The other day someone said to me, ‘You are so lucky…you have a beautiful garden.’
I thanked her of course, but I really wanted to say, ‘Luck has very little to do with it. A beautiful garden does not happen by pure chance. It takes a bit of work and planning.’
As the spring equinox looms, the trees blossom and daffodils bloom. The garden is waking up from its winter sleep and is full of promise. I am excited to be outside in it but I’m aware for non-gardeners it can seem daunting when everything (including the weeds) starts growing at once! So where to begin? There are three fairly simple tasks which will get you off to a flying start.
Pruning is the first task. It’s time to hard prune late-flowering shrubs like Buddleia, Leycesteria and Lavateria, but only if the risk of hard frost is past. Spring flowering plants such as Forsythia and Winter Honeysuckle should be pruned immediately the flowers fade. If you haven’t already pruned your bush roses, now is the time. Leave about an inch of last year’s growth to encourage bushiness and lots of flowers. Shrub roses don’t need such radical treatment but would benefit from losing a third of their old, thick, woody stems.
Then a bit of lifting is required. Lift congested clumps of snowdrops while they still have leaves showing.
Finally, stay on top of the weeds from the outset. If you leave them, weeding quickly becomes an insurmountable chore.
But of course gardening is about planting things and one of the best things to plant now is lilies.
If you have a bit of a slug problem like I do grow them in pots. Pots also have the advantage of protecting the bulbs. I hate slicing through them accidentally when hoeing. And pots mean you can grow them even if you only have a balcony.
There are loads of varieties to choose from. Three bulbs fit nicely into an 8inch / 20cm pot and five fit into a ten inch / 25cm pot. I’ve found terracotta pots best because lilies are tall and terracotta provides enough weight to prevent them tipping over.
Lilies need a well-drained open planting mixture so I use a mixture of potting compost plus a soil-less multi-purpose compost. The bulb tips should be a couple of inches below the compost. Keep in a sheltered spot and water when the surface of the compost looks dry. Once the buds have formed, feed weekly with dilute tomato food until late summer. When the blooms fade, cut the stems down and place in a sheltered spot. Each spring, scrape away a couple of inches of compost and add fresh mixture, then repeat the instructions above. Treated like this your lilies will reward you for three or four years before they need re-potting.

By Rachael Leverton