PHIL CALVERT: Primrose is the number one bedding plant

MOST of the winter saw our garden either frozen or waterlogged. I popped out for the odd hour to do this and that but generally there was little to be done but sit tight and hope for a sustained period of kinder weather to allow the land to be workable.

Now although we have had a drop of rain this week, and grey skies towards the latter end of the week, in truth we really have not had any rain of any consequence for around three weeks. Sunshine helps to dry things out, and we enjoyed particularly gorgeous weather last Tuesday with wall-to-wall sunshine that really lifted our spirits and which seemed to breathe new life into plants and gardens. Even the birds seemed to be out singing in force. A marvellous spring day.

Another characteristic of recent weather, however, has been a steady, if somewhat chilly, wind that reminds us that although the heat of the sun is strengthening, it is still early in the season, and it is too soon to be shedding too many layers of clothing just yet. The spin-off of this, however, has been a steady drying of the land. With a light breeze, land dries in much the same way as washing on a line. Combine it with sunshine and you really start to see things dry out.

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The consequence of this has been that my lawn is now accessible without the risk of sinking in up to my chest. Combined with the thawing process, the land has suddenly, at last, become workable. I have only made a couple of minor sorties into the garden so far and on both occasions I have been struck by how much needs to be done.

One minute I’m enjoying looking at the snowdrops still flowering strongly, the next despairing at the state of my bamboo which, battered by rain, winter snows and high winds now looks like it has been sat on by an elephant. Despite clearing up what seems to be the world supply of fallen leaves, in little nooks and crannies, under and around pots, there still remain bits of debris to sort out. With planting time now returning, it is frustrating to have to perform so many menial bits of clearing up.

But it is worth it. So early in the season, we still have time on our hands, but as the spring really gets under way the list of happy chores seems to grow, and so time spent now on the more mundane stuff will pay dividends later.

It is really too early to start cutting grass, but with the blades set on high, I like to run the mower over the lawn to pick up the last bits of autumn leaves and debris. If nothing else it allows your garden to present a tidier face to the world, and as the lawn usually presents a substantial proportion of the garden area, time spent here seems to yield a big improvement.

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It is the same with paths and patios. I generally treat my decking and patio about now with an algaecide which removes much of the accumulated algae and restores colour to the timber, stone and brickwork. Again, with big areas there is a quick psychological gain: you feel like you are starting to get on top of things.

Out in the pond, try to get rid of untidy growth from last year’s display, clear out leaves and reconnect your filters. I turned our waterfall back on mid-week and it felt like retaking possession of the garden. There remain plenty more leaves to scoop out, but be prompt or delay this for three or four weeks as the frog mating season is almost upon us and they should be left alone.

After a few hours of chores in the garden it is nice to reward yourself by actually planting something. Wifey likes sowing seeds in the greenhouse, especially vegetables, but my interest is mainly on the ornamental side. Bulbs are obviously current at the moment and they are eagerly pushing skywards in gardens everywhere. I love miniature daffodils in particular as they give good colour over a long period but do not get battered by wind. Dwarf tulips too, with an astonishing colour range and lovely fresh foliage are another winner.

But there is one old favourite that in tubs, rockeries, even spring baskets has no equal. The primrose (primula) is the number one spring bedding plant and gives a colour lift to any spring garden. Available in pink, white, yellow, red and blue it has no equal and after flowering for weeks has the added bonus of coming back next year.

After a day’s graft cleaning and tidying, planting a couple of tubs up with these little stars is your little reward.

It was worth every minute.

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