Don't wait for perfect gardening conditions

Birch twigs make ideal supports for some plants when woven together to form arches. Picture by Tom Pattinson.Birch twigs make ideal supports for some plants when woven together to form arches. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
Birch twigs make ideal supports for some plants when woven together to form arches. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
'When can we get gardening again?' The question has been on several lips recently and no doubt the minds of many others.

Well, we can’t stand around waiting for ideal weather, especially in the middle of National Gardening Week, an event led by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) that runs from April 30 until May 6.

The answer would appear to be – right now!

Go online at to discover RHS, National Trust and smaller organisational activities relating to this across the UK.

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This is a celebration of gardening aimed across the age demographic, embracing the beginner and those with an advanced knowledge of plants – a real challenge given that some will simply want to know what they should be doing in the garden this week, whilst others may seek the identity of an unusual plant.

Wishing to make a small contribution towards the event, this fellow thought it might help to mention what he’s been up to on the home front and as a volunteer in The Alnwick Garden.

When we 10 eager-beavers turned up for duty last week, there was a choice of activities on offer – positioning supports for rapidly developing herbaceous perennials, cutting back last year’s growth to encourage basal growth, shrub pruning, or weeding.

The majority opted for setting up supports, while I, armed with secateurs, headed for the hydrangeas.

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It’s a smart move to stake any herbaceous perennials or hardy annuals that grow above 30cm tall, but it must be done at an early stage of their growth.

Try adding supports to annual chrysanthemums or delphiniums after a strong wind has flattened them and it’s akin to closing a stable door after the horse has bolted. They never regain composure.

Establish what height the leafy stems of a specific plant will reach, set the supports accordingly, and they will vanish from sight under the foliage as it grows.

Birch twigs are malleable when twisted and ideal woven together, forming arches between groups of herbaceous plants.

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Where a group of paeonies grow it’s sufficient to push bushy birch twigs in upright as supports, but delphiniums that grow 2m tall need something more robust, and canes fit the bill.

These can be pushed firmly into ground surrounding a plant, then tied together at the top, forming a cone shape. Garden twine is then woven from base to tip of the canes, creating an inner lattice that plants will grow through. Gauge the height correctly and erstwhile unsightly canes will vanish.

Although it’s traditional to prune the dead growth of herbaceous perennials to ground level in the autumn clean-up, some plants benefit from the protection it offers against winter frost, artemisia and penstemon, for example.

But now’s the time to remove that and encourage new shoots from ground level.

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Shrubby hydrangeas also benefit from the retention of spent flower heads, but examine the plants now and you’ll find opposite pairs of growth buds breaking into leaf. Prune away the spent bloom to a point just above them.

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