Spring is sprung

by Andy Cawthray, 20th February 2017

March really does mark the awakening of the garden, albeit with the most pronounced variations from day-to-day, and, quite frankly, the widest variations from year-to-year


Andy Cawthray is a writer, gardener and poultry breeder based on the Welsh Borders. Extracts from his monthly column in Welsh Border Life appear here on walesandborders.com

Ask Andy

Q: I’ve cleared an old flower bed and want to create a lawn. Rather than turfing it, I was intending to use a seed mix. What would you advise? 

A: Consider first the amount of wear and tear anticipated in the area. Think also about the amount of shade and, of course, be mindful of your budget. It can be cheaper than turfing, but if you get the wrong seed or try to cut corners, it will cost more to correct the error. Most mixtures consist of three or four species of grass – creeping varieties blended with tufted sorts. These mix well together, maturing at different stages of the season, so providing a good year-round cover. Beware of mixtures that are heavily reliant upon rye grass species. They might be cheap but are only really suitable for heavy wear and tear, where appearance is a secondary concern. 

Got a gardening conundrum? Ask Andy by clicking here


Down the potting shed


My grandfather taught me that the key to good runner beans is ‘plenty of muck in a good deep trench.’ The theory behind this being that runner beans are thirsty plants, both in terms of nutrients and water. Therefore the application of a good layer of ‘muck’ in the bottom of the bean trench provides both the nutrients needed and additional water retention. The other thing about runner beans is that if there is no moisture retention or nutrients, they’ll throw down roots that go in search of both.

Aside from my grandfather’s words of wisdom on the trench preparation, I find that not directly sowing your runner beans in their final position also helps. In one respect it means that the trench can be prepared and settled whilst your beans are germinating and going through their initial stages of growth. But by the same measure, the mice and voles don’t feast on the beans.

The key to getting good runner bean plantlets is to give their roots a good chance to thrive with plenty of space to develop a strong downward growth habit. I’ve found that growing them in cardboard tubes is absolutely ideal; not only do the tubes act as root runners and direct downward growth, they are also just the right size to provide sufficient space for the plant to reach potting out stage, without any additional attention. The other boon is the tube and plant can be planted out directly into the ground which minimises any root disturbance.

And one last word of wisdom. If you’re of the belief that runner beans are stringy things that take an age to prepare in the kitchen and still result in a fibrous mouthful, then try a stringless variety or, better still, crop them when they’re no thicker than your finger. You’ll find them succulent, crunchy and sweet, and returning in ample abundance back on the plant.

And if you’re lucky enough to be worried about what to do with the gluts of runner beans – well, just don’t! They’re easy to freeze and make excellent chutneys for use during the winter months. 


March Top Tip

Wash and tidy the greenhouse and get sowing seeds in trays. This will give you a real head start on the season.    

For more gardening advice, comment, products and books, see Andy's Country Garden column in Welsh Border Life every month. To subscribe from just £5.99, click here

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