David

Mother Nature continues to throw a few curve balls at us this spring as well as a couple of low-ball zingers right over the plate (this is just about as far as I can try to extend any sports analogy!). A high of 14 last Thursday has been followed this week by lows of minus 14 and highs around the freezing point. If it is any consolation we are considerably ahead of last year – this year there is virtually no frost in the ground and most of the snow is gone.

How are the early plants coping? Just fine, thank you very much! The following photos show some early spring flowers – crocus, snowdrops and scilla. While not looking terribly happy on Sunday morning, they will survive quite nicely and continue to give us some very welcome colour when everything else is still quite brown.

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Many other perennial flowers are starting to show signs of new growth. The following photo shows a clump of perennial geranium or cranesbill which is getting a head start on fresh growth while its neighbours, the hostas are still quite happy continuing to hibernate.

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And how about the perennial edible plants and herbs? They are growing exuberantly! I took advantage of the warmer weather on Saturday and transplanted a few clumps of herbs and early vegetables. These are in raised beds with relatively well drained sandy loam. The very moist soil made transplanting very easy – however do not attempt this if your soil is water-logged. The following photos show chives, sorrel, bloody dock, lovage and oregano on Sunday morning in their new location looking not too unhappy for the experience.

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Most herbs can be treated as hardy vegetables – such as oregano, mint, lovage, dill, chives, sage, tarragon and thyme. The exceptions are rosemary which is a perennial but must be brought indoors in winter and sweet basil which is extremely sensitive to cold and is best started indoors from seed in April or grown from seedlings purchased from a garden centre. At the least hint of cold weather in September basil leaves turn black and start to fall off.

And of course the old reliable, long-lived and extremely hardy clump of rhubarb is cautiously poking its shoots through the ground

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Certainly not a whole lot is happening outdoors in the garden as of yet. Now is a good time to start looking around to find a spot to try growing a few vegetables.

Don’t think you have room in your garden for a vegetable patch but have a hankering for fresh picked greens? Do you think that the vegetable patch should be hidden behind the garage?

You might want to reconsider. There are many edible plants that are both healthy additions to your plate as well as being a visual feast. While ordinarily found in the vegetable patch, they are great additions to flower beds or ornamental borders.

A few years ago I ripped up the sod in my front yard, created some raised beds and pathways made of bark mulch. I created a bit of a circular pattern but the only limit is your imagination.

I have had the most success with vegetables that form vigorous, well shaped plants with interesting or attractive foliage or fruit and that continue growing strongly through the summer and into the fall. I plant them where I would plant annual bedding flowers. The most important growing requirement is a minimum of 6 hours of full sunlight. Plants that I have grown and would recommend mixing in the ornamental beds include peppers, eggplants, globe artichoke, Swiss chard, kale and a variety of herbs, such as basil, thyme, sage, lovage, oregano and tarragon.

Raised beds and well drained soil assist an early start by warming up much faster. Raised beds don’t need to involve a lot of work. In the vegetable garden I create beds a little over a metre wide and about three metres long with pathways about half a metre wide. I scoop the soil from the pathways onto the raised bed, add some compost, mix it up a bit and you’re ready to plant. You can make it much fancier with cedar planks as edging, particularly if you want to raise it more than a few inches.

But don’t try to work the soil too early. In order to determine if soil is workable, take a handful and squeeze – if it stays together in a ball it is still too wet, if it crumbles it is ready. Also if it clings to your boots and shovel in great clumps wait a few more days.