A View from the Garden Gate Project: Snake’s head fritillaries, plant supports, sweet potato slips and upcoming Spring Open Day

Snake's head fritillary at the Garden

By Nick Condron

It’s April, traditionally the month of bright sunshine and heavy showers! As spring progresses and the days lengthen, our Garden is alive with birdsong, fresh growth and the bustle of our team tending to its upkeep. Our seed benches are filling up fast, and as we prepare to begin planting up our vegetable and annual flower beds it’s a time full of potential and expectancy for the season ahead.

Amidst the succession of beautiful spring flowers, one that particularly catches the eye right now is the Snake’s head fritillary. Known for their unique chequered purple, pink or even white bell-shaped flowers from which they derive their name, they grow on slender stems with narrow, grey-green leaves at their base. They’re a perennial bulb that thrives in moist, well-drained soils and are often found in wildflower meadows, damp grasslands and along river banks. We’re growing them in the longer grass around the edge of our woodland, and as they’re thought to symbolize rebirth and new beginnings they resonate well with the spirit of Easter time.

Obelisk plant support

Each spring we craft our own beautifully rustic plant supports for sweet peas using natural materials, and this year we’re doing so for our gherkins too! Coppiced hazel rods from our woodland provide sturdy uprights, while pliable willow branches are ideal for weaving. We simply push the hazel rods firmly into the ground to create a frame tied together with garden twine, and then weave the willow branches around them, creating a lattice for climbing plants. With a little creativity it’s possible to design obelisks, arches or even teepee structures to enhance the garden and support your climbing plants. Plus, as they biodegrade and decompose, they’ll return valuable nutrients to the soil, enriching the environment for new growth.

Sweet potato slips

Finally, Sara has given last year’s sweet potatoes a new life by using them to grow fresh slips for this season’s planting. If you’re doing this yourself, be sure to choose healthy, unblemished tubers and store them in a cool, dry place over winter. Come spring, when you’re ready to start slips, you can either suspend the potato in water with the pointy end facing up, or bury it horizontally in moist potting mix. In both methods, sprouts will appear at the “eyes” of the potato. As soon as these shoots reach a few inches in length, with a few sets of leaves, you can carefully snip them off to plant as your new sweet potato slips. Plant them in individual pots, burying the stem up to the first set of leaves and keep them in a warm greenhouse. Once there’s no danger of frost, typically in late May or early June, you can transplant the established slips outdoors.

Hazel and willow tunnel

If you’d like to pop in and see how the Garden is progressing, we’re open to visitors Monday to Friday from 10 am until 3 pm. Plus, we hope you can join us for our Spring Open Day on Saturday 4th May from 12 to 3 pm, when we’ll be serving teas, coffees, cakes, pizzas and soup, along with a plant stall and a variety of craftwork made by our team. Until then, happy gardening!