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SPRING'S LATE, LATE GREAT SHOW; It's not been pretty and the snow, frost, rain and wind have done our gardens no favours. But while it might have been a slow start to the year, spring is coming. There are times when it's great to do something that is going to make a difference straight away. Here are a few things to do right now.

Byline: CAROL KLEIN

CREATE FREE SCREENS

Cut Cornus and willow stems for decorative effect, plunging them into the ground perhaps as a little screen. They'll look good and they'll take root.

You can push them in one at a time as single specimens or make lovely wavy lines with them through a bed to bring in an element of movement.

Some varieties have brightly coloured stems.

You can make a row of them and use them for cut flowers every year.

WATCH THE BIRDIES

It's too late to put up nest boxes for most songbirds but the swallows and house martins have yet to arrive.

Encourage them by erecting special nest boxes (see www.rspb.org.uk) or a little shelf high up in the eaves to get them started. Meanwhile, continue to feed the birds.

GET THE GOOD LIFE

Growing your own is on the up and up. Even if you haven't got a vegetable plot, you can still have a go and produce great crops.

It's a great thing to do as kids can see where their food comes from and what is in and on it.

Making a raised veg bed is simple. You can use a kit or knock something up yourself – even I could manage it.

Use old wood or scaffolding boards. You need a minimum depth of 9in/22.5cm.

Stand the frame on the earth or on the patio – you can line it with recycled compost bags – and fill with good soil.

BAG OF SPUDS

No matter your age, the novelty of growing potatoes never wears off. No need for a garden either.

Get some super–early crops by half filling a stout, strong bag or a big pot with earth or compost, then push a few seed potatoes into the surface of the soil, just covering them with compost. As shoots start to emerge, add more compost. Use first earlies or special salad varieties.

REACH FOR THE SKIES

Climbing plants lend height and volume to any plot but you don't need to spend a fortune on clematis and climbing roses to add colour and interest.

Sowing big seeds of annual climbers now means your plants will be coming into flower by June and July.

Try morning glory, mina lobata, climbing nasturtiums or thunbergia alata, commonly called black–eyed Susan.

POND IN A POT

Worried about ponds and safety of kids and pets? Here's a safer alternative.

You can make a pond in a small container and raise it up above danger level, while still encouraging dragonflies, damsel flies and thirsty birds.

Ensure it's stable. Use a brick or block platform or a large tree tub and any large pot for the pond.

Miniature water lilies, water irises and rushes are ideal. Fill with rainwater.

MAKE A HOME FOR CLIMBERS

When your seeds are sown, create something for them to climb up. You can use them to hide eyesores or they'll add pizazz as free–standing structures in flower beds or in big pots.

Construct an obelisk or tripod using whatever is to hand – bamboo, tree branches or even a garden centre kit.

Push them firmly into the ground. You can weave string between them in a macrame style. Especially useful when you're growing sweet peas.

STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER

Fortunately for those with limited space, strawberries love living vertically.

Build your own strawberry tower block by investing in a strawberry pot or improvise by converting a rubble bag. Fill with soil, make holes in the side and plant your strawberries into them. Put a piece of perforated pipe or thick cardboard tube through the centre to make watering easy.

WHEELIE GOOD IDEA

Turn your wheelie bins into a thing of beauty and a useful resource for local bees and butterflies by building a little shed for the bins and planting a green roof on top of it.

All you need is a flat board supported on three sides. Make an edge all around the board – 4in/10cm is ideal for sempervivums, sedums, pinks and thrift.

Line with a layer of perforated plastic, put a rubble layer in the bottom and top up with soil. Avoid fertiliser, though. Poor soil is best.

Ask Carol

MAIDENHAIR FERN BROWNS

My maidenhair fern keeps getting brown tips on its leaves. How can I stop this happening? Joan Trevelyan, via email

CAROL Most ferns love a moist atmosphere and your maidenhair fern, probably adiantum, is no exception. It is tender too so it will love a warm, humid atmosphere. Lots of people have success keeping their ferns in the bathroom. They don't need much light.

ARE WOODLICE THE ENEMY?

When lifting pots outside recently, I discovered lots of woodlice. Should I destroy them? Will they eat my plants? Linda Browne, via email

CAROL No, Linda. Far from doing harm, woodlice do a lot of good. These prehistoric creatures spend their time clearing up debris. The garden would be a messier place without them and they play an important role in breaking down rotting material.

Have you got a gardening question for Carol? Email your query to m.mcmonagle@ sundaymail.co.uk

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Apr 7, 2013
Words:868
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