27th March 2017
This spring is my third as gardener at the factory. The past few years have seen huge changes to the site as a visitor attraction, with growing visitor numbers each season most notably for me, the garden has greatly changed too.
It has begun to develop its own identity, now being a mix of a traditional cottage garden scheme jazzed up with the annual growing and planting of tulips and wallflowers for its spring display, who then give way to a summer carnival of dahlias, cosmos, gladioli, tropical foliage and salvias. The sweet pea tunnel and other silver birch staking adds a further vertical element too and much structure. Galvanised bins and old cattle troughs now dominate areas where gravel and concrete once reigned supreme.
The huge Buff Cochins and Millefleur Booted Bantams, whose feather pattern means a thousand flowers, have just been put into their proper garden hen house for the spring and summer season.
They have spent the long winter in one of the warm roof top greenhouses. They have left its very dry beds in a far more fertile state! Now that the whole inside of it has been scrubbed and hosed down, the plan this year is for lots of jewel-coloured chrysanthemums and shaggy, sea-urchin-type flower heads to be grown in here as these will come into flower around Christmas, when the garden is absent of flowers to pick from. Big varieties of flowering zinnias will be planted into the flower beds here too as these don't do very well when put out into the garden, being more of a southern annual than a northern one.
Both these flowers have a very good vase life, lasting for at least a full week once they have been cut.
Over 150 dahlias are being grown from tubers this year, with all of them having been successfully overwintered from last years display.
The sweet peas that were sown in December last year are preparing to be planted out in the garden, now growing into strong bushy plants thanks to having such an early start.
The walled garden opens properly this April; visit us in towards the end of the month for the tulips to be on full parade. In the meantime, muscari and narcissi 'Geranium' have started to flower, with the beds becoming greener and more alive as each day passes.
Here are some jobs to be getting on with this month
Gather silver birch and hazel while the trees are still dormant. In Stoke, this grows as a weed on wasteland so it is easy to find. It's the best material for staking dahlias and delphiniums, and won't root down as willow does either. If you can't cut it down yourself, visit coppice-products.co.uk.
Begin to feed seedling sweet peas now with a liquid feed of comfrey pellets the more they are fed, the healthier and more flower productive they will be. You should plant them out in the garden by the middle of April.
Order dahlias, gladioli and half hardy annuals my new favourite from Sarah Raven is the Hollywood gladioli collection.
Weed your flower beds an arduous task but one that is very worthwhile, before the weeds grow big and then begin to flower.
Order the biological slug and snail control Nemaslug. This is a very effective treatment if you have slug and snail issues, but above all, it is organic and won't harm other good garden insects and garden wildlife. In a small garden it is incredibly effective and well worth its cost.
Happy gardening Arthur Parkinson
27th March 2017