Snowdrops signal that winter is over

Dr Jonathan Holliday gives his tips on preparing your garden for spring as we say goodbye to winter

Snowdrops tell us that winter is finally going. Commonly described as the ‘best loved’ winter bulbs, they are often overlooked just because they are commonplace — small, perfect and unassuming. But, actually, there is a wide range of snowdrops — from the large Turkish variety, to the autumn flowering Greek ones and to the later flowering Common Snowdrop or Galanthus nivalis, which is wonderful for naturalised drifts in grass or woodland.

 Buying them ‘in the green’ at this time of year is the surest way to success. Snowdrops do not like drying out and planting dried bulbs in autumn in unlikely to be so successful. Do not underestimate how many you will need — go big. And if you already have healthy clumps in your garden now, once the flowering is over, is the time to lift and divide them. John Skelton, 15th-century poet called it ‘daisy delectable’.

Daffodils and daisies can also be grown in grass. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, French philosophic writer of the 18th century loved the ‘pink eyelashes’ of the humble lawn daisy.

But then they did not have the advantage of selective weed killer and to those of you with less liking for daisies, brush down your spreaders and get walking. To spread evenly set your spreader at half the recommended rate and apply going up and down in one direction. Then go up and down again but at right angles to the first direction.

As well as mowing now, another necessary job on the lawn is scarifying, which removes thatch and allows air to enter encouraging growth of the soil organisms that break down thatch.

I long to try growing a camomile lawn, to walk on a surface that gives off scent. I believe that once established they are as tough as a grass lawn. Choose a site in full sun, well drained and without overhanging trees. Clear away stones, rubble and tree-stumps and apply a weedkiller to clear plants with taproots. Dig over the whole area, raking the surface to a fine tilth and apply a fertiliser. A large number will be required so it may be better to use flowering forms grown from seed in drills on a prepared bed. These should be thinned to encourage the growth of healthy tufts, which can then later be transplanted to their final site.

Tidying up makes the whole garden look smarter. It is easier to do this before the new growth has progressed too far. But the patio or terrace also needs sprucing up as do the pots for summer planting. Those left outside through the winter will have a coating of algae, which will eventually grow into lichen and age the pot. If you prefer your pot clean then try Armillatox, a biodegradable soap, available from garden centres.

Dr Holliday is a GP in Windsor

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