Pricking out; the process of putting a single seedling into a cell or pot was in my college days an essential skill. Nowadays, the total mechanisation, mass production of and distribution of plants in trays of up to 300 cells has vastly reduced the importance of this skill. Allowing the seedlings to grow for an additional two days while a ‘pricker outer’ is off work, makes the task of pricking them out slow and with a loss of quality. I therefore grabbed the opportunity to purchase a secondhand seeding machine from an old college friend. He swore it was the best thing he every bought and the results had funded 30 bird watching and ringing trips around the world. It is much easier to germinate seeds in February than from mid March on. It is easy to provide heat when it is cold. When germinating seeds are covered in plastic, an hour’s exposure to the midday sun can cause temperatures to rocket which will write off whole batches of seed. Sowing direct into modular trays of 150 takes much more space than was used for seedlings to be pricked out. We have therefore built an insulated chamber with no windows. The modules sit on a multi layered trolley. A temperature controller sets the temperature. Humidity is kept high by misting and trays of water, but soon it will have a fogging nozzle. On hot days, the insulation keeps the heat out, so germination is more even. We have yet to perfect it’s use, but we are making progress.

There is a sense of urgency in the spring. I have a bamboo; Phyllostachys bambusoides ‘Holochrysa’, a plant which defies any mention in full on Twitter (160 characters!). This is a beautiful bamboo with yellow stems and during the winter is has provided a night time roost for up to 120 goldfinches. It started life in a 10 litre pot. The but is that when I took a chainsaw to it last week, the tallest culm has reached 10m and the plant’s rhizomes had spread over 30metres. It was popping up everywhere and the removal of every appearance, frequently within shrubs and a yew hedge, was a back breaking work. Tomorrow, the gardener’s friend, arrives: a 1.5 ton mini digger. I hope it will make short work of it and I will get my garden back. The sunlight will reach parts that have remained in deep shade and with it the opportunity for new planting. I am enjoying a read of Roy Lancaster’s Plants for Places, largely because it is well illustrated and because it is a memory jogger and source of ideas. Provision for birds, butterflies and bees will be paramount in my choice. My key shrub supplier listed some trees this winter and I was very pleased to receive really good specimens of 3 vareities of mountain ash including two old favourites, vilmorinii and Joseph Rock. They have been planted already so that the roots can get going well in advance of the emergence of the leaves.