OVER the next few months our gardens will be getting ready for spring and it will be time for seed sowing and planting seedlings.

One of the best ways to grow your early crops is to opt to grow them in a raised bed.

My own raised beds are made of wood, but you can use other materials such as concrete slabs or metal.

The important factor is dimensions and keeping the width to no more than three feet wide. This is simply so that you can always reach the middle of the bed, unless you have extra long arms.

The beds I have are three feet square but there is nothing wrong in having much longer beds so long as you keep the width to three feet.

In the inside of the bed, black membrane is stapled on to the inside of the wood and the bed is then filled with a mixture of topsoil and home-made compost. The edge of the wood is four and a half inches wide, which allows one to sit on the edge of the raised bed while you are working on the bed.

The raised bed is ideal for growing vegetables but I have found that placing troughs on the ground at each side of the bed is good for growing some flowers which attract bees and other insects which help to pollinate the vegetables.

Of course there is nothing wrong with using the raised bed to grow shrubs, and young seedlings can be covered with a clear plastic cloche in the early days. Plastic cloches can be used over and over again for several years.

Heating of greenhouses

Heating greenhouses can be a costly exercise no matter what mode of energy you choose. The old-fashioned idea of using paraffin is now quite expensive as the cost has gone through the roof in recent times.

Alternatives such as electricity are prohibitive as most people struggle to heat their homes let alone their greenhouse.

Bottled gas is also expensive and control of temperature is not easy and the gas can run out during the night.

Other forms of heating such as solid fuel are not as popular as in days of yore and indeed not environmentally friendly.

Maybe the answer is to use a raised bed with cloches or settle for an unheated greenhouse or one of the inexpensive plastic greenhouses on sale at your local garden centre.

What's growing on outdoors just now

Snow drops are pushing their tiny heads above the cold and frosty soil and will create a great spectacle over the month or two.

Snowdrops will be followed by crocus, which if they haven’t been eaten by field mice or squirrels will give a colourful display.

To prevent the aforementioned pests eating your crocus bulbs try placing grated soap on the top of the soil over the crocus bed.

Daffodils are now popping up through the borders and the grassy areas if you had naturalised them. Be careful not to trample over them.

Bulbs for late spring and summer

Just a few days ago I received catalogues from a couple of bulb suppliers and perusing through these I noticed that there was a fair selection of items such as liliums and other species which we can use to grow in patio pots and in the open borders.

These can be ordered now and planted out in the coming months. Begonia corms are now available and these can be laid out on trays of moist peat-free compost and kept slightly moist until green shoots appear, after which they can be potted into small pots and grown on until ready to be potted into larger ones.

Dahlia tubers are listed in these catalogues and this is an ideal way to get some new varieties. Additionally, one can come across some interesting bulbs such as gladioli and gloxinia which will yield a colourful display.

Heathers can enhance early spring beds

A collection of winter heathers are great for covering an area of the garden and they are easy to look after.

All you have to do is give them a short trim once the flowers have faded.

Doing this prevents them becoming woody and they will flower again next year.

When trimming use a sharp pair of scissors and trim off the tips. If you have the spirit of adventure you can even plant these into a tray of peat-free compost.

How seed can be brought on at a window will

Seed trays or even some small plastic containers such as old margarine tubs can be used to grow seeds of herbs and other vegetables such as spring onions on a window ledge. Once thy have germinated they can be pricked out into cell trays or small pots. Additionally, one can sow seeds of half -hardy annual flowers and even tomato seeds. Once shoots appear pot the seedlings up into small pots.

Time for tackling new designs

At this time of the season one should be bold about looking at new designs for the garden and there is plenty of scope to create lots of new ideas around the garden.

Take plenty of time to design just exactly you want to create. Maybe a playground for children or perhaps a new patio, or what about recycling old items reclaimed from skips or from unwanted items from friends and neighbours? 

The provision of a new fence or a new hedge can be used as a feature in your garden and some new garden furniture could be a useful addition to the garden. Items of old furniture can be renovated to provide colourful and maybe create a bar for the patio garden.

I’m sure your friends, relatives and neighbours will be pleased to see what you have achieved and remember the sky is the limit and more and more is an enhancement of your residence and may add value to your home.