Gardening Calendar Through The Seasons

Gardening Calendar

Through the Seasons

I have always felt that the flower gardener’s year divides naturally into eight, rather than four seasons, and this is how the gardening year is presented here. While beginners to gardening may be given confidence by precise dates, deciding when to sow or plant depends much more on closely observing your garden and the general look of the plants, as well as taking into account your local weather conditions. From one year to the next, the start of a season can vary by several weeks, and a few miles can make all the difference to air and soil temperatures. Seasonal highlights that are mentioned throughout this section may well inspire you to try out some new and special plant.

Early spring

spring blooming bulbs Snowdrops and crocuses, opening their flowers to the sun, will tempt you outdoors. Early daffodilsNarcissus ‘Tête-à-Tête’, ‘February Silver’ and ‘February Gold’ — are in full flower and bare earth is being transformed into a carpet of small bulbs — ice-blue Puschkinia scilloides, glistening yellow Eranthis hyemalis (winter aconite) and Scilla bifolia in different shades of blue as well as pink. Plants of wallflowers and winter pansies, already dotted with flowers, will be filling out in the warm air. Viburnum farreri is already a haze of green and little rosettes of shining young leaves decorate the branches of Hydrangea anomala petiolaris.

The hellebore season is reaching its zenith. Helleborus orientalis hybrids — all beautiful, but some especially so — can be found with flowers plain or spotted, faintly speckled or heavily mottled. Their colours can be luminous white, primrose, and pale pink through to maroon and purple, perhaps the most alluring being the darkest shades, like the almost blue-black ‘Philip Ballard’. Lovers of rich soil and cool positions, they may be divided now or just after flowering. Helleborus argutifolius (corsican hellebore), Helleborus foetidus and Helleborus viridis add to the assortment with flowers of light green to emerald.

A patch of Primula vulgaris sibthorpii (just like our wild primrose but a pretty mauve-pink) will light up a group of dark purple hellebores. Lungworts or Pulmonaria, old-fashioned herbaceous plants long established in our gardens, also look well intermingled with hellebores. Apart from Pulmonaria officinalis, with spotted leaves and flowers in a medley of pink and blue, there are many good cultivars such as Pulmonaria longifolia ‘Roy Davidson’ with azure flowers or brick-red Pulmonaria rubra ‘David Ward’, with leaves smartly variegated in cream and green.

Foolhardy tree peonies are fattening their buds, quite unaware of how capricious the weather can be at this time. It is easy for us to be misled, like the peony, and start sowing or planting too early, but, keeping an eye on the weather and soil temperature, you can start sowing hardy annuals now and prepare the flower beds. Under glass, pot on tender perennials that were rooted last autumn and sow half-hardy annuals. Plant out autumn-sown sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus).

However tidy you left the garden in autumn, winter debris — desiccated leaves, twigs that seem to have come from nowhere, stems of herbaceous plants forgotten in autumn — will have accumulated over the winter. Lightly fork over the flower beds, tidying and weeding as you go. Spread over general fertilizer and bonemeal and rake them in. Remove any protective winter covering from tender plants. Plant all hardy plants — trees, shrubs, perennials and roses — provided the weather is clement and the soil is not sodden.

Prune roses, feed with a general fertilizer (or a rose fertilizer) and bonemeal.

Greenfly (aphids) love to hide among the leaves of pinks (Dianthus); spray with insecticide if you find them. When you lift up the mats of Dianthus foliage, you may well also find colonies of over-wintering slugs. Pick them off and dispose of them. Other slugs will be regrouping near hostas about to come into leaf, so scatter slug-bait around their crowns.

Snowdrops (Galanthus) should be divided as soon as they have finished flowering. Started off from dry bulbs in autumn, they take some time to settle down and they should be moved when in growth, known as in the green’. As they love woodland conditions they can be planted under deciduous trees and shrubs, or around herbaceous perennials that are rarely moved, such as Smilacina and Kirengeshoma, or at the back of a border. Every three years or so dig up and divide your clumps, working in some leaf-mould and bonemeal, and replant two or three bulbs together in little groups to make more of a show for the following year.

Plant summer bulbs — Galtona, Allium and Gladioli in a sunny place and lilies in sun or part-shade. Organize a potful of Gladiolus callianthus to place near where you sit in the sun — their elegant white flowers centred with maroon and heady, sweet scent will revive you in late summer. Except in very mild climates they should be lifted in autumn, dried off and stored under frost-free conditions.

On poor soils Galtonia candicans (summer hyacinth), from South Africa, may have to be renewed quite often by fresh bulbs, but their 90cm (3ft) spires of fragrant white dangling bells provide cool relief in late summer. Two temptresses in lime green, both easy from seed, are Galtonia princeps and G. viridiflora. Useful for interplanting with early-flowering herbaceous plants, they all need rich, well-drained soil in sun.

Lilies are perhaps the most beautiful of summer bulbs. But one must be very fussy when shopping for them: the bulbs should feel fresh and plump and their roots full of life. Lilies like a loose, crumbly consistency to the soil, so before planting them work in compost, well-rotted manure or leafmould and plenty of bonemeal. Some lilies, for example Lilium regale, are easy from seed and this is the way to get a good stock of healthy bulbs. Established lilies should be mulched now, with a light covering of leafmould or well-rotted compost to protect the young shoots from frost.

Neither Lilium auratum (golden-rayed lily of japan) nor Lilium speciosum like lime in the soil, but they do well in pots. Although they may deteriorate after a year or two they provide such beautiful adornment to our terraces they are worth replacing often. For potting, a mixture of roughly three parts good soil, one of leafmould and half a part of grit should make a nice open compost. Be sparing with water to begin with, as they do not enjoy soggy conditions.

Dahlia tubers that have been in store can be propagated now, provided you have a greenhouse or conservatory. The old tubers can be encouraged to send out young shoots by spraying with water. When the shoots are about 8 —10cm (3 —4in) long cut them off cleanly with a knife and root them in cuttings compost. Cover them with a polythene tent or bell-jar to encourage them to root quickly.

Hard prune Perovskia, Ceratostigma willmottianum and hardy fuchsias to within a few centimetres of ground level and Caryopteris x clandonensis, Buddleia davidii and Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’ to within one or two buds of the previous season’s growth. Trim and tidy Santolina, Artemisia, Lavatera and Penstemon and prune Romneya coulteri (californian tree poppy) to within 30cm (1ft) from the ground. In cold areas you should wait a few more weeks before doing this.


As spring arrives on a warm breeze with occasional gentle rain, the sun rises higher in the sky, breathing new life into the soil, warming and drying its surface. Aware of the change of season, suddenly everything seems to be growing apace, including the weeds.

spring blooming bulbs Hurry to finish planting all hardy plants, taking advantage of the good growing, weather. If the soil is dry, fill the planting hole with water, put in the young plant, and cover it with soil immediately — moisture close to the plant’s roots will help it to establish quickly; water overhead as well. Divide michaelmas daisies (Aster novi-belgii cultivars), Monarda, Kniphofia, Schizostylis and ornamental grasses. In mild areas plant dahlia tubers, incorporating well-rotted compost and bonemeal in the bottom of the planting hole.

If you are putting on a mulch, make sure the ground is clean of weeds beforehand. This is an ideal time for mulching, as the soil should still be moist (if it is not, water thoroughly) after winter, but has started to warm up. Mulch roses, clematis, herbaceous plants and newly-planted trees and shrubs with compost and well-rotted manure, to conserve moisture and prevent weeds from germinating.

Continue to sow hardy annuals outside, and plant out young sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus). Sow further batches of half-hardy annuals in warmth, and start hardening off those sown earlier. If cold nights are expected, cover the cold frame with an old blanket or sack to keep out frost. In the greenhouse or conservatory take extra care over ventilation on hot days, shade young seedlings and damp down the floor by swilling cans of water over it — this reduces the temperature temporarily and adds moisture to the air, thus creating a nice growing atmosphere for seedlings.

Spray roses with an appropriate combined insecticide and fungicide against greenfly, blackspot and mildew; always follow the manufacturers’ instructions. This needs to be done at regular intervals during summer. In town gardens especially, you may need to include lilies and wall plants in your spraying programme. To blast the greenfly into eternity, aim the nozzle of the spray at the under-surface of the leaves as well as the top. You may not want to use chemical sprays, in which case the best protection you can offer your plants is good cultivation: a well-grown, well-nourished plant has natural resistance to pests and diseases.

Start preparing containers for summer bedding plants, so that they will be ready for planting as soon as all danger of frost is past. Soilless composts are fine for the duration of the summer, but if you intend to plant permanent specimens such as Camellia or Hydrangea, soil-based compost has more substance and is less likely to compact. A layer of drainage is essential: put broken pieces of clay pot, mixed rubble or gravel in the base first.

Whereas the leaves of snowdrops and crocuses fade quietly away in late spring, those of the larger daffodils can be very obtrusive. Either grow the prettier, smaller Narcissus like ‘Hawera’, ‘Tête-à-Tête’, ‘February Gold’, ‘Peeping Tom’, ‘Dove Wings’, and the rare pale yellow old cultivar ‘Eystettensis’, or grow the larger cultivars near the back of the flower bed, so that taller plants will grow up and hide them. Try interplanting them with Astilbe, whose feathery foliage will camouflage the dying leaves, or among Japanese anemones (Anemonex hybrida). If you find you have put them in the wrong place, or they have become overcrowded and need dividing, daffodils move well after flowering. Make a hole with the trowel, mix in some bonemeal, drop the bulb in, fill up with water and replace the soil. Mark their position carefully with small canes, to ensure that they are not dug up by mistake when dormant.

An extravagant attitude helps when it comes to tulips. Their rather formal flowers look just right lavishly grouped in your borders, forming vivid patches of colour among the different spring greens of perennial plants, whereas other bulbs seem more in keeping with the wilder, more natural parts of the garden. On some soils tulips do not last many years (it is said that planting them deeply helps them to last longer), so build up your collection by buying more each autumn. The early cultivars such as Tulipa ‘Heart’s Delight’, ‘Shakespeare’, and ‘Red Riding Hood’ flower before the main spring display and later ones are invaluable for extending colour into early summer.

In spring, amidst all the bustle and rush to keep up with the garden, time must be found to stop and wonder at it all. Otherwise you might miss some of the more ephemeral flowers of the season such as primroses and their relatives — cowslips, polyanthus and auriculas.

Late spring and early summer

Gardening at this season is a never-ending rush of activity: by the time you have done the weeding, mowed the lawn, edged the grass, swept the paths, sprayed the greenfly, baited the slugs, dead-headed the daffodils, pricked out the seedlings, and watered all the young plants — you usually need to start all over again.

If the weather is warm and settled, half-hardy annuals, tender perennials and young dahlias can be planted out now, provided you are quite certain there will be no frost. Continue sowing hardy annuals outside and half-hardy annuals in warmth, and harden off those sown earlier. If you want to make way for summer bedding, carefully lift tulips with a fork and replant them in an out of the way spot to die down naturally. From now till autumn spray roses every few weeks with a combined insecticide and fungicide. Dead-head tulips and daffodils, but leave smaller bulbs, such as grape hyacinths (Muscari), Scilla, Chionodoxa, dog’s-tooth violets (Erythronium) and snowdrops (Galanthus) to seed themselves.

Herbaceous lobelias, such as Lobelia cardinalis, can be divided now into small rosettes of leaves and replanted with compost and general fertilizer. Start staking tall perennials such as delphiniums.

Make more plans for next year by sowing some biennials in a nursery bed outside, or in pots under glass: wallflowers (Cheiranthus cheiri), sweet williams (Dianthus barbatus), foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea), stocks (Matthiola), forget-me-nots (Myosotis), iceland poppies (Papaver nudicaule) and canterbury bells (Campanula medium). Eryngium giganteum does not transplant well and is better sown in situ.

Plant containers as soon as there is no danger of frost. Many summer bedding plants have rather boring leaves, so to invent a pretty composition in a pot, remember to plant some good foliage as a suitable foil to the flowers. For an exuberant, tropical effect use Melianthus major, a tender shrubby plant with superb, very large, blue-grey pinnate leaves and purple cannas (Canna indica ‘Purpurea.’). Three of the best in silver are lacy-leaved Senecio vira-vira, Helichrysum petiolare that weaves its silvery stems in and out of nearby plants, and Plecostachys serpyilifolia, which does the same as the Helichrysum, but on a much smaller scale. Fuchsia magellanica ‘Versicolor’, small-leaved variegated ivies and hostas, particularly the large-leaved glaucous Hosta sieboldiana ‘Elegans’, would all be excellent in shade.

Plant Crinum now — handsome, bulbous plants that need deep, rich, well-drained soil by a sunny wall.


Whatever sort of garden you have, at midsummer it will seem to fall under a spell. Plants assume the glossy look of exuberant health with the long days and warm nights. Oriental poppies unfold their buds of crinkled silk, peonies burst into voluptuous blossom, and an air of expectancy hovers over the garden as roses prepare to join the summer fete. Lupins and delphiniums, campanulas and irises, honeysuckles and sweet peas, larkspurs and madonna lilies, plants from the queen of lady’s slipper orchids, Cypripedium reginae, to the common Alchemilla mollis — such beauty demands time for contemplation.

But after this brief pause, three words should ring constantly in your head — ‘weeding, watering, dead-heading’. As the days begin to shorten imperceptibly, how good your garden looks greatly depends on these three operations. But they do give you an excuse to do an immense amount of dawdling up and down, admiring the flowers, and studying the singular personality of each plant. A pinch here and a snip there, down to the compost heap and back again — it seems that at this season gardening is mainly wandering round with secateurs and a bucket. But by observing your plants closely, you will notice one that clashes with its neighbour (make a note to move it), one that is looking rather weak (might like a liquid feed), or yet another in urgent need of insecticide.

Summer is a time to dream, and it is hard to think of next spring now. But for primroses to flourish they must be divided, and moved to a different position. Another advantage of transplanting them is that you stay one jump ahead of the vine weevil whose grubs are specially fond of members of the genus Primula. When dividing primrose roots, work crumbled old manure, compost or leafmould into the hole, and dust with bonemeal.

Bearded irises need dividing every three years or so. About six weeks after flowering, if you dig one up and have a look, you will see that it is starting to form fat new roots. This is the moment for division. Lift the plants with a fork and discard the old central rhizomes. Replant the younger, outer rhizomes in enriched soil, placing them on the surface, and firming the soil round the roots. Then cut the top of the leaves off by at least half (or the wind could dislodge the plant). Irises insist on a sunny position and decent soil.

To persuade delphiniums to bloom again in autumn, cut the plants to the ground as soon as the flowers fade. Work in a generous handful of fertilizer per plant, water lavishly, mulch with manure and protect from slugs. After the first flush of bloom, feed roses with a general or rose fertilizer and keep up the spraying programme.

Staking is so much better done before the plant falls down, rather than after — try to anticipate which plants need support.

Late summer and early autumn

Late summer brings sultry days and hot drying winds. Plants are burgeoning with growth, laden with a mass of thirsting leaves. Foliage has a sear and dusty look and to keep the garden sparkling in late summer extra time should be reserved for tidying up all the little bits and pieces of vegetable clutter such as leaves and fallen petals clustering in corners. Snip the odd yellowing leaf and cut back the stems of early-flowering herbaceous perennials.

Although there may be a lull in weed growth (until autumn rains charm the umpteenth batch of weed seeds into germination), the treadmill of watering and dead-heading spins even faster. And think of all the plants that are still to reach their peak, some of which well appreciate a little fussing over with liquid feed — chrysanthemums, (Dendranthema), japanese anemones (Anemonex hybrida), Kirengeshoma, Eupatorium, toad lilies (Tricyrtis), Aster, Crocosmia, Amaryllis belladonna and many other plants that truly belong to autumn. Containers, now thickly filled with foraging roots, will need even more attention with watering and liquid feed, to sustain the plants during their final fling.

Take cuttings of tender perennials and shrubs and of pinks. If you can harden your heart and chop Viola hard back (which means taking off all the flowers), you will encourage them to make masses of ideal shoots for cuttings. Experiment with taking cuttings of many different plants, including alpines and shrubs.

Prune away the flowered stems of rambling roses and tie in the young shoots — if there are not enough, leave on some of the old ones.

It is time to start thinking about bulbs and where to plant them. Daffodils start to grow early in autumn and should be planted now.


Early autumn with its warm, still days is the most magic of seasons: cooler nights refresh the plants, the harsh brilliance has gone out of the sun and a gentler, slower mood enters the garden. After such embarras de richesse of summer, there is something rather touching about autumn flowers, they seem all the more desirable as they brighten the waning year. Colours glow in the softer light, heavy dew revives heat-worn plants, leaving little diamonds on the lawn in the morning and bespangling the fluffy mauve flower heads of Pennisetum orientale (quite the prettiest grass) with drops of moisture.

New ideas to consider, new plans to pour over, new plants to be listed, new beds to -be made, a chance to make good all the mistakes —this, the beginning of the gardening year, is a most exhilarating and creative time.

The great autumn tidy

Gardening, as any other aspect of life, is all a matter of choice and you should choose plants that you can grow well, so that they may flourish and you may enjoy looking at them where they are placed. So go round the garden slowly now, with a clear head, paper and pencil, and carefully consider each plant.

Ask yourself if you really like it. It may be a plant you inherited in the garden, and you have got so used to its presence that you never even see it, let alone wonder whether or not to get rid of it. Or maybe it was a plant you bought in a fit of enthusiasm, when you thought gaudy variegation or two-tone flowers were the very thing. Perhaps the plant had an enticing catalogue description, but in reality is rather drab.

Still standing beside the same plant, ask yourself the second question: does it need propagating. Perhaps it is such a nice plant that you would like more of it; if so, take a cutting, collect seed, or divide it up and make a lovely large group of it. Conversely, having become more discriminating about plants, you may have decided you do not like it. In which case, the plant still needs propagating, in order that you can salve your conscience by giving away a rooted cutting or small division.

The third, possibly the most important question to ask yourself is — is the plant in the right place. Is it happy in the soil and position where it is growing. Perhaps it would prefer a damper, or a drier, spot. Has it got enough room to display itself properly. It may be that it is being elbowed out by a strong-growing neighbour, or alternatively it is smothering some delicate treasure. And does it enhance, or detract, from plants growing nearby, with regard to its height, shape and colour.

Many plants have a limited lifespan —lavenders (Lavandula), Daphne, Cistus, for example. So the next question to consider is the general health of the plant. Is it flowering as well as last year? Perhaps it is beginning to deteriorate, becoming old and woody, in which case you would be much better off to take a cutting and replace the aged specimen with a new young plant.

Autumn is a splendid time to make all these adjustments: you can still see exactly what size and colour a plant is, whereas in spring many plants are just tuffets of foliage at ground level. It is excellent transplanting weather, as the soil is still warm; and furthermore it is one of the best times for taking cuttings.

Plant bulbs, shrubs, herbaceous plants, roses and biennials. Continue spraying roses and check the ties on climbing roses. Divide lilies and plant new ones as soon as available. Plant out rooted pink cuttings. Continue cutting back herbaceous plants. Take out summer bedding as it goes over and plant spring bedding plants. When planting spring bedding, do not overfeed with manure at this time of year, as it would only encourage soft growth, likely to be damaged by frost — a sprinkling of bonemeal is all that is required. Take cuttings of tender perennials and move pots of tender plants under glass.

Take out all summer plants from containers, even if they are still flowering. This will give the spring show of wallflowers, forget-me-nots, primroses, winter pansies and stocks (in mild areas) a chance to get well settled in before winter. If the containers were filled with fresh compost at the beginning of the season, there is no need to change the soil, just loosen it up and give a sprinkling of bonemeal.

When planting a container with bulbs, plant for a succession of flowers: put crocuses, daffodils (both early and late) and tulips (both early and late) all in the same container. Plant the bulbs at different levels according to their size, in other words the largest daffodils at the deepest level and little bulbs, such as crocuses, nearer the surface. For suggestions about bulbs to naturalize in grass.

Late autumn

Late autumn is a mess of bedraggled herbaceous plants, muddy paths, and flurries of leaves swirling around and forming soggy little heaps. In large gardens, consisting mainly of trees and shrubs, ground-cover plants and bulbs, the leaves can remain where they fall and be gradually drawn down by worms to feed the soil. But in small gardens, many herbaceous plants and alpines do not appreciate wet, leafy dishcloths tucked round their necks, and it is much better to collect them — at the same time you greatly reduce the slug population by picking up those hiding in the leaf-litter. If all the dividing and transplanting has been done a month or so ago, you can now give your whole attention to tidying. Finally, lightly fork over the flower beds.

Lift dahlias. Cut them back and stand the tubers in a shed so that the succulent ends of the stems can dry out, then store them in boxes in a frost-free place with a light covering of peat. Check them now and again and cut away any pieces of rotten tuber. If you find they have dried out too much, soak them in water to plump them up. Lift gladioli and hang them to dry in a warm, well-ventilated place. Sow sweet peas outside, or in pots in a cold frame.

When the weather is suitable, plant shrubs, herbaceous plants, roses, biennials and bulbs. The earlier in autumn bulbs are planted the better, but tulips can be planted up to midwinter. Dig and manure new beds. Cut back top-growth of roses.

Protect tender plants on walls with an eiderdown made of bubble-wrap supported by wire-netting and secured to it with plant-ties, or with polythene sheeting supported by canes. Insert some twiggy branches or bamboo canes between the plant and its protective covering, so that air can circulate. Alpines that resent winter wet should be covered with glass.


It is in winter, when the fancy dress of summer has fallen away, that you will understand the need for good structure — good evergreens, balanced shape and height of trees and shrubs, strong lines of paths and pleasing shapes of lawns and flower beds. It is now that one most appreciates the green background provided by holly, yew, Viburnum tinus and box. The demure flowers of winter, such as the cream bells, delicately speckled with red inside, of Clematis cirrhosa balearica, are perfectly attuned to the low light.

winter flowering shrubs Winter-flowering heathers (Erica carnea) form drifts of pink and white, bulbs are beginning to push through the earth and Iris unguicularis will be putting on an extravagant display of fragile lavender blooms under your warmest wall. In sheltered gardens Daphne bholua will be starting to produce its rosy-mauve clusters of flower and spreading scent all around. But the winter apparel of the flower garden is mostly a pattern of leaves — polished silver, grey felt, acid-green spikes, blue-green and copper-bronze — all these colours and textures diluted by the watery sun to the muted winter palette.

As soon as the weather turns really cold, the leaves of Bergenia purpurascens change from green to dark beetroot red, with a lighter red reverse. The oat-like flower heads on bleached stems of the grass, Stipa gigantea, a masterpiece of airy grace, are still beautiful in their skeletal stage. Cascades of wand-like stems are dotted in the starry yellow flowers of the winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum). Try planting this essential winter shrub close to one of the hybrid musk roses, such as Rosa ‘Buff Beauty’, to get two seasons of flower from the same patch.

It is worth searching for a good, large-flowered form of the true Christmas rose, Helleborus niger. It is a variable species and you want one that lives up to its name as regards flowering time. Cover the plant with a cloche to protect its sumptuous white flowers from mud.

Arum italicum italicum, its dark green leaves with a satiny sheen, prominently marbled in grey-green, gives a cheerful account of itself in winter. It is wonderful for picking when there is little fresh foliage around, is happy in poor soil and it has fat little stalks topped with pale scarlet berries in autumn.

Hurry to finish all digging if the weather is reasonable, so the soil is exposed to frost which will break it down to a crumbly tilth. If possible order some farmyard manure, cover it with a sheet of polythene and leave it to mature so that it is ready for spring planting. Finish planting trees, shrubs and roses.

Tidy the garden shed, clean and sharpen your tools. In greenhouses and conservatories water sparingly, look over the plants regularly and remove decaying leaves. Order your seed catalogues, and sit down in front of the fire planning next year.

26. December 2010 by admin
Categories: Featured, Planning and Design | Tags: | Comments Off on Gardening Calendar Through The Seasons


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