Friends often ask me when is the best time to start to prepare the garden for summer.

This is an impossible question to answer, as it will be different for everyone depending on the size and location of the garden and the gardener’s motivation.  For me there is always a day in late winter when I open the kitchen door and know that spring is just around the corner. The air smells different and the light has changed. This year that day arrived yesterday. I wasn’t expecting it – I had made a cup of tea and bundled into my coat to take the dogs for a wander around the garden, expecting to come back and get on with the usual indoor jobs. As I stepped outside, however, I knew that the day to start gardening had arrived. Long evenings by the fire with a good book or the TV are now numbered, afternoons in the kitchen with pen and pencil making plans for the year are finished. Now is the time to get serious. Borders need to be cleared, weeded, fed and mulched, fruit trees and bushes pruned, veg beds prepared, roses to be pruned and fed. The ‘To Do’ list is now live! There may still be bad weather to come, probably some more snow and many frosty starts, but the perennials are stirring and the first annual weeds are germinating so I will be out getting on with things whenever possible.

My main perennial border wraps around the south and west sides of the house and I started there yesterday, working in the watery sunshine. When the mess was cleared away I found snowdrops in flower, crocus just about to open, tulips pushing up through the soil and tiny new shoots on most of the border perennials. Today I headed for the kitchen garden and cut back the autumn fruiting raspberries, weeded the strawberry bed and started to prune the espaliered apple and pear trees. These trees were planted as maiden whips in spring 2011, so I am hoping to get the third and final tier established this year. If I am very lucky I may even get a few fruits on the bottom tier this autumn. The strawberry and raspberry beds were planted last spring and produced a surprising amount of fruit last summer. I am hopeful that I might have enough fruit for jam this year and plan to freeze a lot of raspberries for the winter. The Timperly Early rhubarb is starting to sprout, so we should be eating fresh pink rhubarb in a few weeks time.

Whilst in the kitchen garden, I started to prepare the beds that will be the new herb garden. Until now I have grown herbs in pots outside the kitchen door and this will continue for my kitchen use. However, as I plan to use a lot of herbs in my flower arrangements this year, I have decided I need to grow much greater quantities. There will be 2 beds, one for perennial and one for annual herbs. In contrast to herbs used for culinary purposes, these herbs will be allowed to flower. I will start the annuals from seed in March. The perennials need to be bought or moved from pots when the weather warms up. For now I am splitting newly sprouting chives to plant a decorative edging.