Before we start with spring sowing and growing, and look at more plants that did or did not survive the winter here, here are two shots of star plants in the garden at the end of May. I was a bit worried I had lost as it was late coming up – but here it is towards the end of May – shorter than usual, but present under the pear trees:-


Bending itself into the gravel paths in profusion is ‘Heavenly Blue' making a huge splash of colour:-


Sowing. As I said last time, bad weather prevented me sowing seeds as soon as the Hotbed was ready, however, here are the tomato seeds I sowed on 7 April about to be transported from my potting shed up to my greenhouse, and a shot on the same day of all the kale/chard seeds that I had sown a week earlier, already with some sprouting in the hotbed:-


The long leaves in the wide blue tray are Perpetual Spinach, whilst the empty brown tray bottom left is “proper” spinach (which did not germinate very well). The tray next to the spinach is Cavolo Nero, and the greener one next to that is the Dwarf Curly Kale. These were pricked out and hardened off at the end of April, and once I had weeded the winter greens net tunnel mid May, were planted out. As you can see, the Forget-me-not () was covering most of the tunnel, obscuring the dandelions:-


On 30 April I started pricking out the tomatoes – here Cherry Cerise:-

tomatoes pricked out

Therefore it was time to clean the polytunnel ready for the tomatoes when they get a bit bigger. As you know, April was cold and wet, and so was the beginning of May, so we waited til it was supposed to be sunny and a bit warmer (13 May) to wash the tunnel. I took a snap after we'd cleaned the inside, and washed one section of the outside so you could see the difference:-


Other seasonal jobs – well, here's a shot from 26 March showing what happens if you don't do your seasonal jobs at the time you are supposed to! This is a large patch of Phalaris arundinacea ‘Feesey's Form' that I had managed to cut back HALF of last year's stems as I cleared the pond out in February, but then had to leave it to work elsewhere – as you can see the new season growth is coming up already, and by the time I was trying to take the rest of the last season growth of in mid-April it was a much much more difficult and tedious job. And I disturbed an enormous number of snails from the centre of the other patches which had not been cut back at all as I worked too:-


Here it is cleared up on 13 April:-


I had been going to tell you how good the Plum blossom was this year, however, between Sunday 7 April when I took the photo below of the Plum blossom on our biggest tree and the 13th, we had Storm Noah, and the whole top of the tree snapped off – I hope you can see the trunk snapped through in the second photo:-

plum blossom 94

All the blossom you can see behind it is its canopy on the ground!
Rather later than I should have been, mid-April I was still clearing herbaceous perennial top growth from last year away. Here are a few shots to show you before, during and after clearing the old top growth from Scabiosa ochroleuca. (The first shot also has the old top growth from in there too – the Verbena did NOT survive the winter, whilst the Scabious did.)


The year before the Verbena Bonariensis had survived the winter, and grew shoots from last years overwintered stems, whereas this last winter the more severe weather conditions meant that it did not survive. I had hoped that the cover of the Scabious top growth would help protect the crown of the Verbena, but it did not. I consoled myself with the thought that at least the square hollow stems of the Verbena were good overwintering habitat for minibeasts. Other plants from this bed that did not make it through this winter were the gallardias, and the penstemons. I had collected seeds of both of these to send to the Hardy Plants seed scheme, so I am hoping I kept a bit back as insurance for myself. I know that I was not around last year at the right time to collect viable Verbena Bonariensis seed however. Whilst I was weeding round and pulling out a dandelion in the bed, I accidentally pulled up a whole deceased rootball from a penstemon, and underneath was:-


A sleeping slowworm. Approx 15cm long, so one of last year's babies
Also by mid-April the Yellow Rattle I got as seed from Great Dixter last July had started to germinate – obviously the wet/cold/wet/cold didn't deter it:-


Unlike my many pots of Canna ‘Black Knight' which I showed you last year thriving in the heatwave. They were overwintered in the shed in their pots with the top growth cut off, under fleece, together with some dahlias and a . Interestingly, unlike any other year, when they were unearthed after the coronation weekend the soil in the pots was still moist. The only plant to survive was the Gunnera. As I have said in relation to other plant deaths in this garden this winter the combination of extreme lengthy wet, followed by extreme lengthy deep freeze, followed by extreme lengthy wet again was simply too much for these plants. Whilst I am talking about plants struggling with the winter, I think the roses all had a lot more dead branches than usual – have any of you found that? I have also found that at least half of my Rosa ‘Canary Bird' is dead, and some of the remaining branches that have foliage the foliage almost looks like it has powdery mildew on it (a few branches are ok still with healthy green leaves and yellow flowers). Once it has stopped flowering I shall cut out the dead branches, and the poorly looking ones, and give it a good feed. Gardening on very poor soil, which gets washed away as I show below, I think any tiny vestiges of nutrients in the soil have probably been used up. Mainly its only deeply rooted plants that can cope here (and conversely hardy geraniums and ground elder…..) Talking of cutting back poorly plants on 26 April I cut back the very poorly-looking Olearia x scilloniensis I mentioned last month, some branches almost to the ground, a very few to green shoots. It looks exactly the same a month later – ie not dead, but not sprouting anywhere else.

Being more positive, over winter the seed I got from the Hardy Plant seed scheme had germinated in the greenhouse, and some grass like things that are in fact Narcissus bulbocodium subsp bulbocodium var citrinus seedlings too.


The Agastache ‘Blackadder' which I said had fried/died in the greenhouse last year also seemed to have started to put out new leaves in April, and at least one of the ‘Green Twister' that I thought had also died seems to have put a out – whether they are strong enough to survive being transplanted outside I will wait and see.
You may recall we hastily deturfed an area at the beginning of June last year for the HPS seed scheme plantlets to be put into – this is what the bed looked like on 25 April:-


A definite case of “technical weeding” required here – and a great deal of concentration to ensure I was weeding out only weeds!  Whilst I was able to tell the difference between Verbascum ‘Snowy Spires'– slightly greener leaf, and red vein – from self-sown (silver woolley leaf and white vein):-


Most plants/leaves were much smaller, and much more interwoven. Now this is a mixed blessing – do you see the white patch top left corner of the photo of the bed pre-weeding – well that was deturfed in November to heel in some plugs of delphiniums and various salvias which were given lots of space round them for growth this spring, meaning lots of bare soil, and this photo shows what happens to our soil overwinter if it has no plant cover on it:-


I promise you I did not plant those Salvia nemerosa ‘Caradonna' proud of the ground, but the soil washed away down the slope leaving their rootballs exposed, and the bed surface covered in chalk and flint. I will save talking about what other plants survived in the HPS seedlings bed/from the greenhouse and what I did with them this year for another article.
The sweet peas I sowed in March were planted in the ground on 9 May. They are Lady Salisbury (a fragrant white flower) and Spencer Mixed. I DO love a vase of fragrant sweet peas. Let's hope the summer is kinder to them this year and we get more than one flush of flowers. Talking of fragrance here is a picture of my Dwarf Korean Lilac (‘Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin') in flower on 18 May – absolutely glorious scent that pervades the entire garden in the still warmth we had that week:-

dwarf lilac

Next time I shall talk about some unwanted wildlife affecting plants in my garden this spring.

Sheila May