Hi there everyone, I’ll be writing a weekly U3A brief on ‘things to do in the garden now’, to help while away a few hours during this awful lockdown.

There is a misconception that a) there is nothing to do in the garden in January b) you can’t garden if you only have a small patio or balcony. Nothing could be further from the truth, so how about trying some of the following:

1) chit some potatoes (best in eggboxes, but any tray will do), in sunlight, frostfree and indoors (or a greenhouse) somewhere. As the south is so much warmer than the rest of the country, these can be planted out as early as March. You don’t need to put them into the ground, you can use a potato bag, or any form of container, even on a patio or balcony. So get chitting!!

2) Sow some sweet pea seeds, around 8 in a small 2 inch pot, so you can then plant them direct where you want them to grow. Plant around 1 inch deep in compost, and keep somewhere warm until they have germinated. Thereafter in a frostfree but not heated location (a bathroom shelf?).

3) It is still not too late to prune roses, and indeed any late flowering perennial plants. But don’t prune anything early flowering, or with a bud, like camellia, peiris, azalea, rhododendron etc. And you really can’t overprune any well established perennial plant, so prune fractionally above a bud, and watch the flower profusion later on in the year.

4) if you have somewhere frostfree, you can plant up some of the summer flowering corms/bulbs, like gladioli, begonia, dahlia, acidanthera, lily, liatris spicata etc. Make sure they have more than the depth of the bulb, in compost above the bulb.

5) It is too early to plant seeds yet, except for sweet peas and chillies, which both need bottom heat for germination. Later in the year, chillies, dwarf tomatoes and cucumbers, peppers, lettuce/radish/spring onions, can all be happily grown on a warm sunny location in your house.

6) Many plants are still bulking up their bulbs/corms under the (frozen) earth – agapanthus is a good example – so try and feed it with either a liquid feed (tomato feed, comfrey, seaweed etc), or horse compost/garden compost.

We are having a competition amongst the U3A Greenfingers group, to get one chitted Anya potato (which I will provide), put into a 12-14inch pot or similar, grown on, then we will weigh the potatoes produced on a given date in June, to see who has the heaviest crop. If you would like to get involved with this competition, or if you have any general gardening queries, email me on kandpsteele@btinternet.com

Finally, gardening is great for our mental and physical health, good for the environment, and gives us hope for the future in such awful times. So get out there and garden, even if you only have a patio or balcony, and get out there today!!

Kevin Steele