Time for garden construction

February is a good month to catch up with construction work in the garden, before the busy early spring season of pruning, border maintenance and lawn care starts. One such job is paving and after the past nine wet months it’s well worth thinking about laying a few extra paving slabs around the garden. I’m not suggesting you pave over the entire garden or lawn, merely areas by the front of a shed or greenhouse where the grass has worn away or maybe across a border to create a solid path to a compost bin. Whether you are using concrete or real stone pavers, in order to make a strong path you need to dig out around 10cm (4in) of soil and replace it with compacted crushed rubble or road stone. Once you have a firm level base you can start laying the slabs. I like to bed each slab on five mortar spots, one in each corner and one in the centre. The slab is positioned on the mortar spots and gently tapped down with a rubber mallet, while checking with a spirit level. When the mortar has set the gaps between the paving should be grouted in with a wet mortar mix or by brushing in a dry mix of sand and cement. There you have it, a new, solid path to help you get around you garden without getting muddy!

Jobs for the Week.

Hellebores are now starting to make new growth and flower buds are developing from the centre of the clump. Any old foliage, especially if showing signs of leaf spot can be cut off at ground level.

For early salad leaves thinly sow mixed lettuce seed in deep trays of multipurpose compost. In a cool, light position such as a greenhouse, conservatory or bright windowsill, seedlings will be through in around 10 days and in a few weeks’ time you can pick small leaves to mix in with salads.

If you have been overwintering geraniums or fuchsia in a light frost-free place, last year’s shoots can be trimmed back to encourage new growth to develop. Any dead or yellow leaves also need removing and to start the plants into growth start to give the plants a little extra water to re-moisten the compost.

Readers’ Questions

Sandra Dudley has sent me this picture taken in her garden and she wants to know what it is?

The strange shaped objects found in your garden are the remains of a plant called Physalis alkekengi which is more commonly known as Chinese lanterns. It is a perennial that grows to around 60cm tall that produces white flowers followed by green lantern shaped calyx that protect a berry inside. In autumn the calyx turn bright orange and look very decorative. Once dried they can be cut and used in dried flower arrangements or sprayed to make Christmas decorations. The orange berry inside the lantern is edible and the berries from a close relative, Physalis edulis (Cape gooseberry) are often used to garnish food. If the lanterns remain in the garden over winter the papery calyx breaks down to leave a skeletonised shell, which is exactly what you have found in your garden. It’s an unusual plant, but beware because in light sandy soil is can be a little invasive. One way to control its vigour is to grow it in large pots of loam-based compost.

If you have a gardening question for Martin Fish please email him at martin@flowershow.org.uk and we’ll print a selection of questions and answers for readers to share. Or, write to Ackrill Media Group, 1 Cardale Park, Harrogate and we’ll pass on your question