Where did spring go?

Well, what a contrast to last week when we all began to think we had made it through winter and it was time to put the winter woollies away! Back to the layers and long johns this week! Plenty to be getting on with though, while we wait a few more weeks to sow seeds, put out young plants and think about summer pots of tender annuals. And then all change again this weekend with the return of sunshine and warmer temperatures. Such are the vagaries of spring weather.

The weeds never need a second invitation to get going and the warm weather of last week has resulted in a rash of sudden growth to send any gardener into an immediate panic! Top job of the week was to get on top of these fast growing, fast seeding annual weeds before they get on top of us. The dye border, culinary beds and vine border were all given a spring clean, a most satisfying job once you stand back and look at the result. And here you see Jane giving the container plants a spruce up, before a top up of fresh compost and feed. All set and ready to go!

A more problematic job of weeding was tackled by Jeremy in the pool garden. Here he is showing who’s boss in the soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) bed. Much as we love this plant, it really does cause us a headache, grown here beside Irises, roses  and a range of herbs grown for household use. Without doubt it was a most useful herb in Tudor times, producing, when boiled in water, a green lather with the power to lift dirt and grease, particularly from fabrics. In Britain it was used by medieval fullers, who beat the finished cloth to clean and thicken it. The vegetable saponins, the chemical cleaning agent in this plant, are much gentler than soaps, and soapwort has continued to be used, even recently, for washing ancient, delicate tapestries. Some of the silk destined for royal wedding dresses was washed with this detergent. But, for all its uses, and prettiness as a flower, it can be a real menace, creeping by its long, brittle root system to come up amongst other plants well away from the parent clump. We did try a plastic barrier buried in the soil but it soon managed to work its way under and around and through that. So now we cut a narrow trench through the roots and weed out what isn’t wanted on a regular basis. Time consuming but very necessary work if it’s to be prevented from taking over. The double flowered version (Saponaria officinalis flore pleno) is known as Bouncing Bett, in honour of the species’ long association with exuberant washerwomen!

The periwinkle (Vinca minor) is enchanting at this time of year, with its sky blue flowers peeping out from glossy evergreen foliage along the top terrace wall. It is one of those useful, thuggish plants that reliably grows where most others don’t, but can be a nuisance if planted in amongst other more demure specimens which it tends to smother in no time. It was highly regarded in the Middle Ages, having been introduced by the Romans, who used it to make wreaths and gave it the name vinca because of its long supple stems which could be intertwined like links in a chain (vincula). Its particular, rather sinister use, was to make death garlands and in England it was the traditional crowning flower for criminals on their way to execution. Despite its somber symbolism, it is a cheerful, robust plant, excellent for ground cover and quite unaffected by anything the weather has to throw at it. Despite growing well in the shade, try putting it in a sunny spot for maximum flowering. It is a very adaptable plant.

On the community garden the volunteers have been planting for the future. Here you see a row of apples we have decided to grow as cordons behind the not so beautiful porta cabin. Discovery and George Cave are the varieties, both originate in Essex.

The asparagus has also been planted out this week, and once again we are thinking of future years rather than this season’s crops. Asparagus needs to be left to build up strength for two years with no harvesting, with a light cropping in year three. But thereafter we can look forward to 15 to 20 years regular harvesting of luscious tender spears throughout spring – delicious with hollandaise sauce.

Our winter sown sweet peas have also been hardened off and planted out but the cold chilly wind prompted us to give them a protection of fleece until they are established and growing strongly.

Paula was particularly green fingered this week, giving the plant tables a repaint! We are well stocked with both perennials and herbs so if you are beginning to think about filling your containers or plugging gaps in your borders you know where to come.




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