With some beautiful weather over the last few days in Oxfordshire, it really feels like spring is finally here. It’s perhaps not quite as warm as it should be, but we’re getting there slowly, and the sun is starting to put in an appearance.
A shaky start to spring can be misleading, fooling you into thinking that the garden is still in winter lock-down mode. But if you don’t keep an eye on it, weeds will be growing happily away and plants getting out of control, so it’s time to get those gloves on and get out there again.
We’re expecting a wet April, so plants will be well watered and starting to get serious about growing for summer.
Creative Patio Planting
This is a great time of year to start brightening up your patio or seating area in the garden ready for those warmer spring days.
A great way to make a big impact quickly is to get some attractive pots and plant them with architectural plants and shrubs that give structure and background to the area. This does need quite a substantial initial investment, but if you pick right, your planting can be low maintenance and will last for years. Here are some ideas for great architectural plant choices for a patio.
Box, or Buxus, is a great choice for topiary style patio planting. Spring is the ideal time to plant, and for some extra investment you can buy plants that are already trained into shapes if you want an immediate impact. Buxus does well in shade and sun, and is generally easy to grow, although you have to watch out for the increasingly prevalent box blight, and for scorching by hot sun.
This might sound like it would only be an option on a sun-drenched tropical patio, but choose the right hardy palm and these can be great patio plants in the UK too, especially if you live in a warmer area of the country. The attractive spreading leaves make them great background structural plants. Plant now in a sheltered, sunny spot in containers of John Innes No 3 compost.
Another one that sounds more suited to an Italian veranda than a good old British patio, but the olive tree can actually do well in a container in this country, and in milder regions may even produce fruit. Plant now in a sunny position against a warm wall for best results. Olives can endure drought, but for a chance of producing fruit they need to be watered regularly through dry weather.
Bay is another great option if you want to train or trim your patio planting into topiary shapes. The dark green leaves make a very attractive background to other planting, and are easy to trim meatly. The scented leaves can be used in a wide variety of cooking too, so a great one to plant by the kitchen door. Plant from now to September in a sheltered position.
Bamboo can become an unruly and overbearing giant if left to its own devices, but kept under control in a patio pot it can look great, with delicate stems and leaves that move in a breeze. There are several different varieties, so pick one that’s right for the area you’re placing it, whether that’s in sun or shade, exposed or sheltered. Plant now for strong growth ready for summer.
Patio planting tips
For a dramatic effect, especially for plants with dark foliage like bay or box, use a light-coloured pot in a sunny spot. Light coloured terracotta pots are also good for the plants, because they reflect sunlight and heat, unlike dark pots that retain heat and may overheat plants.
Architectural plants don’t need too much water; give them a drink once or twice a week during hot weather if there’s no rain. You could also set up a water irrigation system to save you this job.
As well as the usual tasks of de-weeding borders and general cutting back, April is a good time to prune back evergreen shrubs to get the garden looking tidy for spring and summer. Get going on shrubs such as holly, laurel and buxus – they’re about to start growing with a vengeance, so prune now to the shape you want.
Those beautiful yellow daffodils we’ve been enjoying for the last few weeks are starting to die back, so get deadheading to stop them looking unsightly as other spring flowers come through.
Trim back lavender plants to avoid a woody undergrowth and encourage attractive new green stems.