As a gardener, February and March are difficult months. They’re not the barren nothingness that characterizes January and nor are they the joyful emotion that embodies April.
In truth, this time of year feels like limbo. Gardeners’ World shows no sign of troubling BBC Two, Alan Titchmarsh is most likely on a winter break somewhere sunny, and Charlie Dimmock isn’t rescuing anyone’s gardens.
But it’s impossible to do nothing. It may be grey and grizzly but there’s something in the air. It’s not quite so cold, and it’s not quite so miserable. Yes, further frosts are inevitable but we can dare to dream.
So, it’s with hope in my heart and the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) website in my browser that I start to plan. My lovely Gran said that the best thing about gardening was the anticipation. On this, and on so many other things, she was absolutely right. Audrey Hepburn believed that “to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow”. She was right, too.
It was with these amazing women’s voices in my head that I ordered multiple packets of seeds from the RHS. I’m a new member of the society so the RHS Seed Scheme came as a welcome surprise. According to the RHS, “our seed list is produced each year by a small, dedicated team of staff and volunteers, based at Wisley, who collect, clean and pack seed for members. Covering 180 species, it contains a range of plants including annuals, herbaceous perennials, trees and shrubs, some of which are rare and unusual.”
I was in, not least because members can order up to 15 packets of seed from RHS gardens for a tenner. Plants in my humble plot from RHS gardens! Winner, winner.
I happily whiled away some considerable time choosing my seeds from the plethora of options. I swallowed my initial disappointment that the Spanish Flag seeds had sold out (I spotted this incredible plant in full bloom at RHS Bridgewater last year and have coveted it ever since) and contented myself with various grasses and perennials, including the feathertop, American pokeweed, and Miss Willmott’s ghost. The latter had tickled my fancy ever since seeing it on Gardeners’ World pre-Christmas 2022. After all, who could resist a plant named after horticulture’s original bad girl who, it is claimed, surreptitiously scattered invasive thistle seeds to scupper her gardening rivals?
While I counted the days until these seed beauties arrived in the post, I kept a close eye on the garden. Winter has not been kind to my plants, even though I mulched like mad last year and gathered my most vulnerable pots close to the back door.
I suppose there’s only so much you can do when you live on an exposed Northern slope with a finite number of sheltered spots. And, with just two years in my current house, I’m still at a ‘suck it and see’ point when it comes to the garden.
Roll on 2023.
Words and images by Helen Nugent, Editor of Northern Soul
This article first appeared in Catena