April was a tricky month for gardeners and growers across the country, the days were dry and there was lots of sunshine. But nights were cold and there was a risk of frost. So long hours of sunshine, one of the driest April’s on record, and low minimum temperatures and frosts – it makes planning very difficult indeed.
Gardeners will definitely have been worrying about the cold nights in particular and ensuring to have their crops fleeced to prevent the dreaded nip of frost killing their precious plants. I was one of these and ensured some crops that could do with that extra protection were covered. At times it did feel very odd, having to water due to the sun during the day, but then protecting the same plants ahead of the freezing nights.
In the Walled Garden there was jobs to be done, as always. The potatoes were planted, firstly a second early salad potato ‘Maris Peer’ that is very popular with gardeners and seen as a good all-round spud. The other potato for the year is ‘Bambino’, one that provided a great harvest two years ago and has good resistance to blight and scab. Also planted out was the onions.
Another vegetable that was planted in April was our peas, towards the end of the month. I went for two types, ‘Sweet Horizon’ and ‘Sugar Dwarf Mangetout’ and these are to be grown in circular metal cages so that the peas can scramble through and grow over. It is a different approach to supports for the Walled Garden and one that I think will look interesting.
Speaking of supports, another example which will raise a few eyebrows is our curved runner bean support that got constructed during the month. It is built of stock fencing and features a gentle s-shaped curve that is so far removed from the regimented straight lines the Walled Garden usually features. The materials used, solid wooden posts and metal fencing, also veers away from the traditional long tepees made from hazel sticks that usually feature in the garden.
A large job completed in April was planting all of our dahlias that were lifted back in the winter and stored in the polytunnel. We have a lot of dahlias and they provided a fantastic display last summer when there was little else in the beds for visitors to see. This year we have scaled back on the numbers a bit but opted for a colourful display that should capture the visitor’s attention as soon as they come through the gates.
The sowing of vegetables and flowers for the beds continues on at speed. During April all of our range of cucumbers, courgettes and squashes were sown in the polytunnel, including the ‘Crystal Lemon’ cucumbers that will be grown outside and be something different a lot of visitors won’t be familiar with. There is going to be a good range of squashes and courgettes this year, choosing a few different colours and shapes than the norm.
A majority of the flowers for our cut flower borders have now been sown too. I have opted to grow these as transplants as I believe it offers more guaranteed success than sowing direct and helps me ensure we get the numbers required. Among them is Rudbeckia, Cornflower, Gypsophilia, Chrysanthemum and a few different Cosmos. That is along with the different sunflowers I mentioned in last month’s diary, which you can see here. I am confident there will be a great selection of cut flowers for our volunteers to turn into bunches that we can sell on the donations stall.
The stall is starting to make some money as we can stock it with rhubarb and bunches of wallflowers for the visitors to take home with them. The rhubarb is always popular as it is hard to resist the temptation of a crumble.
Looking ahead May should be full steam ahead as more and more plants will be ready to take their place in the beds. It will be prime planting period and a lot of space that lies bare now should be filled come a few weeks time. Of course, now the soil has warmed up the direct seeding of crops like beetroot and parsnip now takes place too. And the polytunnels should fill up soon, with the tomatoes and chilis not far off being ready to take their place in their home for the season.
Tis an exciting prospect and I, as usual, will document a lot of this on my Instagram page.