I think we can actually say for once that we have had a "proper
winter"!!!. Much snow and cold weather in February, the
most for 18 years in the South East gave us some very pretty days
and some welcome days off work too to appreciate the world of white
and our children playing in it. There have been a lot of hard frosts
too this winter which should have killed off more over-wintering
pests and diseases than previous years too, so hopefully this coming
year won't have the problems with pests that we have had in
There can be lasting problems of such snowfall though
it that it can have an effect on trees and shrubs by the sheer weight
of snow laying on branches. Try to get out and see if it affected
any of your mature plants when you can. For instance there's
a branch about 10 feet long that half fell over my fence at the
bottom of the garden from a large conifer belonging to my neighbour.
Snow built up on it so heavily that the weight split it from the
trunk. This leaves a messy wound that can become infected with fungal
diseases and so eventually potentially threaten the whole tree.
Take a look to see if you have any similar damage. If you have then
cut the broken branch stump back close to the tree as cleanly as
possible to help keep disease out.
I also have a large golden bamboo that has a couple
of canes that were weighed down and are permanently now at about
a 30 degree angle to the ground sticking out across the lawn, when
it gets a bit warmer I will cut those off to tidy up the shape of
the plant again. Hedges may also be damaged by snow if it build
up and "splits" them down the middle if they have a flat
top and straight sides, if you are affected by this leave them for
a while to start to grow again before you start to renovate them
back to their former neat shape.
This is the best time of the year to plant snowdrops.
It's a relatively little known fact that
snowdrops are best planted "in the green" when they
have finished flowering but still have all of their leaves.
They should be dug up and replanted as soon as possible and are
much more successful when treated like this than if planted in the
autumn as shrivelled little bulbs that are far more likely to rot
than grow the next spring. There is only a short time that they
are available in this manner so be on the look out in the next month
or so. Make sure that you are buying bulbs that have been cultivated,
there are many unscrupulous "suppliers" who will go and
dig up wild bulbs from woods or wherever they find them to sell
on. The small ads of gardening magazines or papers are good places
to look. You might also like
this site which is enough to turn anyone into a snowdrop enthusiast,
take a look at the picture pages.
Water butts - do you have
one - or more? A water butt is an ideal way of watering the
garden with rainwater that the plants prefer, it helps you to work
around the hosepipe bans and also to reduce your water bill if you
are metered as most of us are these days. With relatively little
rain, it'll take time for the butts to fill, so if you get one
at the height of summer, it'll probably not fill until the autumn
or winter. Get one as soon as you can and get as big a one as you
It's a good time to plan for the growing season
now too and buy plants in advance or as
plants to be delivered when they're ready. You're more
likely to get what you want this way and the sooner you get them
and plant them ready for active growth, the quicker and better they
I'm thinking about plants I'd like to
grow this year that are going to be new to me and I've decided
first of all I have to get some
Cardiocrinum giganteum - the Giant Himalayan Lily. I've
looked at these on a regular basis in recent years, but never really
made the decision, but this is the year to get this plant. Others
on my list are
Callicarpa bodinieri - Beauty Berry and
Phyllostachys Nigra - Oriental Black Bamboo, though these two
will need rather more thought about where they are going to be planted
as they will grow quite large.
How about making the decision now then? That plant
or particular variety that you've always admired, but maybe
put off because it's a bit too expensive or you're not sure
where it would go, get it sooner rather than later so you can enjoy
it longer. If you really feel you can't afford it, how trying
to grow it from seed or get a cutting from somewhere. Unless you
want truffles or some hugely rare and exotic orchid, then nearly
all varieties of plants are within the means of nearly all people
- go on, you know you're worth it.
March comes "In like a lion and goes out like
a lamb", it seems difficult to believe here at the tail
end of winter that we are so close to spring, but in four weeks
time we should be well into a different season altogether. In
only 3 weeks time, we'll be getting 12 hours daylight when we
reach the spring equinox. Day length changes fastest at these
times and there'll be noticeable changes over even just a week.
I've really appreciated this seasonality since spending a year
living almost bang on the equator some years ago, 12 hours day and
12 hours night almost unchanging for 365 days a year gets very monotonous
- give me higher latitude seasonality any time.
Jobs / Tips
If you have any hardy container plants that you have propagated
and intend to plant them out in the garden later, then now is a
good time to pot them on into larger pots. Add about 25% by
volume of sharp sand or fine gravel to the mix to help drainage.
Our springs tend to be wet and compost alone can get very soggy
and overgrown with liverworts. The sand and gravel also encourage
a greater extent of roots that will stand the plants in good stead
later on. By early to mid summer they will need either planting
out or potting on again, this time into 100% compost.
If you buy any small potted hardy shrubs or perennials, it's
also a good idea to grow them on for a while by potting into a larger
container and placing it in a warm sunny location. The other school
of thought on this says that plants should establish themselves
better if planted small, this is true, but they can also sometimes
get overwhelmed by weeds and this is often the most important factor.
I grow them on until they comfortably fill a 2 litre pot, then they're
about ready to go into the garden.
March 17th St. Patrick's Day. What are you going to do?
Drink lots of green dyed Guinness, walk around with a shamrock in
your buttonhole? St. Patrick's day is the traditional day
pea seeds. You've just over two weeks to select
some, plant them outside in containers (long deep ones are best
as sweet peas have long deep roots) in a sheltered spot or a cold
frame or cold greenhouse if you have one. Sweet peas are one of
my favourite annual flowers, coming as they do in a variety of pretty
colours, delicate simple flowers, and a wonderful fragrance.
Go on - buy a packet or two and sow them. They
do well in a large container with some canes pushed in and tied
together at the top into a wigwam arrangement.
Last chance for an end of winter tidy-up. Dead leaves, twigs
and other debris laying around under shrubs and around borders looks
untidy and can harbour pests and diseases. So rake it up and put
it on the compost heap before there's too much foliage about
that will make this a harder job to do. Young shoots and leaves
will have an easier time if they aren't pushing through last
years matted leaf fall.
Lift and divide summer flowering perennials.
Get free plants to spread around the garden or your friends and
neighbours in the process. They should be fairly easy to dig up
with a fork as there won't be many fine roots yet. Pull them
apart gently but firmly so that the plant divided at its weakest
Cut back ornamental grasses. Give them a severe hair cut
to about 3 or 4 inches above the ground. Only do this if the
leaves are brown and dead - not evergreen, or they'll take
all year to recover.
Protect young shoots from
slugs, scatter pellets / slug pubs or whatever particularly
around clematis and herbaceous plants (they love Delphiniums). As
soon as there are shoots to eat the slugs and snails will appear
Still time to prune your pomes, but leave your drupes alone.
A pome is a fruit with pips, apples and pears (also quince
and medlars) whereas a drupe is a fruit with a stone, plums,
cherries, peaches and apricots.
Do it quickly though because
they'll soon be growing actively.
The dormant winter months are an ideal time to
prune the over congested spurs from pome fruits. Apples and pears
are mainly spur-fruiting trees, meaning that the fruits are produced
on short lateral branches some 6-12 inches long. When a tree has
been growing for some time, these spurs become over-crowded. The
result is a rather untidy looking tree, lots of blossom and lots
of small and not very high quality fruit. If you reduce the spurs,
then the overall yield won't increase, but you will get a good
improvement in the size and quality of the fruit that form.
Remove the older more complicated growth and thin
weak stems leaving young vigorous growth behind. It depends on the
state of the tree, but you should be aiming to remove about a third
of the spur stems. If you repeat this process every year or tow,
then the tree will eventually be fruiting only on wood that is no
more than a few years old.
The dormant season is the best time to this for
apples and pears, when the buds begin to burst it's too late.
Drupes on the other hand are pruned in the
summer when in growth as winter pruning for these carries a high
risk of introducing disease.
Make plans. Consider plants and planting. Put canes or a
hose pipe across the garden to mark out planned beds, patios or
other features. Then ignore it for a few days, look out of the window
and change it all totally if necessary. Winter is a good time to
prepare for the coming growing season. Take your time when deciding
on your grand design and get it right before you start on it when
the warmer weather and breaking buds tempt you beyond the confines
of the fire-side (whether metaphorical or literal).
Feed and continue to feed the birds. This gets more important
as winter goes on. Don't forget on the warmer days as well.
Hunger isn't nice whatever the temperature. Most wild animals
that die over the winter do so just as spring is arriving, it's
not the cold that gets them so much, as the lack of food.
Order or buy seed and
plan what you'll grow from seed this year. I think of this
as buying genes for the garden. Perfectly packaged and prepared
for growth with all they need to get started. Seeds are natures
own genetic technology. If you've never grown anything from
seed before, it's one of gardening's main wonders.
Last chance to plant trees and hedges from bare rooted stock,
many nurseries will stop lifting field grown plants this month if
they haven't done so already.
There's no time left to leave
plants "heeled in" as the roots will soon be starting
to grow, if you can't plant them very soon then pot them up
in plant pots with some potting compost.
Tip. Use an old pair of tights
as a tree tie. They're strong, don't rot, are
soft and cheap. Tie around the tree and stake in a figure
of 8 so that the tree trunk doesn't rub against
Why bother? Why not wait until it's
a bit warmer and more pleasant and plant out of containers?
1/ Bare rooted
trees and shrubs are cheaper, as little as half the price for
trees and cheaper than this for shrubs though the range of available
shrubs is smaller, so you can either save money or spend the same
and get a much bigger plant.
now means that they get off to the best possible start in the
spring. As soon as the plants wake up and start putting their
roots out, they're already in your soil rather in a pot that
will then planted in the soil later, one less jolt to the system.
So brave the elements and do it now!
Make sure though that you add lots of organic matter
to the soil when filling the planting hole and that you
stake trees well.
Back again on the first of April
Archive - selected parts of previous
year's newsletters from this month
Before the cold really started again I started some heavy duty gardening
in the form of erecting a fence. There's an area at the
top of the garden between us and next door where there was an original
wooden fence about 3 feet tall, but this was overgrown with ivy
and next door had placed a trellis up to about 6 feet. The result
was a very large dark ivy "hedge" supported by various
bits of wood that made it very difficult for other plants to grow
nearby. Well the previous neighbour moved out and in agreement with
the new one, I started to take it all down and replace it. What
a major job it turned out to be too! Each fence panel (6 feet wide)
required a whole pile of vegetation to be removed and of course
a big pile of semi-rotted timber from the fence. This was disposed
of at the bottom of the garden with a substantial bonfire - I know,
not ideal, but it would have been forever to shred the ivy and then
there was all the old rotten timber too.
I made something of a rod for my own back as I
was trying to leave some plants untouched rather than do the usual
builder trick of leaving a blasted landscape in my wake. With
canes and sheets of board propping branches and leaves out of the
way however I eventually did it. It's quite a substantial fence
6 feet high, gravel board at the bottom as it's on a slope,
from 6 inches at one end to nothing at the other, and then a 1 foot
high trellis on top. It's a pretty straightforward job, the
main things you need to make sure of that the posts are truly vertical
and that the holes are deep enough (2ft). I used "Postfix"
ready mixed quick drying cement and aggregate, the last thing to
do is make final adjustments to verticality and then add the mix
to a temporarily braced post. I put it together with long screws
power-driven rather than using nails in as it's easier to be
accurate, you don't disturb the nearly-set concrete and it will
be easier to take apart again one day if I ever need to.
The best thing though is that having dug up the
roots with mattock, I will now be able to plant right up to the
fence. A bit of judicious disentangling meant that I was able to
move some substantial shoots of a Crimson Glory Vine (Vitis coignetiae)
so they will cover part of the trellis when the shoots arrive in
a few weeks time. I'm forcing myself not to buy any plants for
the area at the moment so I can change my mind several times before
2nd shot in the foot is that the wife now likes
the idea of extra privacy so much, that I've now got instructions
to extend the fence another 30-40 feet down the garden for when
she sits in the hammock suspended from the walnut tree in the summer.
An unexpected bonus is that the lower level of
holes in the trellis have become a favoured perch of the smaller
birds. Seems to be a safe height above the ground and with something
above them to protect them from a hawk or other bird that may be
on the lookout for an easy meal.
On the other hand, England is very green - all winter long,
the rabbits, squirrels, robins, blackbirds, magpies, doves etc.
frolic around the garden like they're following a Beatrix Potter
script, early spring blossom is already out and sheltered daffodils
are doing the rotating through 90 degrees thing they do before flowering
properly, snow drops are almost over and winter irises are coming
out slowly - I love this time of year as the garden starts to wake
So much for me going on about spring around the corner last month!
Although much of the month was taken up with weather reports
of impending blizzard conditions that never actually arrived in
most of the country. My son (and I) watched with jealousy at the
reports of "snow days" and of deep falls in some Northern
parts of the country with ideal sledging conditions. I like the
idea of waking up one morning to find the whole world has turned
to magical whiteness and that transport and therefore most of the
world's plans for that day have to be put on hold. Especially
these days when a couple of centimetres of snow becomes newsworthy,
I can't ever remember a single "snow day" as a child
- when snow falls were much more frequent and heavier when they
It's the last day of February today and last
night was the coldest night of the winter in much of Britain, maybe
so much so that it reached that awful state that my grandmother
used to announce when I was little and felt that I'd burst if
it didn't snow "it's too cold to snow now" - oh
the crushing enormity of that sentence! What if I'd been wishing
too hard and went too far?!
It doesn't seem much like it at the moment, but March is when
spring blossom - our compensation for enduring gloomy, wet winters
- really gets going. The earliest flowering cherries in sheltered
locations are opening now and fairly soon we'll have blossom
of pears, apples and plums. Many flowering cherries are actually
rather vulgar - nicer in other peoples gardens than your own, (and
like that rather loud but entertaining bloke at work or the pub,
you enjoy the company in that situation but wouldn't want him
sat on your sofa). Cheerful bright pink cherry blossom on dismal
March days with grey skies and drizzle coming down make it difficult
not to admire them.
Best of all, the furry buds of Magnolias
are full of promise preparing to burst open into the starry white
flowers which look so beautiful against a blue spring sky.
I'm greatly entertained each morning at the moment by one or
other of the pair of grey squirrels that include my garden in part
of their range. When I come down for my first cup of tea, one
or other is invariably hopping around in a very theatrical
Beatrix Potter manner just outside the kitchen window. They were
very much in attendance in the spring, absent for much of the summer
and now they're back again.
a large old walnut tree at the end of the garden which is the great
attraction for them, as are the large containers that I have holding
plants I'm growing on because I haven't decided where to
put them yet or I'm saving for future gifts or raffle prizes
(I always seem to get asked to donate one or two by some-one). These
container plants provide the ideal medium for the squirrels to hide
their nuts in. For ages I thought the disturbed compost was blackbirds
looking for insects (maybe it is as well), but mainly it's the
squirrels. It's a minor inconvenience compared to the pleasure
that I get though. Not to mention the pleasure and exercise the
dog gets as she spends much of her day running up and down the garden
following their arboreal procession at ground level and making the
most peculiar noises in the process in a hope that they'll come
down and fight.
The garden has just passed by what was its worst time of the year.
Early to mid February is a pretty miserable time really, I'm
sure that's why Valentine's day was put there to try and
add some brightness to the gloom. No new growth to speak of, the
evergreen leaves that there are, are looking pretty bashed about
by winter winds and the frosts of which we have had many - and deep
ones too. If you've had much heavy snow you may well have some
damage to branches weighed down, even split or evergreens split
through the foliage by the weight of resting snow.
But just as the proverb says "The darkest
hour is just before dawn", so here we are only two weeks later
and there are loads of buds forming on shrubs. Some of the more
enthusiastic ones in my front garden have an all-over bright green
bloom when seen from a distance. Daffodils are growing in earnest,
many of the flowering spikes are at the point where the bud goes
from growing vertically to turning to face the crowd ready for the
grand entrance. In more sheltered spots daffodil flowers have been
out for a while now. My indoor hyacinths are now coming to an end,
just one particularly magnificent bowl of four pale blues left,
so the outdoor ones are starting to push up their flower spikes
to take over the show.
I am so glad that I took the time to plant
up some pots and bowls with hyacinth bulbs last September. It
seems such a chore at the time and particularly when there are so
many flowers around providing instant gratification. The idea of
planning for a distant display when there is already so much around
at the time makes it far easier to sit in the sun with a good book.
I'm now looking forwards to my 2 huge bowls of oh-so-elegant
pink and white lily flowered tulips to come. Like the hyacinths,
they'll be weeks ahead of those outside, longer lasting than
cut flowers and far bigger and better than the smaller bulbs planted
in too-shallow bowls that you can buy all over the place. Mine are
mostly in deeper plant pots or similar containers. The extra root-run
downwards seems to translate directly into extra flower spike height
(and so more flowers) upwards.
I must also remember to go and cut some branches of pussy willow
catkins to put into a vase, they remind me doubly of spring,
of spring now, and of the spring time when I too was in my spring