It’s Time to Put a Spring in your Step!

Spring Gardening

As I drove to work this morning, the South Downs were veiled in mist and rain. In Scotland, the word “Dreich,” captures the essence of this weather perfectly. Amidst the greyness I find myself eagerly seeking out anything to lift the spirits – from winter scents and signs of the coming spring to a big piece of chocolate cake for my birthday! In my garden, the arrival of two open daffodils fills me with joy. Every day I walk around the plant department at South Downs Nurseries, revelling in the candy store colours of primroses. Scent is also lifting my spirits. The gorgeous smell of sarcococcas outside the plant doors in January, was overtaken by the spicy aroma of hamamelis. Now the sweet honey scent of Edgeworthia chrysantha is pervasive.

Edgeworthia has tight clusters of white buds which hang down from the tips of branches. As the small yellow flowers open they lift up to face the sun and release the scent of honey. The fragrance stops people in their tracks. At home I have a small branch of Viburnum bodnantense in flower and the delicious smell fills my kitchen.


Next to the Viburnum on the windowsill, my seed propagator stands ready for the gardening season ahead. If like me, you have been using winter to plan ahead, you will have your packets of seeds organised by month in a handy box. I like to start early, so I have just sown my tomatoes, lettuce, leeks and the first batch of basil. Without a south-facing window, seedlings can grow leggy very quickly and are weaker as a result. This year I have invested in a grow lamp. Its benefits are already evident, with some sturdy microgreens for my lunchtime salads – delicious and so convenient to pick! If you don’t have space or a really bright windowsill or conservatory, don’t worry there is plenty of time. Just start sowing your seeds a little later or pick up some plug plants from one of our Tates Garden Centres from March onwards.

Over the next few months I will be sowing, tending, pricking out and potting on my seedlings. As the weather warms up more and more seedlings will be moved out to, or started off in the greenhouse. Daily visits to the greenhouse will commence. I open up in the morning, check for watering, and then return to close up again before nightfall.

Spring Greenhouse

By April the patio will be full of trays of seedlings on their hardening-off regime. As my allotment faces the sea, my plants will need to be fully toughened up. Hardening off takes time and is not something that should be rushed. You can read my blog ‘Hardening Off Tender Plants in Spring’ by clicking here.

Peat-based compost will be phased out for home gardeners by the end of 2024. The use of peat-free compost has had mixed reviews, but we need to realise that peat-free compost doesn’t behave in quite the same way as peat-based compost. We need to make changes to how we grow to get the most out of it.

Here are some tips:

1. Peat free compost often looks dry on the surface but is actually fully damp underneath. Check by sticking you finger down the side of the pot or picking it up and feeling the weight. This will prevent over watering.
2. Peat-free compost doesn’t hold on to nutrients as well as peat-based compost. Use a half strength liquid feed once the true leaves appear. Make feeding a part of your routine. Use a seaweed feed until flowering then switch to a tomato feed.
3. Many peat-free composts contain wood chip so mushrooms growing in your pots is to be expected. Just pick them off and compost.
4. Mulch against sciarid flies. These tiny little fungus gnats can be a real nuisance indoors and can damage seedlings. They love peat-free composts. You could purchase a sundew carnivorous plant or cover pots with a thick layer of grit to keep them at bay. We are now also selling biological controls by mail order, for chemical-free pest control. You can purchase them through our website by clicking here, and they will be delivered by post. The options include a nematode drench that will eliminate sciarid flies.

Sciarid Fly

5. Peat-free compost can have quite large particles and chunks. Sieve the compost to create a finer medium in which to sow or choose a specific seed sowing compost.

The clocks leap forward on Easter Sunday this year, for the start of British Summer Time. Forsythia, daffodils, aubrieta, wallflowers, camellias and cowslips to name but a few, will be beckoning us out of doors. Hopefully there will be enough sunshine for the first barbecue of the year! But, is your barbecue summer ready? Spring is the time to get it out and check it over. Clear out any spiders and give it a clean. If you are looking for a barbecue or pizza oven or some new tools, Tates has everything you need. Click here to browse our Outdoor Cooking products on our website.

Going into April it is the ideal time to explore the outdoors and walk off some of that Easter chocolate. April 4th—18th each year is National Parks Fortnight. Our national parks play an important role in conserving our environment and encouraging people to take up outdoor activities. All of our Tates garden centres are within easy distance of the South Downs National Park. There will of course be gambolling lambs, stunning scenery and places to visit. Click here to view the South Downs Visitor Map and use the filters to see what is available. You could even get involved in looking after this glorious landscape and become a volunteer. There are more than 350 volunteers working in the South Downs National Park . They help with landscape and wildlife conservation and improving community access. It is good exercise, a fun way to spend your time and make new friends too.

South Downs National Park

Hazel Still Tates of Sussex Garden Centres
By our resident horticultural expert

Hazel Still