By Aileen Atcheson

February Fill Dyke, people say, but it isn’t always as wet as this. We sometimes get spring-like days. It really is the start of the vegetable year.

Start seeds of beans and peas on the kitchen window sill. Your shallots are in already, I hope. If not get them in as soon as you can. The ground where you propose to plant strawberries should be prepared now. All strawberries like soil rich in organic matter, manure, leaf mould, homemade compost. The bigger fruited varieties like full sun.
Apart from growing them in rows in beds, you can grow them in throughs, pots, hanging baskets and the big Ali Baba strawberry jars which have holes round the sides.

If you choose the latter, get a long pole from your hardware shop with a hole the whole way down and insert it in the compost. Water through this. Otherwise you won’t be able to get the water down to the bottom of the jar and the roots. If you are growing them in a bed and live in a wet district, choose a variety that holds itself upright and put a bit of straw under the plants. This will keep them out of the wet.

The sooner you plant fruit and roses the better. If the ground is very wet, however, wait. Walking on wet ground destroys the molecular structure. Roses can be pruned now. Tie in shoots. Remember the weaker the shoot, the stronger the pruning needed.

New lilies can still be planted outside. All varieties of lily need good drainage. Lay the tubers or bulbs on a bed of sand and work plenty of grit into the soil round them.
A camellia in a pot is lovely in any garden. If you have one and have fed it from spring to July and didn’t let it dry out during the summer, it should have fat buds now. Shiny green leaves too. If you didn’t care for it, it probably won’t flower this year and will be brown looking now.

However, don’t despair. Give plenty of rain water from the bottom up and a layer of mulch. Tea leaves make the best mulch for camellias. They love a pot of tea emptied on them too. Don’t give any other feed at the moment. Otherwise you will get very soft growth likely to be killed by frost.

Morning sunshine on frosted camellias kills them so never place them facing east. The vine weevil is an arch enemy of every type of camellia so give a weak drench of Jeyes Fluid from time to time.

It is better to change potting compost on containers each year. If your herbs are growing at the end of the garden, it can be difficult in wet and frost weather. An herb parterre outside the kitchen window and near the backdoor would be useful and lovely.

Parterres are ornamental beds edged by low, well clipped evergreen hedges. First of all clear your site of weeds and as many stones as you can. Dig in plenty of grit to improve the drainage. Rake the soil when it is dry. Tread over it in both directions to remove air pockets and firm it. Lay out your plants and see in what order you would like them.
A big plant like a bay tree in a terracotta pot can be put in the centre to make a focal point. Plant each plant carefully and pinch out any dead growth and water well. Put a bit of gravel over the surface of your little bed. It gives the parterre a nice finish.

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