In her latest blog, Caroline tells us about the jobs in the garden in April, from weeding to pond clearance.
At this time of year there is a lot to do in the garden and one of the main things to get on top of is weeding before it’s too late. April has generally been wet and cold but it hasn’t prevented the weeds from germinating and tackling them now, whilst they are small and before they get chance to set seed, should help to control them. At Stillingfleet, Vanessa gardens organically, so the only method of dealing with the weeds is to either hoe or hand weed which can be relatively quick if pulling out Hairy Bittercress or can turn into an afternoons work in the case of bindweed. Vanessa identified a bed which had bindweed last summer and needed clearing. As bindweed regenerates from the smallest piece of root and is very brittle it meant removing all the plants in the bed and carefully digging over the plot several times to remove the roots before putting the plants back.
So do all gardeners have the same weeds to deal with? Well although there are some common species such as Dandelion and Hairy Bittercress, there are others that are specific to the location of a garden and soil type, which is heavy clay at Stillingfleet. One plant that is extremely happy with these conditions is the Bloody Dock which I have not come across before. It has bright green leaves with stunning blood red veins, hence the name. It seems to embrace the moist conditions of heavy clay and is grown for it’s ornamental leaves which I’m told are also good in a salad. However, this plant is very promiscuous and pops up everywhere, including amongst prized perennials and therefore needs controlling.
Other weeds I have come across in the garden include couch grass, which is like following a trail; you pull up one bit and it links to another and another and another or cleavers, which sticks like Velcro but has hardly any roots so is easy to pull out. Whichever weed pops up it is always very satisfying to get them out even if it’s a bit like painting the Forth Bridge, you never get to the finish line.
A more satisfying job to undertake was to clear out a small pond next to the barn. This had suffered due to an influx of water and debris from the barn roof which over time had blocked up the pump so it stopped functioning. We emptied the pond entirely including all the cobbles and plants, cleared out the sludge and cleaned the cobbles. We then installed a new, larger pump that could deal with the problems generated by the roof. Plants included a small water lily and Carex elata ‘Aurea’ or Bowles’ golden sedge, which forms graceful clumps of vibrant green and yellow foliage especially in Spring and which can tolerate its feet in water. The tinkling sound that you now encounter as you walk past the pond is wonderfully soothing.
Getting the vegetable plot underway also starts in earnest in early Spring and I kicked off with planting onion ‘Golden Ball’. The sets had been heat treated to prevent them from bolting and should store well when harvested. The sets are screwed into the ground with their tips showing and then firmed in to prevent birds from pulling them out. A top tip is to try growing onions with mint as a companion plant to deter the onion fly.
Whatever job I’m doing in the garden I can’t help but notice that Spring has sprung at Stillingfleet, from the beautifully detailed Snakeshead Fritillaries in the meadow to the stunning golden Marsh Marigolds and dainty native Primroses round the pond. Finally, on leaving the garden the other day I spotted the stunning ghostly form of a Barn Owl as it swept across the field on the lookout for a tasty morsel for tea.