If I had to draw up a shortlist of the gardens I most enjoy visiting, Great Dixter in East Sussex would be at the top of the list. I was there last week, on a gloriously sunny spring day, as Fergus Garrett and his team were preparing for the start of the season.
For me, part of the fascination of Great Dixter is that the planting is always changing. They try new combinations and ideas every year and the results are never less than inspirational. I’d never visited at this time of year before so it was interesting to see the time, care and attention that goes into preparing the soil before planting out those world famous borders. They go to great lengths to avoid standing on it. Planks of wood are put across any area where they are working. That ensures that any gardener’s weight is evenly distributed and that there is little or no damage to the soil structure.
Until now, I’ve always gardened on very light soil. I haven’t worried too much about treading on it. A quick hoe over the surface after I’ve finished and no one would ever know I’d been there. The rich, dense soil on my new plot needs different treatment. I can already see that it’s easily compacted. From now on, if I have to stand on it, I’ll follow Great Dixter’s example and put planks of wood down first.
Another tip from the experts comes from the Allotment Association’s Chairman who tells us that he digs out his compost heap at this time every year. The well rotted compost goes around his asparagus, strawberries, raspberries and blackcurrants. Anything that is partially rotted goes in his bean trench. As he points out, if we just keep piling things on top it creates perfect conditions for rats and mice – and then they eat our crops.
There’s a family of very healthy looking field mice in the full-to-bursting compost heap that I’ve inherited. While I work my way through the heap (a bit at a time, to give the mice a chance to escape), I need to protect any seeds I’m planting. Mice particularly love peas and broad beans.
Some people suggest sowing the seeds very deep. My solution has always been to sow them in pots on a windowsill and then to plant them out when they’re strong and sturdy. But I’m short of windowsills in my new house. I might try following another suggestion I heard this week – add clippings of holly to the pea or bean trench before covering the seeds with soil. It’s worth a try.
Tips from the allotments:
– Start sowing seeds such as carrots, leeks, beetroot, parsnip and lettuce
– There’s still time to plant onion sets
– Get the potatoes chitting ready to plant in early April