Gardening in April and May

Red wheelbarrow in the garden, with plants inside it

It’s not too late to sow summer bedding and vegetables, says Paul Peacock.

What a year it has been so far! Warm, then freezing cold, and very wet. Struggling with heart failure, getting in the garden has been difficult. But as the northern hemisphere continues its journey towards the sun, the plants brighten up and so do I.

I make a gentle start by going round the garden and making room - a sort of weeding with intent. I find breathing fresh air combined with a modest sense of achievement does me the power of good.

Fresh air and a modest sense of achievement does me the power of good

Take a trowel,  a bucket of compost and something to sit on if you need it. Some people with heart failure find bending over can make their breathing worse, so avoid it if that’s you. A plastic garden kneeler / stool is ideal.

Remove any weeds you find, then make sure there is a little space around the plants you want to keep by trimming away dead growth, or separating plants close together. Then give them a mulch of compost.

Summer bedding to sow – antirrhinum, cosmos and sweet peas

You can still sow summer bedding in April and May, either in containers or beds. I am sticking to easy plants this year. Antirrhinum ‘Orange Wonder’ is a beautiful plant, easy to grow from the millions of seeds you get in a packet. I edge my borders with them.

Purple Cosmos flower growing in grass

Simply make a scrape with a spade or even a stick, and then sow just like you would carrots, thinly but sufficiently. Within a few weeks you will have a phalanx of plants ready to become showy, yet tough as old boots. (If you don’t get round to sowing them by May, you can also sow them in a cold frame any time July to September and then plant outdoors the following spring).

Another plant for sowing outside in early summer is cosmos, and ‘Psyche Mixed’ is a stunner. You get white, pink and red, some single blooms and some double, and they make a great show (though they might need staking). If you want a bushier plant, pinch out the tips.

This year I’m growing masses of sweet peas in containers on the patio, and the variety ‘Black Knight’ has caught my eye. They’re easy to grow - sow now in pairs in an 8cm (3in) pot, or more in larger pots in rich compost. If you sow in 8 cm pots, transplant them into larger pots or beds. They need watering and feeding, but oh what colour. Of course you can sow them in winter under glass, but I often don’t manage it.

Veg to plant now

Carrot growing in soilYou can still sow vegetables too. Don’t worry about being late, if you sow salads, cabbage – especially the variety ‘All Year Round’ – carrots, turnips, plant onion sets and shallot sets, and put potatoes in beds or containers, they will all catch up. In my first year of illness I sowed tomatoes in June and still had a crop.

I know it goes against the grain for some gardeners to buy plants when seeds are so much cheaper, but sometimes we simply have to do what we can to keep gardening.

Personally, I can’t do all the things I did in the garden, and at first I got terribly depressed about it – which made me feel even worse. So now I’m not going to worry about spending a few pennies on some ready-grown plants, like leeks (which I forgot to sow) and red cabbage, which I adore.

The same goes for how the garden looks. At one time I was a stickler for neatness, but that’s fine if you can manage it, not if you can’t! The garden takes on a new role. It has changed from being a piece of land I batter into submission and is now a place to relax.

Growing sweet potatoes the easy way

Pile of sweet potatoesHave you ever grown sweet potatoes? Just go to the supermarket and buy normal sweet potatoes, which work a treat to grow from and are really cheap. You can even slice them up into ‘slips’, just making sure each piece has a bud (like an eye on a potato). Plant them in 30cm (12in) pots of compost – easy!

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