After the usual Christmas over indulgence in eating and inactivity ( OK if you insist on the truth … slumped by the fire watching back to back editions of Strictly come Dancing ! ) it was good to get back to the normal day to day routine of a working gardener again and first up was a cutting back of decidous trees at the front and side of the house . It was a job I had been postponing for a few years and one I remembered each summer under the heading should have cut those during the winter !
A few common sycamores and some variegated ones were fairly scalped by Peter and this will allow some extra light to flood in while adjusting the scale of the other trees inside the front wall and overall give a more balanced look ….. nothing was wasted as a trailer load of blocks for the fire was collected together with the shredded wood from branches which will go on to the perennial beds as a mulch and of course the trees will grow back into a more cropped pollarded shape .
The sycamores to the boundary side of the house were doing nothing for the garden apart from blocking out light and had become too top heavy while those to the front had simply grown too high behind the front wall which they now dominated and the overall effect was out of scale .
This type of pruning is fine with common sycamores and the tree will grow back all the better for it but I would never prune for example a silver birch like this as in my view it mutilates the tree and the tree is never the same again …… pruning of silver birch is best done gradually while the tree is young where you cut back the main growing leader and this produces a nice goblet shaped tree , nothing drastic as silver birch is always a lovely tree at any height and one which never dominates .
We shredded what was left over after cutting down the trees and I carried over twenty trailer loads to the lower garden where I used it as a mulch in a boggy woodland corner where I haven’t had much success in getting anything to grow ….this should partly dry up the ground and as it is under deep shade I intend to transplant various native ferns into it and then will finally mulch again with well rotted leaf mold which Snezana bagged up two winters ago and hopefully this will provide an ideal growing medium for the various ferns .
Now that the beds are set up it has transformed that corner and I may extend the planting to include hostas as the banked sides give a nice effect and I will keep topping up this area with grass cuttings and anything else organic that will improve the soil while drying it out .
I regularly stress the need for colour in the darkest months of the year .
Valuable colour can be imported through brightly painted garden furniture
Even old car registration plates from when I worked in Bosnia can add interest to a corner
I don’t go in much for flowering shrubs or plants in general but this raised bed of vinca has been flowering non stop since late November … you can also plant a variegated version but it runs all over the place and looks a bit brassy so I only plant the plain variety now and it does particularly well in shady locations and having a glossy evergreen leaf it also looks well when not in flower .
January in the garden or at least facing into some work in the garden at this time of year is not pleasant but someone has to do it ! For the next two months I will be concentrating on pruning back the golden willows and replanting the cuttings as slips ( I plant in fives and usually have a strike rate of three out of five ) , some of the willows will have got out of hand to about the thickness of a wrist and these I will cut hard back with a saw .
January and February are good months to spray for weeds around the base of deciduous tree and shrubs as there are no leaves to hit and I also dig up and replant any off shoots of bamboo or small trees such as some three year old golden alder which seem to have sprouted a small forest ….. these if left unchecked could hamper the growth of the main tree but hopefully digging them out with as much root attached as possible will also give me some small rooted specimens of alder to plant out elsewhere in the garden .
On January 2nd My first planting of 2015 was a group of cornus elegantisimus , the silver variegated leafed dogwood which is probably my overall favourite plant as it performs so well all year round and a eucalyptus for a shady area of woodland where the juvenile glaucus green leaves will light up a dreary area .
I also use this January period to move plants that have not been performing well in their original location as well as planning to fill gaps in the borders with new plants . Like all large gardens I have areas where due to either poorish soil or water logged conditions it is difficult to get plants that will thrive and in these areas I try and see what does well and increase these plantings .
For me it is heavy water retentive soil that is most challenging and it is all about trial and error over the years to get plants or shrubs to do well in these areas and a simple thing that works for me is to dig out a deep border edge which can take a surprising amount of run off surface water and this drains away enough water to make the difference between water logged soil and damp soil and this in turn has allowed a variety of plants to do well …. what also I find makes a difference is to throw any grass cuttings , shredded wood etc. into these areas ….. it is a constant battle field out there !
The water garden on New Year’s Day 2015
Reading back over the previous page you would think I am positively enjoying this first gardening of 2015 …. but truth be told I would far prefer to be indoors by the fire watching the January wind and rain sweeping across outside but there is a touch of masochism in every gardener and January brings out that side in me !
While mainly I feel we have enough pots in the garden , of course there is always room for another one and this rams head pot that Snezana spotted and fell in love with in Glenconnor Garden Centre is so ugly it has a strange beauty …it is also huge …huge and ugly and more in keeping for the front of a Downtown Abbey type of castle rather than here with us … apparently the pot arrived in Glenconnor by mistake with another order and rather than go to the expense of shipping it back the supplier told Chris that he would leave it go at half price ….. ugly , huge but at a knockdown price .. what a combination but somehow it works !
Now this is what I call a pot ! This giant we came across at the archaeological site of the ancient Greek city of Aphrodisias in Turkey and it is 2400 years old dating as it does from 400 BC .
This week has been about cutting back , digging out and burning of brambles from an overgrown area in the lower field that I intend to reclaim and I managed to clear an area of four metres by ten metres which will allow a substantial new shrub area in a woodland setting .
We have a fundamentalist jihadist type of bramble that can throw out runners of up to thirty feet in an attempt to take over the garden and it is a constant battle for years after the original clean up operation to stop it sending up new shoots .
This is an area on both sides of a water drainage channel which at this time of year when the sun follows a low path almost never gets direct sunlight due to a copse of conifers directly in front so I intend to plant predominantly evergreen variegated shrubs such as eleagnus limelight and maculata , variegated holly , some eucalyptus and perhaps a golden bamboo as this will give colour in December / February when you really need some colour to lift that area …. and the deer don’t eat this type of shrub which is a big consideration in the design .
I read Diarmuid Gavins autobiography over Christmas , having bought it three years ago on publication but just got around to it now …. not at all what I expected knowing the shock jock type brashness he is known for through his garden designs for the various TV garden makeover series over the past fifteen years and he comes across as shy , insecure and strangely enough only happiest when he is digging and planting in the garden . Gavin is famous for his Chelsea Flower Show gardens which went over the top in bling bling shock and awe type design and divided opinion in the garden world between the traditionalists who hated his designs and the upwardly mobile types who wanted a garden to impress the neighbours but who had little real interest in gardens .
I didn’t like his TV designs and thought they had no real lasting effect but I admired his style and sheer chutzpah in giving a two fingers salute to the establishment old fuddy duddies who run the Royal Horticultural Society ! Having moved on from the shock effect Gavin is now a highly sought out designer of gardens all over the world and for the past year has been renovating a large garden in the South of France once owned by Nureyev .
I have bought his books on garden design together with the collaborative effort with Terence Conran and they are full of ideas and great designs .
I spent a day with Diarmuid a few years ago at the Dublin Botanical Gardens during the making of an RTE radio programme and was blown away by his depth of gardening knowledge and his sheer love of gardening ….. the book is a great read although towards the end it veers towards luvviedom in describing the celebrity lifestyle he moves and works in … highly recommended .
And while on the subject of TV Gardeners , Diarmuid Gavin is always watchable but his designs strive to shock and provoke controversy which makes for good TV … but for real gardening Monty Don is the best TV gardener by a mile , calm but passionate about plants and you can learn a lot from him , Rachel de Thame is again always watchable and readable in her gardening articles in the Sunday Times but I can’t help feeling that because of her looks ( which in fairness she never tries to promote or take advantage of ) is not taken seriously which is a pity as she is a good TV garden presenter . Toby Buckland is a disaster , trying too hard to be the common guy but who comes across as condescending while Carol Klein I can’t stand as she tries to be uber friendly and that always laughing tone makes my teeth grate and I would imagine that the real Carol behind the fake banter is one tough cookie ! Alan Titmarch is hugely popular and is genuinely knowledgeable and by all accounts a really nice guy …. I never watch him now as I find his regular access to the UK Royal gardens such as Buckingham Palace and Highgrove for television programmes makes him sound like a reverential royal kiss ass .
What we tend to forget in darkest January is that in less than eight weeks time gardens will be facing into their loveliest period with bags of colour from the spring bulbs and shrubs … none more so than the euphorbia … my favourite is the variety wulfeni characais and what a fabulous architectural plant it is and more amazing is that it does as well here in Ireland as it does in its native habitat around the mediterranean where it is treated as a weed … it does better in dryish stoney ground and self seeds here throughout the gravel areas and I transplant it all over the garden where I find it does well in semi shaded conditions …. in summer you have to prune out the woody flowering stems after their spring flowering and the new stems are already forming at the base … ignore regular pruning and the plant will die out however one minor drawback in the pruning is that the cut weeps an acid which can burn if not careful .
Two articles in last weekend’s Daily Telegraph gardening section grabbed my attention with headlines dear to my heart …. how to have a weed free garden and the second was on introducing predators to the garden to eliminate deer !
The basis of the weed free garden was to use a mulch around plants which is nothing new and something I do anyway with grass clippings but it ended up admitting that constant weeding was continually necessary and digging out individually all deep rooted perennial weeds such as dock , couch grass , dandelion and thistles … and finally that really the only permanent solution was spraying with a glyphosphate such as round up ….. again nothing new and an article which was totally useless .
Apparently there are predators for deer which could be reintroduced in the UK & Ireland but in a second useless article this concluded that the three best predators were the brown bear which also has an unfortunate tendency to eat people , wolves which also love to eat sheep and the Eurasian lynx which is also partial to some nice lamb … so none of these will be introduced any time soon !
I took this photo from inside the house last summer looking out on the back garden and these deer were quite brazen at 10 am in the morning and if they will come so close to the house in the daylight you can imagine the traffic through the lower garden further away …. the moral of the story is that you never know what is looking at you from the shrubbery but at least it is not a brown bear !!
Finally finally a Happy New Year to all !