Garden works with Jo Whittingham

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FILLING the garden with flowers and vegetables raised from seed sown yourself must be one of the most satisfying things a gardener can do and April’s warm soil and showery weather makes it one of the best months to give it a try.

A packet of seeds costing a pound or two often has the potential to produce tens or even hundreds of plants, which means it’s an extremely economical way to grow. The easiest and quickest way to germinate seeds – and the one that I increasingly use now that I’m running round after a toddler – is to sow them directly into the soil where you want them to grow.

Hardy annuals are perfect for sowing this way and will produce a billowing, colourful display this summer for a fraction of the cost of standard summer bedding. There are many to choose from, but the delicate blues of love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena), and cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus) look lovely alone or among perennials, as do the tall, lacy, white flowers of Ammi majus. Bright orange pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis) and the beautiful crimson poppy, Papaver commutatum “Ladybird”, with its black-spotted petals, add a glorious splash of colour to any display.

There’s also a range of vegetables that can be sown straight into the soil now to provide crops from early summer into winter. For a quick harvest try radishes, salad rocket and turnips. Peas, broad beans, parsnips, carrots, beetroot, lettuces and spring onions take longer to mature, but are all easy to grow, given reasonable soil in a sunny spot. To save space some vegetables are sown in rows now and transplanted to their final generous spacings later – usually in June. Leeks, along with brassicas, such as calabrese, purple sprouting broccoli, cabbages and kale, are commonly grown in this way.

Elsewhere in the garden, tie climbing plants to their supports as they grow. The stems of climbing and rambling roses are best trained horizontally to encourage the production of flowering shoots. Lavenders, artemisias, penstemons and cotton lavender (Santolina) should be trimmed into shape to stop them getting too large and leggy. After our mild weather, many spring-flowering shrubs, such as Forsythia, will soon have finished flowering, allowing you to set to work if they need pruning. Remember though that there can still be frosts this month, so it’s best not to plant half-hardy summer bedding such as petunias until the end of May. If you are keen to get ahead, plant up pots and baskets in the greenhouse now to bring outdoors once the risk of frost has passed.