Gardening Advice from Westminster Abbey
The trees may be bare and your gardens lacking in colour but this is the perfect time of year to plan your planting for the coming year. We have started stocking a variety of seeds which have been selected by Westminster Abbey’s Head Gardener, Jan Pancheri. To help you get the best out of these seeds we have asked her to give her top tips along with some insight into what goes into maintaining the Abbey’s beautiful College Garden.
The types of plants we grow here tend to be ones that don’t need much water, as we have very well-drained soil. The only way we can keep the plants going is to give them lots of our home-made compost in spring. One quarter of the garden is in bright sunshine all day, and this is where we grow all our herbs and aromatic plants. The other three quarters of the gardens are in shade, which can be challenging, but we make the most of it by having a lot of green ferns and shrubs such as Hebes. The gardens look their best in the spring with tulips and blossom on the trees, though they are also beautiful in winter, when many of our most highly scented shrubs are flowering.
Plan to grow these in the sunniest place in the garden. Plant them in May when the ground has warmed up. You may find it helpful to start them off in peat pots, as they do not like their roots being disturbed, and this will keep mice from eating the tasty seeds. They can grow to two or three metres in height, so plant at the back of a border or against a wall.
Unusual tip: the stems are so sturdy they can be used as supports for morning glory or french beans.
Hollyhocks are very easy to grow and can either be started in pots in October or April – bear in mind that once you have them, they will seed themselves all over the garden. They can grow to a person’s height and have trumpet-shaped white, yellow, pink or nearly black flowers.
Unusual tip: the whole plant is edible – the green seeds have a cucumber flavour in salads and the roots taste sweet.
Poppies thrive in sunny dry soil. It is best to scatter them where they are to grow from May to July. They hardly need to be covered in soil to grow, so rake lightly and water in with a fine rose. Once you have poppies they will usually come back year after year.
Unusual tip: To use poppies in flower arrangements, dip the ends of the stems in boiling water for a few seconds to seal them.
Rosemary was one of the first evergreen plants that people grew in their gardens. It was introduced to England around 1400. Sow the seed into pots in spring, maybe three per pot. Water in the morning only and do not allow to become cold at night.
Unusual tip: Rosemary tea can relieve indigestion.
Sweet pea seeds can be soaked overnight to give them a head start. Sow into loam-based seed compost in the autumn in a long pot, as they have deep roots. Sweet peas need plenty of room, so do not put many in each pot. Once the plants are 15cm tall, put out in a cold frame, but protect from slugs. Alternatively you can start them in March. Plant out 30cm apart into rich soil and make sure they are well-fed and watered. Give them netting or trellis to climb up.
Unusual tip: To keep the plants flowering, dead-head them every day and cut off any tendrils which are not being used.
Jan is currently writing a book which will provide more of her excellent advice based on her experiences maintaining the Abbey’s lovely gardens; check back next year when you will be able to purchase it both online and in store. To shop our lovely seeds along with our range of beautiful gardening accessories, such as gloves, trowels and twine, click here.