The hoe is probably one of the most valuable garden tools, if used regularly. The Dutch or push hoe was the first tool I was trained to use; it was made of steel, and I learned to keep it clean and oiled to prevent rust. It was my predecessors favourite tool, and he taught me not to tread the hoed weeds back into the ground. Even 30 years ago, and in spite of the price, I realised the value of stainless steel because of its strength, I can still use it today.
But only two years ago, the wavy-edged push-pull Wolf hoe (available at garden centres) caught my eye. Anyone who has used one has hardly put it down since. I now know that the pull edge is as valuable as the push to sever the small weeds between rows of seed-
lings such as carrots, and all without disturbing the soil too much.
The Wolf series is also versatile, with interchangeable tool-heads (including three types of hoe the draw, Dutch and push-pull) for different types of job.
The risk of frost is still with us, so were cautious about planting tender flowers or vegetables. But soil preparation now can save rushing later, especially with annual bedding.
The organic principle of feeding the soil, and not the plants, means that we dig in generous quantities of home-produced or peat-free compost or leaf mould where we intend to put bedding plants in a few weeks time. This helps to reduce the need for artificial fertilisers, and also increases moisture retention.
To give height to a border, plant the sweet peas under a wigwam of canes bound with twine so that they have something to climb. Arrange six tall canes in a circle in your border, gather them together at the top and tie them together. Spiral garden twine around them, from the base to the top, to encourage the sweet peas to grow up the frame. Keep on deadheading the flowers, and theyll continue to bloom until the autumn.
Courgettes, marrows and pumpkins
Theres still time to sow courgettes, marrows and pumpkins, but keep them under glass until the frosts are over. Sow one or two seeds in a 3in Jiffy pot and place it on heat to germinate.
Plant courgettes where you can easily cut them regularly. Marrows can be tucked out of the way for use later in the summer. Pumpkins are excellent for suppressing weeds, so consider planting them on the top of compost heaps they love it.
Philip Maddison is head gardener at Harrington Hall, Lincolnshire (www.harringtonhallgardens.co.uk)