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And they're off

Our gardening columnist Sue Tallents tells us what chores should be completed in the garden this month...

I love that moment when you step outside the door one morning at this time of year, sniff the air, and just know that spring is on its way. The birds are singing, there is warmth in the air, the lawn is greening up and you know that the weeds will not be far behind, so the race to get the garden sorted has begun. This feeling of excitement is always tempered by the thought of all the blood sweat and tears ahead, but the sight of drifts of Daffodils in Pittville Park always lift the spirit and spur me away from the starting line.

Up in the Cotswolds where I live this moment usually occurs around Gold Cup week, but if the weather is wet I hold back, and avoid stepping on the borders to prevent compaction of the soil by doing essential tasks such as rose pruning from the lawn and paths. If necessary I stand on short lengths of plank to spread the weight. Gardens in the Severn Vale, especially those benefiting from the shelter of buildings in towns and villages may be further ahead, and the pruning should be done earlier.

So what needs to be done now? The first priority has to be pruning, especially the Roses, Buddleia and late flowering Clematis. Leave spring flowering shrubs and climbers to do their thing for now, and then prune after flowering. The decorative seed heads of grasses and perennials can now be removed along with dead leaves to leave a neat green rosette.

As you work your way round the garden take a long dispassionate look at it, not just for the spring planting but for the summer and autumn too, as this is an ideal time to be planting new shrubs, trees and perennials and the nurseries and garden centres are bursting with stock.
There is a tendency in spring to be so enthusiastic for colour after a long grey winter that you end up with a cacophonous mixture of acid yellow Daffodils under pastel pink Cherry blossom plus a few mixed Primulas and some red Tulips in a pot.

Try to keep pastels and primary colours separate when you choose your colour combinations; against a Cotswold stone background pastel pink Cherry blossom can be underplanted with different shades of pink such as Cyclamen coum varieties, soft blue-pink Pulmonaria and the dusky Oriental Hellebores.

Alternatively against a white rendered wall the poster paint bright yellow Forsythia might be grouped with other primary colours such as red Tulips and the deep blue of Grape hyacinths, redolent of a Mondrian painting. If your front door is nearby you could add a splash of year round colour by painting it in matching gloss.

Against a dark background or a bright red brick wall, plant creamy white Daffodils, white or blue Anemone blanda and white Cyclamen for a more restrained look.

It is harder to plan for summer and autumn as we have to rely on memory and imagination, but if you take a photograph of each border, overlay it with a sheet of tracing paper and mark the colours and shapes of plants that you know will be flowering then you will begin to see how to improve it. This might be done by moving a plant, building up a colour theme, injecting more new colour into an area which is predominantly green, or perhaps splitting up a well established perennial and spreading it throughout the border to create some rhythm and unity to the planting.

Whatever you do, don’t leave it too late to get started in the garden, as once the race is on against the weeds you will struggle to catch up and risk finishing in high summer as an ‘also-ran’!