By Douglas Boatman

Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right

So sang Stealers Wheel

Two years of numpties antics

And we still can’t get a deal.

So I’ll potter round the garden

And trim the privet hedge

Then check on the allotment

And prepare the ground for veg’

Once I’ve sown the marrows

I’ll paint the picket fence

Then chat to my Begonias

- At least they talk some sense!

Spring is now upon us. Surely there can’t be a sting in the tail? Even if there is, I doubt if it will be as severe as the ‘Beast from the East’ last year.

Our early flowering tulips , Guiseppe Verdi, are well in flower. A good short stemmed variety that makes a vibrant display in containers. The mild weather earlier in the month has brought on the daffodils a bit earlier than expected so florists are now having to turn to tulips as the next money maker for spring sales.

As you might realise the majority of the tulip stock comes from Holland and already the dreaded Brexit is causing problems. As a general rule the refrigerated flower lorries leave Holland on a Friday and reach the Scottish wholesalers late on Sunday or early Monday. Now, due to unwarranted intervention by customs officials at French ports the lorries can be held up for an extra 48 hours. The result is extra labour and fuel cost and reduced productivity.

Will this lead to the demise of the cut flower industry in Holland? I doubt it. The view from the window seat on the KLM flight into Schiphol airport shows how hugely important horticulture is, in all forms, to the Dutch. It won’t be allowed to fail – you’ll still get tulips from Amsterdam.

Continuing on the theme of import and export. Many moons ago some horticultural enthusiast found an unusual variety of out native Goat Willow growing on the banks of the River Irvine at Kilmarnock. Strongly pendulous character to the branches and lovely soft grey catkins. To cut a long story short the Dutch became experts in the mass production of this plant.

Multiple grafts are done on a straight willow stem to give a neat umbrella shape of drooping branches. A nice centre piece for the garden but the roots can be a bit weak, so may need staking. Being a typical willow it is a heavy drinker and does not take kindly to permanent life in a container. Generally disease free apart from maybe getting a touch of rust later in the year. Needs little maintenance – just the once over with secateurs to trim out dead or wayward stems and trim tips to stop them scraping on the ground.

We could do with a bit of dry weather to get the soil in good order for veg’ planting. Those who do not enjoy gardening are often keen to flag up the risks of pottering around – hay fever, back pain, sepsis, insect bites etc – but a recent survey (yes, another one) has shown that such pottering can add years to your life. Apparently the UK is in the midst of an ‘inactivity epidemic’ – with 39% of adults failing to meet the NHS target of 2.5 hours of physical activity per week.

Now don’t get me wrong but when I was at school the figure of 39% did not imply ‘epidemic’ proportions but we’ll go with the flow. Suffice to say that if you do some exercise – and gardening is a good discipline – then you can influence your ‘sell by’ date. Sounds like stating the obvious to me.

I shall endeavour to keep things simple in the veg’ plot this year. Tatties, carrots and a couple of swedes (for Burns night later on). If the season goes well I intend to keep things sensible in the kitchen too.

No sign of ‘beetroot three ways with a boiled lemon salad’. No. Douglas will be preparing (as it’s a Sunday night) a brisket of Aberdeen-Angus served on a pomme de terre deconstruction accompanied by florets of cauliflower drizzled with a cheese and cornflour jus. Delicious!

Further news that all is not well in the glitzy world of gardening programmes. Secateurs at dawn! The new chairperson for BBC Gardeners Question Time is a woman (gasp) and also she, Kathy Glugston, admitted she is a gardening novice and might need to ask the panellists to spell out horticultural names for her (double gasp). The high heid gardening gurus are not taking this well.

Personally I think she’ll do OK. She has a nice earthy name. I wish her well.

Away back in the mists of time I graduated with a Degree in Horticulture from the wonderful bastions of learning, Strathclyde University and (the late lamented) Auchincruive. This academic grounding meant I was able to understand what made plants live or die but didn’t give me much of a clue how to grow them. Forty years later and I’m still learning. Every day’s a school day.

The way society is headed at the moment you would be right to assume – laugh, and the world will think you’re a nutter. Cry, and you’re bound to be offered counselling. Meanwhile I’m away to stuff my ballotines and prepare the hazelnut candy.

Happy gardening.

General Points

  • Garden Centres are full of fresh stock of Primula and Pansies. Often viewed as a stop-gap until the summer bedding but, with regular dead-heading they will provide useful colour for the next two months.
  • Herbaceous plants – new growth popping up now. Divide large clumps. Also good time to dig up and/or divide bamboo. You’ll need a strong spade and, maybe, a large axe. Take care.
  • Slug pellets now being phased out for environmental reasons. Try alternative deterrents like beer traps and egg shell mulch. Also nematode drench is worth a go when the weather is warmer.
  • Give house plants a spring clean. Remove dead leaves and wash off dust. Add a wee dribble of liquid fertiliser when watering to start them off again for this year.
  • Seedings and delicate flowers – keep the greenhouse heater and fleece handy. Magnolia buds don’t like the frost. Winter may not be over yet.