With mild weather this weekend, gardeners up and down the country seized their chance to get out there and garden. Across the allotment, jackets and jumpers were tossed aside, hanging from fork handles like headless scarecrows dancing in the wind.
If you looked at Instagram in the last 48hrs, you’ll know what I’m taking about: selfies of gardeners making right their winter-worn plots; photographs of sunsets over allotments, entitled: ‘It’s after five and it’s still light!’; a close-up of a tray, neatly lined with seeds – WHOOAA! Did someone say, ‘planting’?
I know, I know, there are people out there right now, sowing their most delicate seeds. Early courgettes, sunflowers and I even saw a photo of a tray of melon seedlings. With the first glimpse of sunshine, it’s like we’ve all been hit with sunstroke.
Now as much as I will doff my cap to any keen gardener, let me tell you this: it’s a ruse! Jack Frost is toying with you. He wants to seduce you into your t-shirt and shorts. He wants to leer at your white, nobbly knees and mock your gooseflesh. He longs for the moment your chilled fingers scatter the first of your seeds. Why? It’s still winter! At the flick of a switch, he still has the power to freeze your nether regions and send you running for your hot water bottle.
I worry for you, my eager friend. To see you spend your hard-earned pennies on those expensive F1 seeds, planting them outside in February, only to discover a few weeks later that they’ve come to nothing, due to frost. Gardening has enough challenges, without you making things harder for yourself.
As any good gardener will tell you, if you are going to reach for the seed packets, give them a fighting chance and offer them the protection of a warm windowsill, a heated greenhouse or polytunnel. But be aware of legginess; getting the heat and sunlight balance can be quite the challenge. So check your seed trays regularly, and keep them watered. Once your seedlings have their ‘true leaves’, think about potting them on. When you do, lift them by these leaves, not their stems as this can cause damage to the young plant.
Of course some things need sowing indoors right now, peppers, chillies, even a cheeky aubergine. But do you really need to scatter those pumpkin seeds on a grey February afternoon?
If you want to garden there’s still plenty to do, whether it’s on the allotment or in your back garden.
Those blunt tools sat in the back of the shed will not sharpen themselves. And while you’re at it, I couldn’t help but notice you quickly slamming shut the shed door, to prevent all those empty pots from coming tumbling out. Now’s the time to give the shed a good tidy.
The hellebore leaves might need a good cut back, to give the flowers a chance to bloom.
And those raspberry canes that recently arrived in the post, you could plant them up. If you are going to cutback last year’s perennial plants, you might want to give them a mulch, but do it after you’ve pruned the apple trees.
I know it’s frustrating, but a little patience now will successfully set you up for the growing season ahead.
In the meantime, why not enjoy these rare warm days with a sit-down and a cup of tea while you relish the peace and qui-