PUTTING YOUR GARDEN TO BEDAli Barwani
The first hoarfrost in the garden is always the most beautiful, even if it signals the creeping hand of winter. Although we have had some icy nights the weather hasn’t lived up to the more alarmist predictions published in the popular press.
The mildness of the season means that I still have the occasional rose coming in to bloom in my garden, and the tub of Pelargoniums by my back door remains pretty colourful. So if, like me, you haven’t already taken any steps to prepare your garden for winter there is still time to help your tender favourites survive the cold that is yet to come.
The first to go
You have probably noticed that not all tender plants are as sensitive as others. By now you will have seen which plants suffer the most when the thermometer drops to 5⁰C and below.
Among the most susceptible exotics are basil, cosmos, and tobacco plants – these were the first to turn black and die after the first frost. They are simple to deal with: just pull them up and put them on the compost heap! Then simply either sow some fresh seeds in spring to re-establish them, or wait until the summer bedding packs return to our tables.
Other tender plants can survive our winters by losing their above ground growth to the early frosts, and surviving as underground storage organs.
Cannas, dahlias, zantadeschias and gladioli over-winter like this.
The safest way to deal with these is to lift the plants from the ground using a fork (or shake them out of the pots in which they have been growing in) and store the roots, rhizomes or corms in a cool but frost-free place where they can remain semi-dormant over the winter.
However, if your soil is very free-draining (especially if you have improved its drainage by digging in plenty of horticultural grit), then after removing the top growth, you can cover the roots of cannas, dahlias, zantadeschias and gladioli with a thick layer of mulch and wait for them to reappear next year.
Pelargoniums (commonly called geraniums) can be treated in a similar way, lifting the entire plants and storing them in a semi-dormant state in a frost-free place over winter.
It’s a wrap
Tender plants that are too big to lift from the ground, or are in pots that are too large to bring inside, can be warmly wrapped in horticultural fleece and protected in situ.
We stock rolls of Tildnet Fleece Cover (£4.99 for 1m x 20 m roll) that can be cut to size as required. This type of fleece (as used by commercial growers) has a number of advantages: it acts as frost and insect barrier; reduces moisture loss; is breathable, and it enhances growth.
We also stock Haxnicks easy fleece jackets. These come is 3 convenient sizes at £4.99 each pack: SMALL (pack of 4 – width 60cm x height 80cm); MEDIUM (pack of 3 – width 80cm x height 100cm); and LARGE (pack of 2 – width 120cm x height 180 cm).
Plants covered in fleece need to be regularly inspected in case water gets trapped under the wrapping and causes rot. Covers need to be removed during longer periods of mild weather and replaced when frost threatens to return.
To clear, or not to clear? That is the question…
Making up our minds as to whether or not to cutback and mulch hardy garden borders in winter can make us seem as indecisive as Prince Hamlet. Like the Dane’s dilemma there are both pros and cons.
The areas that you want to shine in spring will need clearing, such as places where you’ve planted spring bulbs. It is also a good idea to remove any floppy, rotting growth that looks unsightly.
However, there are several good reasons not to tidy and clear up most of your herbaceous plants until March. The dry leaves and twiggy growth provides frost protection for the plants below, and gives shelter for insects and other invertebrates. The seeds and berries remaining on your plants will act as a larder for the birds during the toughest months.
The Winter Garden
Piet Oudolf, the leading light of the New Perennials landscape movement certainly doesn’t think that gardens should be tided up and forgotten about until spring.
This new gardening movement believes that shape and texture in plants are equally important as colour, and the Dutch designer, plant nurseryman and author holds that a garden should be designed for the whole year so that we get to feel the complete lifecycle of nature. He wants people to appreciate the beauty of plants even after they have finished flowering.
Mr. Oudolf has designed many gardens, both private and public, around the world. One of his most celebrated commissions was for the High Line in New York, an inspirational series of gardens built on a former elevated freight line on the West Side. At the High Line the dead leaves, flower stalks, stems, seedheads and berries are deliberately left to be seen throughout the winter – both for the benefit of wildlife and for the pleasure and beauty it gives to the visitors.
Lets celebrate the joys of winter in the garden!
Winter gives us the privilege of discovering the underlying natural architecture of our gardens. It is an opportunity to contemplate the bones of your design. Winter permits us to see the rhythms of the plants that lie hidden beneath the covering leaves and flowers.
There is as much beauty to been found on a winter’s morning contemplating the frost-rimmed tracery of stems and seedheads of the borders as there is the height of summer flowering – you just have to lay down the secateurs and observe.
Winter light in the garden creates its own magic, with soft shadows and warm glows cast in the evening by the setting sun. And frosty mornings reveal an icy winter wonderland where every dead stem, blade of brown grass and cobweb has been festooned with tiny pearls and sprinkled with glitter. Freshly fallen snow is most magical of all, transforming the garden with its magical beauty. So don’t forget to enjoy your garden this winter, bur remember to wrap up well before wrapping your plants!