as I buzz around the garden tidying up. Only the young fertile female bumblebees survive the winter, burrowing into the soil and emerging on sunny days, sometimes getting soporific again if the weather turns back to chilly. These will be the queen bees this summer so it's important to look after them, placing them in a sheltered spot among garden plants. Planting a wide range of flowering plants is the best way to bring bees into your garden. Aim to go through the entire season from February to November and avoid double and multi-petaled plants as they have less nectar and it's hard for the bees to reach it – simple and single is always best for bees. Plant clumps of nectar rich plants in sunny spots to make a bee garden and go for the classic cottage garden varieties such as asters, poppies and wallflowers, as well as many herbs. It may seem obvious but cut down on using pesticides as much as possible. If you must spray, do it in the evening when the bees are less active, and stick to formulations that are based on fatty acids or plant oils as these are far less dangerous to bees.
Five Favourite Annuals to Sow Now
Easy growing annuals are some of the simplest plants to grow, as you can sow them straight into the ground. These are some of my favourites for filling in gaps in the borders.
1. NIGELLA DAMASCENA or Love-in-a-mist is one of the first plants I remember as a child with its lovely flowers and fantastic seed pods. Go for ‘Mrs Jekyll’ a lovely sky blue, or ‘Persian Jewels’ a sugary pastel mix. Grows to 45cm (18in) tall.
2. QUAKING GRASS or Briza maxima isn’t the brightest of bloomers, but the shimmering seed heads are an absolute delight - especially when combined with other annuals in a vase. Grows to a tidy 45cm (18in) tall.
3. POPPY ‘LADYBIRD’ is that vibrant classic scarlet of wild field poppies with a lovely black splodge at the base of each petal. Combine that with ferny green foliage and it looks great anywhere in the garden, especially as it’s a neat 38-45cm (15-18in) tall.
4. POT MARIGOLD or Calendula is a firm favourite of mine with its bright green leaves topped with bright orange or yellow flowers to a height of 38-45cm (15-18in) tall. Brilliant for bees.
5. POACHED EGG PLANT or Limnanthes douglasii looks just as it sounds, with cheery round flowers of yellow and white on dense mounds of fresh green leaves only 15-20cm (6-8in) tall. It will grow almost anywhere and seeds itself freely so you may only have to sow it once yourself!