The Guardian’s popular gardening columnist Terriesa Torode makes a welcome return
This time of the year in the garden many beautiful and stunning plants are flowering or are about to flower. Most people think of summer for flowers but pretty gems can be found hidden amongst shrubs, lawns and in backdrops to borders.
One particular stunning shrub is the Hamamelis or Witch hazel. The scent is sweet but slightly musky but the flowers usually festoon every twig and branch in acid yellow, burnt orange or dusky maroon.
A perfect example of a specimen shrub. It does require ericaceous compost or plenty of peat when planting. Other than that it never usually needs pruning so it’s a perfect plant for positioning where you can appreciate its glory in the middle of winter. Garrya elliptica, Lonicera x purpusii and Sarcococca hookeriana are also beautiful and the last two are heavenly scented; worth bringing a twig or two into the house. On the ground Snowdrops are flowering in their perfection and Eranthis hyemalis brightens the show with vivid yellow cup like flowers.
Over the years I have collected and planted many Hellebores and now each year these wonderful plants flower in a huge range of colour, height and foliage. So, take a walk in the garden and see what is budding, what is flowering and if the flower is on a shrub, lean in for a sensory overload of delicate perfume.
I will repeat some of these quotes for those of you new to this gardening column and some of them will seem like old friends to us who have read and understood them. So enjoy!
A garden is a delight to the eye
and a solace to the soul.
Gardening adds years to your life,
and life to your years!
JOBS TO DO THIS WEEK
Now for us seasoned gardeners this particular job is often done before Christmas but it can be done quickly now for best results. Look through a seed catalogue and decide which vegetables or flowers you will be growing this year. If you do not have a seed catalogue then on paper write down what you grew last year, what was successful and what was not. What vegetable tasted delicious, what did you enjoy eating? Was there a lot of work involved, did the cold late spring affect the growing of a particular vegetable? A vegetable plot should be planned out so there are four distinct sections. This is for crop rotation which I will explain over the coming weeks. So get in early for your potatoes, onions and seeds even if they do not need sowing yet, it’s better to have them than to leave it late and find it difficult to obtain some of your favourites.
Organic matter and horse manure:
I simply cannot say enough on this subject. Soil is the most important subject one should learn about when wanting a beautiful garden or a successful vegetable plot or an abundant fruit crop. If you look after the soil, the soil will definitely look after the plants. So if this job has not been done in late autumn then make headway now.
Either empty compost bins if the compost is rich, dark brown and crumbling or source well-rotted at least three year old horse manure or if you have full leaf mould bins then use this material. Do you have a large vegetable plot? If so you will need a substantial amount. Ideally lay the humus material at least four inches deep, more is better of course but at least you will be improving the top layer of the soil and adding important macronutrients to the soil.
By adding organic matter to the ground you are increasing the nitrogen level which in turn is very important as it in turn helps plants by stem development and the production of chlorophyll. Also plants tend to grow very well in the perfect PH level which is neutral. That is to say not too high in alkalinity or too low as in acidic soil. By adding compost from your bins to soils that are high in alkalinity the breaking down of this matter releases soft acidic nutrients and brings the alkalinity down, much better for plants and the same occurs the other way, improving and stabilising acid soils. So get the gloves on and wheel barrow as much material onto your beds, plots around trees that you feel that you can do.
Apples and pears:
These should have been pruned by now. If not remember to always sharpen your secateurs and keep on spraying with disinfectant to prevent disease from getting into the hundreds of wounds you are making whilst cutting away. Aim for an open shaped tree, do not prune heavily because this will produce many laterals and no fruit. Take a four year programme of removing badly diseased branches or stems out not all of them. Never cut back hard on the stems this too will have an effect on the trees by producing many side branches that will swamp the tree in years to come. After you have finished and all stems and branches taken away, never left near the tree, this will infect pruned tree place a barrow of well-rotted manure around the base and in the spring top dress with potash which encourages more flowers thus more fruit.
We have had a mild winter so far, dismal yes but mild and the weeds have been growing steadily away. Try and select a small section of garden and weed thoroughly when the day is mild. Keep on tackling small areas in readiness for the spring when it seems that every weed decides to grow in your garden! It’s a boring job that no one seems to like and I have actually grown to love this job now. By being on my own with nobody to disturb me I can secretly watch the birds, listen to the rustling going on around me, feel the warmth of a sudden clearing of the clouds. I now weed sitting on an old bag but I can still fill up many barrows in three hours. I usually stand and fork out tenacious weeds for example Dock and Thistles. When the ground is clearly seen, wheelbarrow lots of organic material over the weeded bed. You can add fertiliser or wait ’til mid-March.
This is the removal or reduction of parts of a plant or tree and vine that are not needed for growth or production or are injurious to the health or development of the plant. Sometimes a plant has grown in a strange shape or towards the light, pruning can be accomplished to make a more satisfying shape overall of the tree.