The clocks have gone forward, the days are getting longer and it’s time to start looking forward to the summer months ahead. Maybe you are dreaming of relaxing on your own in the garden with a morning coffee, or socialising with friends around the barbecue. Whatever your summer wishes are, your garden needs to be ready for outdoor living again. However, please don’t rush to create a super-tidy space! Often this is not the best habitat for garden birds and insects. For example, it’s a good idea to leave ornamental grasses and herbaceous plants as long as possible before cutting back, to provide shelter and food for wildlife. As you would expect, there are other useful things you can do now to get your garden ready for the longer, warmer days ahead. Here are four easy gardening steps to start the process of creating a summer-ready garden.
1 – Take care of the soil
If the soil in your borders is impoverished, then it is a good idea to top-dress it with organic matter. Do this before too many bulbs and lots of new growth emerges. Mushroom compost, composted bark or green waste compost is good but ideally you will have made your own compost. Check out the RHS guide for advice on home composting.
2 – Look after your lawn
Edging around your lawn will re-define its overall shape. You need to decide whether you are aiming for a traditional lawn – with short, green shards of grass – or whether you want to nurture a more naturalistic look for at least part of your lawn area. The gardening regime will be quite different for each of these options. With a traditional lawn, it’s important to remove dead thatch that may have built up by scarifying the lawn (vigorously pulling a spring-tine rake through the grass sward). If you have a large lawn, then an electric scarifier would be better. If you are planning to feed your lawn, wait until there have been some ‘April showers’ to avoid scorching the grass.
For a naturalistic lawn/meadow, then March and April are the ideal times to plant a wildflower seed mix. This will start growing within a few weeks. By nurturing a meadow (or mini-meadow) rather than a lawn, you can recreate the atmosphere of an open, uncultivated field in the English countryside. Wildflowers, flowering plants and native or naturalised grasses will attract butterflies, bees, spiders, birds and small mammals. The area needs to be located somewhere that is sunny for most of the day. Aesthetically speaking, a wildflower meadow provides visual interest for many months. It also offers great plant diversity and a changing colour palette throughout the seasons.
3 – Improve your planters and borders
Firstly, it is important to make sure your planters and borders are as free of weeds as possible. Before long, there will be too much plant growth to really tackle them! Secondly, spring is a great time to review your planting schemes and fill any gaps. It is wise to remember the design principle of ‘rhythm and repetition’. Avoid creating borders with too eclectic a plant mix. A restricted colour palette can be very effective too.
Consider whether your borders have year-round interest and – if not – add later-flowering plants for late colour. This will benefit the birds, insects and other wildlife visiting your garden too. Some of my favourites for late flowers are: Hydrangea arborescens Strong Annabelle (the flowers are white but huge and impactful), Geum Totally Tangerine (with soft tangerine flowers which continue until the first frosts) and Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ (with masses of violet flowers) and Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’ (also known as Catmint).
4 – Get pruning
Prune late-flowering shrubs for shape and elegance in the spring. Prune early-flowering shrubs such as Lilac and Ribes as soon as they have finished flowering. To encourage strong, new growth, prune Hydrangeas by cutting back just above a pair of healthy buds on each stem. Give Wisteria a final pruning back to 2 or 4 buds from the main stem to encourage flowering – this should be done in early spring.
With a little planning and preparation, it is possible to get your garden into great shape for the months ahead – whether you dream of relaxing in solitude in a green haven, socialising with friends and family in a beautiful setting or indeed making the most of a British ‘staycation’. Enjoy!
If you are based in or around Hertfordshire, and you are short of the time it takes to get your garden ‘summer-ready’, why not check out our professional gardening and horticultural services here.