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Thursday, June 13, 2024
GardeningFebruary in the Garden 2012

February in the Garden 2012

According to past statistics February is often colder than January. This winter so far has been very mild, especially when compared with 2010/11, so a cold snap this month would actually go some way to evening things up a bit. The fantastic flowering and fruiting last year demonstrated that plants perform best with a hard winter and warm spring. I’m worried that if we do not have a spell of sub-zero temperatures then pests and diseases will get the upper hand in 2012 and plants won’t have had a decent period of winter rest to gear up for brilliant blooming.
I had a wander around my garden the other day, doesn’t take long, noting what was in flower which really shouldn’t be. The oriental hellebores are often cited as flowering in winter but usually don’t get fully into their stride until March; right now I have a deep purple seedling in full bloom, with at least a dozen flower spikes, and it’s been like that since Christmas. Also, it’s brethren are similarly into their stride, which is at least a month early. Ok, ‘winter flowering’ species may be expected to take advantage of the mild winter to make an early start, I could also cite; primroses, violas, Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’ as being particularly precocious.
What is weird this year is that I’ve never seen candelabra primulas in actual bloom in January! Likewise that ‘Chelsea Flower Show’ stalwart, Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum’, flowering with numerous spikes of reddish pincushions, is about four months too early. Plenty of roses are also in bloom. This is unusual as one or two my have the odd bloom in December but to have a selection to choose from in January is remarkable. One of the most overlooked plants, but ideal for border edging, Liriope muscari, is still brandishing spikes of purple bobbles on every plant—simply unheard of.
All this unseasonably mild weather at least means that gardening won’t have been held up by weeks on end of impossibly bad weather. Time to get ahead with all that border tidying, feeding with organic fertiliser and dressing with a weed suppressing mulch before herbaceous plants are awakened from their slumber. It’s a bit contentious but I like to add a very light sprinkling of slug pellets, if it remains mild after mulching, because reducing the mollusc population now, before they start multiplying exponentially, means that I can often get away with no more slug pelletting for the rest of the season.
Talking of getting ahead of myself; sowing hardy annuals in module trays and placing in coldframes, or in a very sheltered spot against the south side of the house, means that I’ll have a few bedding plants to plant out before their heat dependant cousins are tough enough to venture outside. Continuing to sow under glass, and pricking out / potting on, will give a succession of new plants to populate the garden and containers as things warm up. Order and plant up, in generous containers, some lily bulbs if you haven’t done so already—you can’t have enough of these exotic, yet tough, crowd-pleasers.
In a hard winter February is often cited as being the best month to plant bare-rooted specimens as they won’t be sat in frozen, or waterlogged, ground for as long as they would be if planted out at the start of winter. It means that the grower takes the risk with the stock and not you. The downside is that there is a chance that very unusual plants will have sold out by now; this isn’t really an issue with common hedging, or ‘woodfuel’, stock which is the mainstay of bare-root planting as far as I’m concerned.
When it comes to existing hedging and shrub plantings then major trimming or pruning needs to be completed soon because birds will be exploring for spring nesting sites so it’s best to curtail any disturbing gardening activities before they get their home building underway. I have hedges ranging from old and established, against the road, which get regularly ‘lorry pruned’, to ones which I’ve planted within the last few years. I cut these hard back for the first few seasons in order to promote branching at the base.
Once they have produced a lot of low down twigginess I let them grow up, a foot or so each year, until they reach my desired height. The emphasis here is on ‘my’ desire as I control how high and wide I want my hedges to be. Don’t let them dictate to you as, before you know it, they will be out of control and out of reach. In fact the maximum height of anything in my garden, which needs to be kept in check, is the height of my tallest pruning platform plus how far I can safely reach with the hedgetrimmers. I am going to have to put this into practice with an experimental bonsai-ing of my Wellingtonia tree because it’s now reached the required height, to blot out an undesirable view, and I don’t have room for it to grow into adulthood (they get to 300ft in the wild!!!).
Like many plants in my garden I grow it for a reason, we had an avenue of them at school, and every time I see it I remember my trip to ‘Madrona Nursery’ in Kent from where I purchased it having interviewed the owner. Nearby I have a couple of ‘special’ snowdrops, currently in flower, which a friend of mine from college days, also in Kent, sought out for me. Every time they bloom, a few more stems each year, I think of the times spent nursery visiting with Wendy and also those afternoons, in Wye, listening to ‘The Lilac Time’ and scoffing cake. A gardens is far more than just maintenance and rules; it is a part of life and something which I cannot imagine being without.

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