Here in Ireland and the UK we regard February 1st as the first official day of Spring and I brought that thinking with me when I started to work in the Balkans which amused my local colleagues in Macedonia and Bosnia no end as generally there would still be two feet of snow outside the office window especially in Sarajevo where the snow and ice could continue until at least the middle of March .
The 1st of February in Ireland was and is marked as Saint Brigid’s Day , a shadowy figure in Ireland’s early Christian history that in my schoolboy days nothing much was known about but back in the day Saint Brigid was a woman so nothing much of value to know about in those macho all male Catholic dominated Irish times !
But boy has all that changed and this year for the first time Saint Brigid’s Day was named as an official Bank Holiday , a day off for everyone with parades and festivals in every town across Ireland in honour of Brigid and the Lady herself has been reincarnated as a roaring strong warrior standing up for women’s rights and the LGBT community and not only that … Brigid’s existence as a pre Christian Goddess has been highlighted and the evening parade I watched in Clonmel had ecstatic dancing mature ladies all face painted in runic colours with a definite pagan feminist air !!
Great to see and I can only imagine what the Bishop’s of Ireland thought … cute enough though to keep their heads down and not criticise as well they might considering how they kept quiet through all those years of clerical abuse of the children of Ireland .
For me the first sight of Spring is when our weeping willow in the front garden shows it’s first golden leaves .
Spring in Florida has it’s own problems !
Most Garden Centres kick into life in February and shelves start to be filled up with new shrubs and plants and since Brexit happened Irish growers get almost all their imports from Holland and none from the UK … poor growers there have only Boris to blame for this loss of trade . I always preferred UK imports because England has such a rich and historic garden history whereas I always get the feeling that Holland will chase the latest trends for pure sales .
The Dutch are master growers though and I am a great admirer of their agricultural growing capability be it lettuce or apple trees but all will have that standard uniform look with little individuality … individuality is exactly the quality you don’t get from the English plants and you can see that the growers there give that extra bit of higgledy piggledy love whereas the Dutch product is conveyor belt stuff .
My first trolly load of 2023 was sourced in Clonmel Garden Centre , all bare rooted and great value and destined for the new wilded area in the Lower Field , two decent sized small trees , viburnum opulus , the snowball tree plus a hazelnut and three copper beech … they all should do well in the wet ground of the new area and while all are deciduous in the winter , come Spring they all have lovely leaf foliage .
Last month I wrote about the loss of a beautiful but weather tender three year old purple cordyline in a pot at the front of the house which was killed by the frost in January and said this was the last time I would buck the system of Right Plant Right Place … there really is truth in the old maxim of one born every minute or better still while in the cliché mood , no fool like an old fool … and a new purple cordyline found it’s way into the consignment of new plants !
February is great for the first Spring flowers such as snow drops and daffodils but it is still a bit early for anything else to flower which is why we should all plant more vinca , a perennial olive green trailing ground cover plant . There are two vinca varieties , vinca and minor , which refer to the size of the leaves , personally I prefer the smaller leaf and both varieties have a huge amount of pale blue delicate flowers with the bonus that it will flower continually from early October straight through to early May . Vinca is terrific to cover an awkward mound or even a neglected shady corner , needs no special pruning , will tolerate deep shade and in fact prefers more shade than sun .
There is a variety of vinca that is variegated but I find the colour a bit brassy and it can grows stems up to three metres but with leaves only at the end of the stems so it ends up looking like spaghetti . I don’t use it in the garden now but it is useful as background in a pot outdoors if you keep it pruned hard although I remember when I planted my first ever garden in Rosslare back in the late 1970’s I though variegated vinca was the best plant ever but then I overused it in every planting area and got bored of it’s unsubtle colours and like flared trousers it went out of fashion for me !
Vinca does best in woodland or near trees , bees love it and today at dusk in mid February it was covered in wild bumble bees while covered in flowers that stopped you in your tracks . It is not a shouty plant but the combination of dark olive leaves with pale blue star shaped flowers makes it a winner in my book .
Last Month I wrote about visiting Carl Wright’s garden in Co. Clare which I described in my June 2015 post at the time . Carl is a nationally well know garden writer and lecturer and we were delighted to welcome him here at our garden a few years ago .
Carl was kind enough to write about us later
“ I recently took a little trip to visit a few gardens in Co Tipperary. Including the incredible creation of Michael & Snezana O’Riordan, – Petrovska Garden. It is a wild, unique and interesting project covering around seven acres of very wet woodland/bogland. Michael has created a series of wooden walkways & paths, mostly raised above water, which wind their way around the natural wilderness bringing you into intimate contact with the natural surroundings here. It’s like an adventure through some primieval swamp and has an almost alien & mystical like feel to it. The journey is puntuaced by little ‘garden spaces’, glades, borders, stunning water features and architechtural features here and there to add to the interest. The garden is open by appointment and all the relevant details can be found on their FB page .”
Spring bulbs in the February Garden
When buying your Spring bulbs in October splash out on bigger bulbs be it miniature daffodils such as tete a tete or snow drops … especially spend a bit more on snow drops and don’t be tempted towards the ones on sale in supermarkets as with snow drops you get what you pay for i.e. your normal packet in a garden centre with ten bulbs will cost twice as much as your average supermarket snow drop which typically has 25 tiny bulbs . Better still with snow drops if you can buy clumps “ in the green ” which are only occasionally sold in garden centres but have been dug up immediately after flowering .
Snow drops are not great value for money as they last barely a week in flower , blink and you have missed it but the lift they give you in the gloom of late January / early February is worth it .
Better value all round is the snow flake , Leucojum vernum , but it blooms about three weeks later and is basically a larger snow drop , same type flowers but it blooms for about four weeks and the foliage makes a nice impact .
The thing the snow drop has going for it and the reason it is much loved is the earliness of it and the daintiness of the clump and I have to admit that although the snow flake is very pretty it is very butch compared to the petite snow drop .
Don’t be disappointed if your bulbs don’t perform like those in other gardens as all sorts of things can impact on their growth such as if they are planted in deep shade , too wet or too dry conditions … just move them next October or lift them after flowering , leave the foliage on to dry off then replant in May . Bear in mind that those displays in garden centres and stately homes have been from the best stock and have been planted by professionals in prime ground and as for tulips not coming back every year … they don’t and most gardeners replace tulip bulbs in pots every year as tulips are notorious for not coming back like a bad lover !
What brought on all this reflection you may ask , well I was looking around our front garden this morning where I have planted most of our bulbs and certainly they are getting fewer and the clumps are getting weaker looking … so replace is on the cards next October .
A question I am often asked is when and how to prune and there is a lot of fear out there about pruning with a lot of people wondering if they will kill the plant . In my experience the only plant you might kill by pruning is lavender and then only if you cut low down into wood where there is no growth and in that case the plant won’t regenerate .
Most pruning fears refer to roses and basically pruning these should be just above an outward facing bud away from the centre of the bush in late February / March with the cut being made six inches above the ground . There have been hundreds of specialist books written about rose pruning and enthusiasts take huge care and that was me until a few years ago when I got rid of roses entirely due to black spot and white fly … if you are fussy and have lots of time and just a few roses to prune each year well off you go and take all the time you want however bear in mind that a few years ago the Royal Horticultural Society in a rose pruning trial at their Wisley HQ outside London approached two lines of roses … one was pruned in the old fashioned precise way while a hedge cutter was taken to the roses in the other line and they were whacked unceremoniously to the ground … a few months later both lines bloomed with no difference between them … rose growing can be made into a sacred ritual if you want and have the time !
Otherwise a simple way to look at how to prune is that a small bird should be able to fly straight through the middle of a tree or shrub so the aim is to clear out all branches that grow inwards across the shrub . The next step is to cut out any branch that is dead or diseased and after that you can cut for increased growth by cutting low on branches with the cut always above a bud or you can cut to shape a tree or a branch …follow these steps and you won’t kill it .
Sometimes you prune in order to shape a shrub or tree or even to open up a view as I did here a few days ago with a viburnum tinus which had partially impeded a view from inside the house towards a multi stemmed silver birch and what is nicer on a dull February day … a drab looking viburnum or a beautiful white stemmed silver birch … easy choice and the viburnum will recover .
February pruning of the Golden Willows in the Lower Field
We have finished the pruning of the golden willows but it took two to three hours every day throughout February and we chopped and collected over fifty barrow full of wood kindling for the wood shed and these will be dried and ready for us next Winter . Stacking wood is a learned art and I learned from the best in Bosnia … Snezana has no patience for stacking wood and takes the view of just throw it in there and if they fall they fall however as the actual wood cutter with a chain saw here she reigns supreme in our garden !
The new Water Garden area
The new Water Garden walkway in the Lower Wood area was discovered two years ago by chance when what started out as a simple bramble clearance operation with a digger discovered water just beneath the ground and we kept excavating down to the marly sub soil about a metre deep and eventually shaped out a small stream and pool and since have I been trying to establish planting that will survive both the deer and the clayey soil with the deer proving to be the worst obstacle as immediately they overnight ate the first silver birch , a beautiful snow white jacquemontii and they next moved on to the hostas and ate every one of them plus unusually for deer they then ate all the emerging shoots of the summer flowering bulbs … raises a laugh when you read this I am sure but apocalypse now is heading for those f..kers !
Now will the deer eat what you might like them to eat … not a chance as for example they won’t touch rushy reeds which would be useful as those rushs have now turned out to be a real problem . The new area proved a haven and natural home for clumps of rushes which at first I allowed grow along the new paths as there was nothing else there and they looked good with a nice architectural shape . I cut them back for the past two years and learned to live with them however they just grew and grew everywhere among the new planting so last week decided apart from one or two clumps the rushes had to go .
We all like to talk about natural gardening and letting our patches grow wild but there is a limit to wildness and I am drawing it now on rushy reeds !
The Garden , February 2023
Pity Gaziantep and it’s poor people after the horrific earth quake in February with over thirty thousand people dead across the entire area and God love these people who survived and have lost everything . Like Ukraine it is the poorest who suffer most and the reconstruction aid that is being pledged by the richer EU nations will be siphoned off as it always is by the political cartels and cronies and I well remember attending the first big donor conference in Sarajevo after the Bosnian war in April 1996 and how little of that money filtered down to the people who had lost most .
Let’s hope that corruption has eased since those days in Sarajevo twenty seven years ago but I doubt it .
Gaziantep is on the ancient Silk Road sited on a tributary of the Euphrates river and the entire area is steeped in history from the 1500 BC period to the present day . Before the earthquake it was famous for it’s Roman mosaics and the most famous is the 2000 year old Gypsy Girl of Gaziantep which we were lucky enough to see in our visit in 2015 .
RIP Rebecca Hunt
Over the years of visiting Kilcoran Garden Centre there was always a smiling welcome from Rebecca Hunt and all in the gardening community were very fond of her . Sadly Rebecca passed away in mid February , we all knew she wasen’t well these past few years but she was a fighter right up till the last and will be sadly missed by all of us .