Friday, 30 November 2012

The coming winter

I’ve just been out to the shop, not particularly interesting news in itself but it’s only seven o’clock in the evening and already the ground is starting to sparkle with the approaching frost. I know it’s December on Saturday and in no way should I be surprised by the falling temperature but after the year we’ve had it seems odd to have weather that actually matches the season. A warm winter last year followed by a short spring, wet summer and autumn make for an unsuspecting entrance to sudden frosts and freezing air.

In the garden it’s important to take the changing seasons seriously, now is the time to prepare the plants for a harsh few months whilst giving wildlife every chance to weather the winter and be ready for the spring next year. If we’re really going to be having the bitter cold the forecasters are currently predicting then certain steps need to be taken to ensure the garden is ready and able to survive it too.
For example, when cutting back herbaceous plants as I was today it’s a good idea to leave some of the old growth proud of the ground, say four or five inches worth should do it, this helps protect the younger leaves and buds sheltering down at soil level. I already have daffodils beginning to spear through the ground and rudbeckia sending out new leaves, the possibility of winter damage is high and will mean a stunted garden come next March when we’ll be beginning to look to the next display.
In most cases what’s good for the plants is also good for the wildlife, leaf litter left on the beds will helps insulate the soil and prevent frosts going too deep. True the beds need to be checked for too thick a leaf course and if you know you’ve cyclamen or similar trying to push through it’s advisable to give them a helping hand plus there will be slugs overwintering under the leaves but so will ground beetles, hedgehogs, frogs, toads, centipedes and all sorts of creatures we gardeners welcome come the warming spring sun.

Importantly when out and about at this time of year bear in mind that we could well be in for a tough, cold time ahead and though you may be spending a lot of it inside warm and cosy the garden will appreciate any help you can give.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Garden cowboys

There’s a sad and cautionary feel to the blog today, for this is the tale of men, trees and a nurtured garden who met one fateful day and didn’t get on.

There is a garden I’ve grown to know, after six years of tending the earth and plants I feel I was really starting to make a difference; and then the men turned up. I was away at the time but I knew they were coming to do the trees along the front drive, a mix of ash and sycamore between thirty and forty years old that had many limbs hanging precariously over both the drive and pavement. To be fair to them it’s a tricky site, a steep slope, crowded vegetation below and lots of ivy but little did I realise the drama that was to follow.

Earlier today I received a phone call from client to ask if I wanted any of the wood that had already been felled, during the conversation the feeling that all was not right soon began to take over. Upon further questioning I discovered that the ‘tree surgeons’ had done one day so far and were coming back to finish today but on top of this were also, to quote my client “making one hell of a mess”. It became apparent that these were not the experienced aboriculturists we’d been expecting. So after work I went to visit the garden and see what had been done so far.

Decimation. It was a wood massacre. Bits of tree lay everywhere, across beds and borders, cleaving parts of the hedge in two and just thrown into piles wherever handy regardless of whether plants were currently occupying that space or not. In one place all you could see was a mess of ivy and through that the huge bulk of two large two foot wide pieces of sycamore trunk, the last time I’d been there I know a rather beautiful holly (Ilex ‘Silver Queen’) had been growing there. It was the same all over the drive beds, plants had been trodden on, squashed, crushed, broken, smothered, etc.

The men have since 'done a runner' with the job half done.

I myself am still traumatised by it. The work I’d put in over the last six years ruined, I’m sure in a years’ time this may well have a silver lining, a chance to re-plan a difficult area and start again, but with Christmas so close and the pressure on to get all my gardens looking presentable for family visits and socialising I’d going to be hard pushed to have this area looking good again before early summer, let alone the end of next month.

Take from this what lessons you can. There are many garden jobs that people will say they can do for a quick cash in hand payout, all it takes is a van and chainsaw and you can legally call yourself a tree surgeon. It’s always worth checking for knowledge and experience, the courses and qualifications are there for a reason.