At last the garden centres are open again. Brian Cunningham tells us what to look for to brighten up our gardens.
Great news, not only for us gardeners but for the whole horticultural industry, that garden centres have been allowed to reopen after a period of national lockdown as we fight against Covid-19.
As a Type 1 diabetic I have held back from joining the celebrations, but from a safe distance I’ve still been able to feel the excitement of my fellow gardeners walking through the doors and being greeted by the jewel-like colours of benches full of bedding plants with which to pack our tubs, window boxes and hanging baskets.
There will be packets and packets of vegetable seeds; cauliflowers, carrots, salad leaves, beetroot and many more that, even though we have lost a little time, it’s still not too late to get sowing.
With the garden centres having been closed since mid-March, there will still be plenty potted shrubs and fruit trees looking for a good home.
The ideal times for planting are spring and autumn but as long as you don’t allow the new planting and the soil around it to dry out over the summer months, they’ll be fine.
We are also now approaching the time of year for the herbaceous perennials to take centre stage, filling what space is left in the sales area.
Plants of Kniphofia, Agapanthus, Veronicastrum and Eupatorium will also fill any empty spaces in our borders back home.
You may have to make more than one trip to get all you need – and I hope you do!
Of course when we make these purchases it is with the aim of brightening up and making the most of our own outdoor spaces, but by spending some of your valuable money right now in garden centres and plant nurseries, you are showing vital support to an industry that has been badly affected during lockdown, having lost a crucial springtime trading period at an estimated daily cost of £1 million.
You can also go a step further to help our growers – which are often small, family-run businesses – by looking out for and buying plants grown by British and, even better, local Scottish nurseries. (Usually this will be shown on the plant label.)
This will often be the best choice for your garden too.
Buying a plant that has been grown a few miles along the road, in the same kind of soil as your garden, and being used to the same weather conditions, has far more chance of surviving and growing successfully than one that has come from other parts of the continent.
And let’s be honest, there are not many places with a climate like Scotland, where you can easily get four seasons in one hour, never mind in just one day.
The hard knock our industry has taken during lockdown has really brought home to me that buying local is important, and I intend to do even more of it, both in my work as head gardener at Scone Palace and in my own garden at home.
Many have taken up gardening as a way to relieve the stress and boredom from being in lockdown.
Welcome to our gardening family! I hope when your lives slowly return to some form of normality, you will still find the time to keep up your new interest.
I have visions of overactive individuals desperately needing something to do during lockdown having gone crazy and created a Chelsea-style designer garden that looks fantastic, but the reality will soon dawn that this will require a lot of time and effort to maintain.
There are a couple of little tricks you can do to help keep on top of the gardening and importantly for me, keep you interested in gardening.
Little and often is the key.
Only going out to tidy once a month after you have left all the weeds to grow two feet tall will soon turn gardening into a chore rather than the joy it should be for you.
I’m a big fan of a weekly run around the beds in my garden with a hoe.
Using the right technique of letting it glide through the top few centimetres of soil, slicing the roots of weeds and bringing them up to the surface of the soil and leaving them to fry, especially on a sunny and windy day, is the best kind of weeding for me.
Gravel mulches around your plants such as pebbles, blue slate or golden chippings, are a great way of keeping weeds suppressed as well as trapping moisture in your soil, especially if you garden on lighter soils, and will also bring the added benefit of brightening up your garden over the winter months.
Gadget lovers can even set up their own miniature irrigation system for watering veg or any plants growing in containers.
This could be set up to the mains tap water or even better, do your bit for the environment by connecting a water butt to harvest the rainwater from the roof of your house or shed, and fit a solar powered water pump.
Och, I cannae wait to make a trip to the garden centre…
Brian Cunningham is a presenter on BBC’s Beechgrove Garden and head gardener at Scone Palace. Follow him on Twitter @gingergairdner.