The City Gardener: Looking forward to the spring
By Tim Barton
HAPPY New Year, in fact Happy New Decade: it feels like only a few years ago we were all welcoming each other to a new millennium.
Now that the furore of Christmas has died down, the celebrations are over and many of us are thinking of trying to stick to our resolutions, we can start to look forward to another year of growing. Many years ago I made a final New Year's resolution and that was to never make any more New Year's resolutions. If I hadn’t done something purely because I wanted to then there was no chance of me sticking to it because it was January. So far it’s worked out, I’ve not broken one for eight years.
I’m always a sucker for getting seeds in early but I know that I have to resist the urge, all too often there are frosts into late March or even April so many things really are best left and don’t benefit from an early sowing. There are however a number of plants that if you’ve got a protected environment you can get going in January. Chillies for example need a long growing season for them to ripen properly so getting these on the go towards the end of the month is a good idea. You can also sow sweet peas and delphiniums for example, but all of these will need some heat to help them germinate as it won’t be warm enough outside or in an unheated greenhouse for a few months. You do have to be careful at this time of year though as due to the low light levels the plants can suffer from etiolation or legginess. This is where the plants put on too much weak growth in the absence of light that can make them susceptible to damping off and other ill effects. To be sure of good strong growth at the start of the year it’s best to keep them under lights if you can or at least in a bright south facing window. I’ve also seen a contraption made from silver foil that simply reflects the light from the window back onto the plants from the opposite side. It’s really just foil covered card that sits on the opposite side of the plants to the window and curves up until it’s just past vertical, I’m assured that it’s a highly effective and cheap way to get the best from your seedlings. As I have some lights I’ve never tried this but I’d love to get some feedback on how effective it is.
It’s also worth noting that the next two months are usually the coldest. It’s tempting to clear plants that have died back but I leave everything that is still standing and not starting to decay. Not only does this look good and retains some structure to the garden, especially in a hard frost but it’s also somewhere for insect to find protection and even a few seed heads left over for the birds. My garden stays fairly unkempt over the winter months as I don’t really feel the need to cut everything back to the ground as soon as it’s gone over. This is mostly due to a bit of lethargy though and a severe lack of time at the moment, but it’s no less loved for it. Knowing that in a few months time there’s going to be the first signs of spring growth fills me with an intense sense of joy and I want to get the most out of it, part ornamental and part wildlife garden suits me perfectly.
Keep feeding the birds with fat and seeds and keep yourselves warm as there are a few weeks until we can start to really think about Spring, but not so many that I’m not already excited.