Yes January can be a tough month to get through with gloomy daylight , post Christmas blues , shite weather … need I go on ?!
When I titled this Thank God etc. it reminded me of a time Snezana and I were in New York and really hungry this particular evening we passed a fast food chain called TGIF which neither of us had heard of before … we don’t get out much … in we go and order almost everything on the menu , chips, burgers , onion rings , you name it we loved it … our waitress , a small black lady had to work hard to keep up to us … afterwards I’m waiting for Snezana to come out of the loo and our little waitress stopped in front of me to chat to another waitress … never noticed me , we all look the same to them too … and she says MAN THOSE HONKIES WERE HUNGRY !!
A few months ago I cut back hard a so called dwarf viburnum ,variety Evelyn Price , in the front raised bed that had grown a bit bigger than planned and it was now blocking a nice view out to a multi stemmed silver birch in the front garden however as always with a hard pruning of any shrub there is a risk that cutting back hard into old wood can damage the shrub and the viburnum died … this week I dug it out and planted what I hope will be a better behaved replacement .
So with a replacement shrub in mind we paid our first visit in 2024 to Clonmel Garden Centre on January 3rd and made a selection for the replacement in the front garden raised bed , a combination of bulbs , perennials and shrubs . First up was the main centre piece , a dwarf hypericum , St. John’s Wort , which will grow to a maximum one metre square but which can be easily maintained by hard pruning each Spring … one of my favourite shrubs , ever green leaf and prolific yellow flowers from May to September . The main criteria here is not to obscure or take away from the multi stemmed silver birch in the background .
I NEVER plant anything , tree , shrub or perennial for flowers alone and all my planting has to have good bark or leaf colour so the next plant in was a hosta for the front of the raised bed, a variety new to me , Blue Vision , an oldie bred in the US in 1976 but it was on a 50 % sale and worth a go and one which should do well in the shade of the raised bed . I dug in lots of compost and coffee grounds to give it a good start … I had planned a large green leafed hosta for the bed when the new hostas are in stock in early May but these are grown on and forced under glass to attract the buyer but are too high through forcing when they go on sale with the result that their first year in the ground is not great but this hosta has overwintered in the open so should hare off when it’s growth starts in early April and the coffee grounds apart from being good for the soil are said to be good against the dreaded slugs which love hostas .
I finished off by pairing this hosta with an evergreen cream leaf hellebore augustofolio and underplanted with some cyclamen bulbs for autumn flowering and crocus Jeanne D’ Arc for spring flowering .
Also on the bargain bench I picked up four pots of another over wintering hosta , Golden Meadows , all at half price and again new to me but reading up on it I see it is related to me my favourite sieboldiana hosta Elegans and is big leaved with a mixture of green and gold . The reason these hostas are on sale is that they will be slow to come into flower unlike the forced ones and people are reluctant to buy them as they look pretty scrawny against the forced varieties which are huge in comparison .
I had one hosta growing in a pot in a shaded part of the front garden that I planted there last year after the deer ate it to the ground in early May however it grew back well by July which is unusual for hostas however but I decided enough was enough in that location so transferred it to a small pot that was idle but because the pot wasen’t very large it had little impact so I decided to match up a few spare pots solely for the extra hostas and make a group of five , raised some of them on bricks to vary the look and they look good already !
Job done , the first in the garden for 2024 and it got me out in miserable January weather !
We were lucky enough to have ten consecutive days in early January with frosty blue skies and dry weather and I got a lot done but more importantly it got me kick started again in the garden and today I planted two bare rooted quinces , variety Vranja , that Lynda in Clonmel Garden Centre sourced for me .
Bare rooted trees if you can get them are cheaper and would actually have more of an established root system than the usual container grown specimens and grow on more easily from Day 1 as the roots have not been constrained artificially as is the case with the potted versions from where they have to break out of first but also rightly so you are limited with the size of a bare root tree as the trees will be around a maximum of five feet and generally now the garden centres only sell hedging and fruit trees bare rooted and with bare rooted you have a limited window of November to end of February whereas container grown can be planted at any time .
Mary Skelly in Kilcoran Garden Centre is always a great source of bare rooted trees from December onwards and unusually she has a wide variety of native Irish trees available and this week I bought ten silver birch whips , three golden willow and two viburnum opulus whips , all bare rooted and four feet tall which is the perfect size and all are destined for the wild garden field where the plan is eventually to have a small woodland of native trees , no conifers just a mixture of oak , silver birch and various others which should be great for wild life … hopefully the deer will leave them grow otherwise venison steaks will be on the menu big time !
Gardeners are the eternal optimists and as I dug the planting holes today I was filled with the same sort of expectations I get every time I plant anything be it tree , shrub or perennial visualising what they will look like … forgetting of course that a lot of things can conspire against you such as wrong place , water , wind but in this case today with the quince trees it was dodgy optimism as these same planting holes contained the remains of two cherry trees that we planted just two years ago and THE DEER ATE THEM BOTH ! Still I feel we have a chance with the quinces as the deer have never gone after them in the garden apart from the odd branch here and there .
Same procedure as with all trees I plant , dig out a hole big enough to take the roots and hammer in a support stake that the tree will be tied to … next a good layer of compost then a couple of spoons of the granular slow release fertiliser , then line up the tree and spread out the roots , stamp the earth down firmly and finally a good layer of wire mesh around the base of the tree as protection .
I always try to end any work in the garden with a sit down for ten minutes in what has become a favourite spot looking out over the water garden facing the setting sun … another sin we gardeners are guilty of … not taking time to smell the roses .
File this next paragraph under did you know ?!
A single mature tree can be home to as many as 326 different birds, mammals, insects, lichen, ferns and fungi and OK you may say as I generally do f..ked if I care about lichen and fungi but studies have found that those who see trees every day show reductions in stress levels by up to 30%. Even looking at leafless trees in the Winter has been shown to have positive psychological impacts and increased relaxation .
And now it is official you can wash your silver birch trees with soapy water to shine and bring out the white bark colour better in the winter months and over the years I knew one or two gardening friends who do this however I thought it was a bit fussy but this week the Royal Horticultural Society announced that it does this in it’s winter show gardens in London but even so I don’t see myself giving it a try for our silver birchs .
Ground cover plants are fabulous for covering areas in the garden however when and where do they stop being useful is a question all gardeners have to make up their minds on and where do ground cover plants just become a weed that needs to be controlled . I often praise vinca minor, the old fashioned cottage garden periwinckle but you need to be careful that it only covers the areas you want it in otherwise vinca can swarm if conditions are right .
Irish gardeners are pretty unanimous that butterbur , latin name patasites and also called winter heliotrope , is a noxious weed but UK gardeners are OK with it considering as I do that it is a very useful ground cover with good leaf and flower … where I have it is an area of gravel over poor soil it self seeded in and it just stays contained but I transplanted it to the new footpaths in the Lower Wood a few years ago and there I have to hack it back regularly .
Wikepaedia is quite kind to butterbur and highlights it’s medicinal use against migraine
Butterbur has been used for over 2000 years to treat a variety of ailments including fever, lung disease, spasms, and pain. Currently, butterbur extract is used for migraine prevention and treatment of allergic rhinitis, which have the most evidence for its effectiveness.
While the Royal Horticulture Society praises it as ground cover but with a warning
Butterbur and winter heliotrope are useful ground cover plants and an early source of food for bees. However, their spreading habit means they can become a weed in garden borders.
We have an area in the Lower Wood that I pass almost daily and which has been a bit of a weed ridden eye sore built up from silt dredged to create the new water garden two years ago and an area that we have got used to walking by but in January I finally did something about it .
The area around our laneway used to contain several stone quarries that were in use up to a hundred years ago and as a result all the fields that make up the garden contain stones of various sizes that over the years I have used for dry stone walls and paths . I first built a small path in front of the mound then added a small wall around the mound with concrete paving slabs walk to allow entry to the water side and added a pot moved from another part of the garden … I will plant up with geranium ground cover and add bulbs next autumn .
New raised bed ready for planting 30th January 2024
Monty Don I have always liked as a garden writer and TV presenter , he has strong opinions and is not afraid to express them and pisses off people in the garden hierarchy of the Royal; Horticulture Society on a regular basis … this week he had a go at a word he hates “ horticulturist ” and those who call themselves horticulturists and it is a trend I have noticed myself that is creeping into the UK and Irish garden scene where people instead of stating they are gardeners are now more and more referring to themselves as horticulturalists and at the back of it all is pure and simple snobbishness because they who generally have a piece of paper stating they attended classes on horticulture for two years and generally consider themselves a better class than mere gardeners !
In my book if you are enthused by plants and keen on being outdoors weeding or planting , be it a patio , a balcony or a huge estate makes no difference you are a gardener . There is a mistaken view that you need to have “ green fingers ” to succeed with gardening , not at all as it can be learned through trial and error and asking for advice be if from a book , Google or Paddy or Kathleen down the road who always seems to have nice flowers in the front … just have a go !
Colour in the Garden in January
Not a lot to be honest as there is very little in flower at this time of year but the silver birch jacquemontii really come in to their own with almost luminous white bark .
This is where primary colour pots and benches are useful and since Snezana introduced me to the joys of blues and reds in the garden twenty years ago I have embraced my inner Andy Warhol !
Enthusiasm in the Garden in January
At an all time low and there is little enthusiasm in gardening in January to be honest unless you are in out of the elements in a green house !
Typically I try and get out for at least for 90 minutes each day which then as I get warmed up and realise there is no Guardian Angel to bring me indoors , I lengthen to two hours and my favourite time and one that works for me is to get out of the house at 3 pm and work until it gets dark and apart from feeling virtuous I get quite a bit of work done .
I find the key is to dress up warmly and vary the tasks and keep moving such as like today when I dug up a self seeded young oak and transferred it to the wild area as well as a viburnum that was planted in a pot in a newly cleared area last year but hasen’t done well … then moved down to work on the new area in the Lower Wood where I had some tidy up grouting to do on the rock paths … then on the carrot and a stick basis I felt able to indulge in some reading and TV for the rest of the evening !
Any self seeded oak or silver birch are moved into the wild area as the deer don’t seem to go for these trees and I try to keep the couch grass and weeds away from the base to give them a good start for the first few years … a task I don’t pay full attention to I must confess however today I gave them a good scrubbing out and later will go over the base with weed killer .
None of my kids are interested in gardening so I never had anyone to ask me what did you do in the garden today Dad and my own Father had no real knowledge of gardening to pass on but he was inventive the time as an earnest ten year old I asked what did you do Daddy in WW2 in the Irish Army … was in a tank was the reply which to a ten year old mad about Dell comic books with their Donner und Blitzen style writing in the 1950’s was exciting and I dined out on his story for years among my peers in St. Mary’s school until in my late teens and now keen on technical warfare details asked him what type of a tank was it Dad … a water tank and I was painting it … I know I know … should never have asked !