Professional Gardener - Weather, paperwork and labelling

Many parts of the country could be in for more snowfall, so be prepared, Sally Drury advises.

Weather

Winter finally arrived properly for most of us last week. Snow had to be cleared from paths and driveways, and shaken or brushed from hedges and shrubs. Any expenditure on fleece and bubble wrap was justified as temperatures plummeted below freezing.

We probably have not seen the last of the wintery conditions, although whether or not you are in line for another covering of the white stuff will depend on the behaviour of the high pressure. Keep an eye on the barometer.

Paperwork

Catch up with paperwork while you can. Check insurance for staff, volunteers, machinery and, as the open season draws near for many gardens, visitors. Take a look at training records and consider courses, updates and refreshers for new and established members of staff.

Acquiring new skills and certificates does not necessarily mean that staff will look for new jobs - training can prove to be inspirational and you might well find staff bringing new ideas to meetings.

Above all, make sure that all events are on the calendar. Planning events based on plants, such as bluebell walks and wisteria weekends, is increasingly difficult with the uncertainties of the climate. Be sure to check out other local events and festivities. Perhaps you can link in.

Labelling

Visitors have a thirst for knowledge and labelling is one way of ensuring that they can learn the name of plants without having to interrupt work at busy times. Well in advance of the gates opening at Easter, take a walk round the garden and check all the labels on trees and shrubs.

Be prepared to order new labels for any that may have faded, disintegrated or disappeared, as well as supplying one for the new plantings undertaken during the autumn.

Nursery areas

High winds will have taken their toll in some parts of the country. Tension polytunnels where necessary and check cladding for damage. Make sure that heating systems are still performing correctly in glasshouses and conservatories.

Ventilate cold frames to promote growth and strength in sweet peas and auriculas. If there is sufficient heat in the greenhouse, or if using a heated propagation area, make sowings of lobelia, salvia, antirrhinums and other half-hardy annuals required for summer displays in beds, borders, planters and baskets.

Kitchen garden

Soil tests provide a great deal of information about the state and health of the ground. It is worth getting an analysis of soil prior to applying and digging manure or fertiliser. Knowing what is present and what is missing will help you to plan applications with less wastage.

Check through the plans again for this year's vegetable production. Is there room for something a little different? What about dandelions this year? We spend most of our time trying to eradicate them from beds, borders, lawns and footpaths, but a cultivated strain can be used as a green vegetable for boiling or in a salad.

The roots of some can also be forced or used as a substitute for coffee after roasting in the oven and then grinding. Chiltern Seeds of Ulverston offers a vigorous, quick-growing, thick-leaved dandelion at £1.70 per packet.


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