Whether it's a bleak December or the more mild weather we are becoming used to, you can still spend useful time in the garden. David Coton suggests the jobs that can occupy the shortening days.
Interest in growing herbs has increased sharply over the last few years as we have turned back to nature to exploit the culinary, medicinal and aromatic properties of these plants. David Hall gives you a few tips on what herbs to choose and how to grow them.
Botanically herbs are divided into annual, perennial and shrubby varieties, and can be grown in the garden in appropriate beds.
Annuals can go among bedding plants, or sown in rows among vegetables in the kitchen garden. Perennials are at home in the herbaceous border, whilst the shrub herbs can be planted in mixed borders.
Some of the sprawling kinds can be introduced into cracks and crevices around the patio or any paved area. Alternatively a separate herb garden can be established even on a plot of land just one metre square. Here culinary herbs can be planted in the same bed as the aromatic or fragrant herbs. For convenience it is useful to site a herb garden near the house, for when fresh herbs are preferred, even in winter, it is helpful to have them near at hand. A bed near the house is often more protected than one in the open.
If you have only recently started to grow herbs it can be even easier to start off by using containers on the kitchen windowsill. They really are that adaptable!
Grown in pots outside they can be attractive specimens in their own right, and since many of the best herbs for pots are also evergreen, these captive gardens can be of interest, and use, all year round.
Always choose healthy plants to start with and plant seed in good compost, remembering that containers are prone to drying out very quickly, particularly in the sun. Keep them moist as many herbs, when dehydrated, will never recover.
Herbs in pots will also be dependent on you for liquid feeding once they have exhausted the fertiliser content from the compost.
Any list of herbs can be exhaustive, but I've selected a few, all commonly available, that are well worth growing.
Tarragon: (perennial) The aromatic leaves can be used fresh or dry to flavour omlettes, meat and fish.
Rue: (perennial) Used to reduce eye strain.
Rosemary: (shrub) Strongly aromatic, for use with all meat and poultry dishes.
Balm: (perennial) Used fresh for salads and with iced drinks.
Chamomile: (perennial) Can be used as a tea, for facial care, and in pot pourri.
Marjoram: (perennial) Cook with meats and also used for hay fever.
Feverfew: (perennial) Can be used as a tea to help migraine sufferers.
Caraway: (biennial) Use in cakes and buns and as a spice.
Lavender: (shrub) The dried flowers can be used in sweetly scented sachets for fragrance.
With warmer weather and an early Easter, the garden centre is busy at the moment with customers stocking up on summer bedding plants - snapdragons, cornflowers, cosmos, verbena, phlox, petunia, As well as filling planters, hanging baskets and borders with colour that will last all summer, there are always plenty of jobs to do in the garden during April and David Coton has these suggestions.
Every gardener must have noticed a decline in the bee population over recent years. Intensive farming that demands the use of toxic chemicals, climate change and parasite infestation have all been put forward as potential causes, it's a worrying trend but one that we can all help to reverse.
As an excellent alternative to conventional products, Trimetals' storage solutions blend top quality manufacture with contemporary style. Their range has now been extended to include two new maintenance free sheds and Robert Hall has all the details.
Zest 4 Leisure manufactures a large variety of timber garden furniture, fencing and leisure products, David Coton visited their brand new nine acre site near Chester last week to find out more about current development and future plans.