Gardening Column

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The Independent Online

A tulip festival has just started at Pashley Manor Gardens, Ticehurst, East Sussex, where many of the 45 varieties planted in the garden (including 1,500 tulips given by the Chelsea gold medallist Blom's Bulbs) will still be flowering. In the house is an exhibition of botanical paintings and a display of decorative arts relating to tulips. The festival runs until Monday. Pashley Manor and its gardens are open (11 am-5 pm) today, tomorrow and Monday. Admission pounds 4.50.

The potter Jim Keeling is holding two sales in May - an excellent opportunity to increase your stock. I particularly like his wide, low pans for growing sempervivums and pinks. The Hertfordshire sale is at Benington Lordship, Benington, near Stevenage and runs from next Friday to Sunday 11 May (9 am-5 pm). The Yorkshire sale is at Bramham Park, Wetherby, and also runs from next Friday to Sunday 11 May (9 am-5 pm).

The jolliest show I went to last May was the one at Courson, south of Paris, where Patrice and Helene Fustier preside over a stylish jamboree that is half plant sale, half garden party. This year's Journees des Plantes de Courson are 16-18 May and 17-19 October. For more details contact Domaine de Courson, 91680 Courson, Monteloup, France (0033 01 64 58 90 12).

Weekend work

Early May is an ideal time to plant bamboos. They make good screens, but will not thrive in very windy places. They like good, moist soil. Arundinaria nitida is the most shade-tolerant, with purple-flushed canes and narrow, bright green leaves. Soak them well before you plant them.

Plant out onion sets. Sow a short row of a leaf lettuce such as Salad Bowl and a row of peas, covering them with netting against mice. If the ground is very dry, soak the drill well before the seed goes in. Continue to sow annuals where you want them to flower, but not in a dust bowl. Soak the ground well before you scatter the seed, and keep the ground moist until it has germinated. I have been sowing Calendula officinalis var Prolifera (Chiltern, pounds 1.05). It's called the hen and chickens marigold, because the central flower is surrounded by a ring of lesser flowers which spring from its base.

Mild, coastal areas of Britain may already have seen their last frost. In the coldest parts of central and northern Scotland, frosts may continue until June. At no other time of the year does location play such an important part in choosing the jobs that can safely be done. Never be in too much of a hurry to sow seed. Several trials have shown that later sowings often catch up on early ones without running the same risks.

A greenhouse can be used to shelter plants in spring. You can plant up pots and hanging baskets, so that growth is well advanced by the time you move them outside. You can bring on vegetables such as green peppers and tomatoes, which should not be set outside until late May.

Top up gravel chippings on beds and bowls of alpines. Replant sempervivums and saxifrages tweaked out by birds, which they are too frequently for their comfort. Nip off the dead flowers of tulips and daffodils, but leave the stems and foliage to die down naturally.

If you haven't already done so, cut back almost the whole of the previous season's growth of late-flowering shrubs such as caryopteris. Hardy fuchsias can also be cut down to the ground. Some shrubs, such as forsythia and elaeagnus, should have a third of their growth cut out, the cuts being made where a branch joins the main stem. Aim to renew the shrub entirely over three years.