My Gardening Month February 2024 … Snow drop time blink and you miss them !

Early February is snow drop time and for about two weeks we get to enjoy them and I love the flowers as they are the first signs of Spring and each October I buy and plant about a hundred bulbs and while I used to buy the usual supermarket packets, these are tiny bulbs that struggle to survive and for the last few years I buy proper big bulbs in the garden centres that cost a bit more but flower the next year and get bigger every year .

Front Garden 14th Feb 2024

Of course the real snow drop fanatics , galantophiles they are called after the latin name for the flower , will organise bus tours to stately houses where there are huge massed displays of snow drops … some spend huge money on specialist bulbs and these are snow drops that have a little streak of yellow in the petals and two years ago a UK breeder sold a single bulb for 2000 euros , a new variety of snow drop known as Galanthus plicatus or Golden Tears .

No golden tears for me as I prefer the simple white variety and the best way to increase stock is just after flowering to lift and divide an established clump and replant immediately in a process called “ in the green ” and I do this every February  and both clumps will thrive and this method is much more reliable than dry bulbs in the Autumn .

Snow drops “lifted in the green ” ,Front Garden 20th February 2024

There is a larger version of snow drop called snow flake , same flowers basically but blooms two weeks later and a much larger leaf and while not as graceful or as dainty as the snow drop but still useful to have and again easy to propagate by just driving a spade through a clump .

Snow Flakes , Front Garden , 24th February 2024

The daffodils are still flowering

Daffodils , Lower Field area, 19th February 2024
Daffodils, Front Garden , 28th February 2024

February is also the time for Camelias although our soil does not suit them and I have no real success with them . I see camelias in other people’s gardens and they are fabulous when they grow well with dazzling blooms and really healthy glossy evergreen foliage but they need dry peaty soil … our three camelias produce flowers but never seem to grow bulkier which is a pity as they are a beautiful woodland shrub .

Camelia , Front Garden , 12th February 2024

The extra hour in the evening in February is a godsend and I find I can get a lot of extra impromptu work done … I say impromptu as often I get home from shopping at 4.30 pm and the temptation is to head indoors however that extra hour of daylight is enticing .

I started pollarding the golden willows in February which is early  for me as I normally like to enjoy the yellow bark as long as possible to the end of March however last year the cutting back work really piled up so earlier works better … it is a hard job for the first few years to pollard the willows into a nice head on top of one leading branch but worth it as the colour is added to in winter by the architectural shape of the single branch otherwise willows left unchecked grow into a tangled mess .

Pollarded golden willows , Water Garden , 19th February 2024

And on the subject of pollarding I do wish people would stop hacking silver birches in two just because they misjudged the height they can get to … it really is horrible to mutilate such a gorgeous tree and the latest example is in my home town of Clonmel where the local municipal garden division has gone crazy  .

Mutilated silver Birch , Prior Park , Clonmel , 2th January 2024

The reason to grow silver birch is of course the beautiful bark in the winter

Silver birch in the Front Garden , 29th February 2024

Amazing where and when inspiration can occur like this morning when showering outside ( yes I know we are both still mad ) I saw an area in the herb bed beside the shower where three bare rooted silver birch should do very well so this afternoon I headed over to Cahir and Mary Skelly’s Garden Nursery for some more bare rooted trees to add to the group I got last month … about another window of four weeks left to plant bare rooted trees .

No it is NOT heated !

Back Garden shower , 9th February 2024

I also bought some bare rooted field maples , acer campestre , a native irish tree that has done well here in the past and these along with the ten new silver birch will be planted in the wild meadow .

While with Mary I picked up a nice Bergenia with ruby leaves which was a big specimen that I was able to split when I got it home and potted up four new plants that will be ready for planting out by the end of March .

Bergenia divided and ready for planting out , February 9th 2024

I am a great fan of Bergenia and love it’s tough as old boots look but it is evergreen and  hugely reliable in all soil and aspects and it carries nice flowers in May … not a front row perennial but a great filler in any border .

Dead easy to propagate , just snap off a leaf with a bit of root attached and pot it up or even plant directly into the soil where you want it to grow and I always have six or seven pots of Bergenia potted up .

Regular readers will know that while using the common name of trees and shrubs I also add the latin name as what is cotton lavender in Ireland and the UK will be known as something else in other European countries so it makes sense to call it by it’s latin name santolina … using latin names drives Snezana mad as she regards it as the height of pretension and always threatens when asked the name of a plant in the garden to use Uxi Coxi Japonica , the first two letters of the Finnish language coupled with Japonica as she reckons nobody would notice ?!

What’s in a name you may ask but of course if you are from North Macedonia the very use of the word “ Macedonia ” will drive most Greeks mad as the feel they and only they have rights to the word Macedonia while in my own country nationalists always use the words “ the North of Ireland ” instead of the official Northern Ireland as nationalists , myself included , regard the North as part of a united Ireland stolen by slight of hand by the British in 1922 .

Sometimes of course the plant breeders can for market purposes change a name and this happened to me this week when Lynda in Clonmel Garden Centre showed me some bare rooted whips of a shrub not known to me , salix eleagnus it was labelled so I passed on it but later reading up on it at home I saw that it was previously known as salix rosemary , an american prairie willow which is not like other willows in that it likes dry conditions , a gorgeous shrub with beautiful silver grey leaves which has done very well for us here over the past ten years … today I planted ten of this very beautiful shrub .

I had no spot in particular in mind for the salix rosemary and just wandered around with them in the wheel barrow and stuck them in randomly in dry areas that I thought had the space for them to grow and where they would look good in a few years time … proper mindless gardening on a lovely early Spring day !

February Colour in the Garden

Heleborus , Front Garden , 19th February 2024
Front Garden , 16th February 2024

A unique political event occurred in Belfast this month where for the first time in the 100 year history of NI a  catholic nationalist was elected First Minister and there is no doubt with this historic step we are heading for a United Ireland within the next twenty years .

The Brits have never allowed a former colony of the British Empire become independent without first either sowing the seeds of civil war or leaving a UK leaning party in place .

The crux of the problem is of course the Protestant Unionist population of Northern Ireland who are direct descendants of the original landlords and settlers who arrived from the UK in the 17th century to take over land illegally seized from the Catholic owners who were then expelled  .

I am sure the British Government are sick to death with the situation and would love to exit NI and would welcome Irish Unity but how to do it without being accused by the Unionists , who always support the Conservative Party in British Elections , of abandoning them .

The Water Garden area is getting wetter and is saturated by February

The Water Garden , 16th February 2024

I like many others love watching Monty Don on Gardener’s World especially when he effortlessly digs out a shrub for planting somewhere else  and the soil  is a crumbly dry mixture and the shovel goes in so easily and the plant slips out so easily … we all believe the myth knowing that an assistant has prepared the planting hole a few hours previouslyand lined it with beautiful earth !

Lovingly created for his TV audience and nowhere near real life of course like today where I planted up seven silver birch and two field maples  and the earth was water logged and the spade came out of the ground with a sucking sound … just once in my gardening career I would love to have TV soil !

Nothing upsets people more than the mention on of Round up and recently I answered a question on FB from a garden beginner on how to deal with a planting area infested with weeds  

“We all have had similar problems and basically you have two options either continue hand weeding or spray with round up which you apply after removing all planting ”.

And of course there was a deluge of angry comments ranging from please don’t use round up to allegations that I was poisoning the environment !

I knew when I mentioned round up it would get all the tree huggers out ! If you have a small few metres infested well fair enough keep weeding and hoeing but anything larger will break your back and you need chemical assistance and I find just the lightest of spraying with one pass will catch everything like scutch / couch grass .

As gardeners we are obsessed by weeds but if in our climate we approached it differently we would see the architectural look of dandelion , docks and nettles but they need to be controlled due to their invasive nature .

Where round up is concerned I use it carefully and only when absolutely necessary which in my case is every month on the gravel paths throughout the garden otherwise I would need three people with spades to do the job and then I use it once a month in December to February throughout the shrub and perennial beds when all other vegetation has died down … tree huggers always throw the baby out with the bath water where round up is concerned !

Hand weeding is great for wellness and it is very satisfying to grab hold of perennial weeds by the roots and while it is time consuming it is absolutely necessary to stop couch / scutch grass and my pet hate , creeping buttercup from taking over any patch it gets out of control in .

Macedonia with the OSCE Mission 1994

When working in Macedonia in 1994 / 1995 our OSCE role was to monitor and report on breaches of the international sanctions regime imposed on Serbia during the war in Bosnia to stop fuel imports for the Milosovic Belgrade regime which was an impossible task as the entire frontier of Serbia is land based where smuggling was and still is a way of life for hundreds of years with thousands of small lanes and rough trails criss crossing … I am convinced to this day that when two Balkan countries agree a land frontier crossing they also arrange at the same time for unofficial ways  to bypass controls .

This photo was taken in November 1994 by a colleague Torben Henriksen  on the Kosovo border where the La Jone trail entered Macedonia and which was used daily by smugglers transporting millions of litres a month of fuel on mules .

Macedonia , La Jone Trail on the border with Kosovo , November 1994

We had discovered and monitored this particular route on a regular basis and had to be careful as the Serbian mobile border control units were aggressive and would like nothing better than to grab a few of us for some in depth “ questioning ” .

Fuel smuggling on the Macedonia / Kosovo Border December 1994

I liked to leave the patrol jeep and walk in for about a mile when things were quiet and observe any movements on the Kosovo side … I would only ever take one observer with me on such walk abouts and that was Torben , a Danish Customs officer and tough as nails character … Mission HQ unofficially knew about my little walks across the border but reckoned that while I could talk my way out of any situation , Torben would be able to fight his way out of any dodgy situation !

luckily we never had to call on  either quality and all we ever met were very friendly Kosovar Muslim mountain village people eager to talk about the Bosnian war and the hard economic situation .

Sadly war was to come for these villages five years later when Serb forces swept through these valleys in April1999 and over a million people were expelled in three months of ethnic cleansing .

Shay Healy “ What’s another Year ”

I watched a docuementary in February , a rerun actually of a programme RTE broadcast when Shay died earlier last year and I was reminded of a visit he and his Family made here to see the garden back in 2016 and sadly since then both Shay and his wife , Dymphna , have died .

Shay Healy and Dymphna , Back Garden , 16th April 2016 . RIP both .

It was early April 2015 and I wrote about it a few weeks later

“ Shay Healy visited the garden with his family a few Sundays ago and wrote about his visit in his weekly column in the Irish Daily Mail under the heading “ Garden shelter from the storms of life ”.

Shay is a legend of Irish show business over the past forty years and wrote the winning song in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1980 with “ What’s another Year ” and his interviews in Nashville with such country stars as Tammy Wynette are available  on YouTube . I grew up with Shay Healy on Irish television and in 1990 his TV show , Night Hawks , broke a political story about phone tapping political journalists which brought down the government at the time and precipitated a General Election … so it is fair to say that Shay has been there , done that and it was a real treat to host him here . Shay now is a voice for parkinson’s disease from which he suffers  but he is a fighter and does not let it interfere with his zest for life or his enthusiasm for wild gardening and I was delighted at the way he used his description of the garden in his subsequent column in the national press to weave a personal story  … and as someone commented to me on reading the story he really caught the spirit of what we have set out to achieve here in the creation of the garden ”.

Shay Healy article in the Daily Mail , April 2016

Visitors to the Garden February 2024

Blue Tits ,Back Garden , February 2024
Young stag , Back Garden , 18th February 2024

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