Tag Archives: Horticulture

Walk Out To Winter

It doesn’t seem like five minutes since we were all baking in what felt like endless heat. The summer was one of the hottest on record. Here in York temperatures in the high twenties and low thirties became the norm. It made for some challenging working conditions at times even if  I rarely had to don the waterproofs, grit my teeth and battle on through the rain.

The good weather continued into autumn and I started to feel I was going to make it to Christmas without too many occasions where I resembled a drowned rat.  The last few weeks of mild, wet weather have quickly put an end to that thought.

So with December finally here I’m enjoying the end of term feeling even if I’ve got jobs in the diary right up to the Christmas.  I get more time to catch up with my admin, read some gardening books and blogs and do all those jobs I never get time for in the summer.

Winter isn’t a completely dead season in the garden. There’s a lot going on out there. There’s even some colour to be had.  My camellia is flowering already, my  Clematis cirrhosa var. purpurescens ‘Freckles’ is covered with flower buds.

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The Cosmos have only just exhausted themselves after a late summer and autumn of hectic flowering, there’s a rose or two hanging on here and there, likewise a few lavatera flowers.  The hellebores are looking primed and ready for their moment in the precious February sun, green tips of  snowdrops are poking up here and there.

If you’re in need of an urgent colour injection there’s plenty of winter pansies and cyclamen around in garden centres/nurseries/ supermarkets.  Winter pansies in particular always impress me. They look so insubstantial and a little frail but put up with everything even the most extreme winters can throw at us. They issue their challenge to weather in yellows, white, purples and reds. Dot them around your garden like season long Christmas lights.

Planning ahead you might want to consider planting a patch of winter flowering heathers or a Japanese Quince. Sink the corms of winter aconites in a spot beneath a tree, likewise snowdrop bulbs.  Mahonia with their in your face yellow flowers shine like a beacon in the darkest months, the stems of dogwoods stand out against the grey.

It’s really hard to predict what the winter will have in store for us. This time last year the few days we spent in Newtondale by the North York Moors Railway line was crowned with the white stuff.WP_20171203_14_00_21_Pro 4

And it was still snowing when my Spring diary began in March.  If the early days of Winter set the tone for what’s to come then we can expect mild and wet.  Different winters present different challenges not least in a city where the water that falls in upland areas  and turns peat black has to pass through on its way out to the sea.

Whatever the winter has in store it’s a good time for gardeners to put up their feet a little and congratulate themselves on a job well done.  It won’t be long until there’s barely chance to draw breath again as the seasons roll relentlessly on.

 

Dallying with dahlias

I haven’t grown dahlias this year for the first time in ages. It’s just a case of space, my borders are all but full and my pot collection really doesn’t need to get any bigger.  As September pushes on I’m sort of wishing I had.

This is definitely their best month.  They’re South American sun lovers  who like to bake and need a long summer before they finally give you their all.

A few of my clients grow them and it always amazes me just many flowers they produce. As long as you keep deadheading on they go, sometimes right up to the first frost.

They’re one of those plants that really inspire dedication. In the past this probably helped contribute to their once unfashionable image. They were the preserve of allotments and old boys who turned over their entire gardens to rows and rows of dahlias.  One of my client’s comes from a mining background and he recalls the competitive dahlia growing competitions that were all part of local life.   The advantage of growing dahlias on an allotment was the availability of space and fertile soil. They’re related to the potato and like their edible family they like to spread themselves below ground.

These days dahlias are more often than not grown among mixed perennial borders where given a bit of consideration and good soil preparation they can be quite happy. They really come into their own at this time of year.  They can help enliven a border that is pushing past its best, a hidden gem that has been biding its time until there’s less competition.  If an Indian Summer kicks in then dahlias really do enjoy their moment in the sun. They make a fantastic cut flower for late in the season too.

In these northern climes it’s wise to lift them before the frosts.  Give them a quick brush down, allow them to dry for a couple of days and then store them somewhere warm and dry.  An alternative approach is to plant the dahlias in pots and then move the pot into the greenhouse.  This has worked well for me in the past, meaning they’ve developed new growth in early spring before they’ve been planted out.

There’s a vast variety of dahlias. As a general rule the simpler flowers are better for pollinators than the more complex pom-pom and water lily varieties. In my mind there’s nothing much that beats the old favourite, Dahlia ‘Bishop Of Llandaff’, with its brilliant red flowers and black foliage.   If local episcopal pride is a concern however you might want to go for its orange flushed, yellow flowered cousin ‘Bishop Of York’.

We can probably overlook the fact there’s not an actual Bishop Of York.  Everyone knows York has got an Archbishop.

Not all avenues are Acacia avenues (and and not all acacias are acacias)

There’s been strange goings on in Heworth this summer.  While gardeners and the plants they look after have been wilting in the heat some things have been quietly preparing for a bit of a show.

Take this incredible, eye-popping acacia for example. It’s not one I look after, but has sat for decades in the garden next door to a client’s producing lovely foliage, losing some of its new growth each year in the winter frosts but otherwise not doing much else.

Then for the first time that anyone can remember it’s flowered. Not only has it flowered it’s entirely transformed into a mass of soft yellow sweet pea like blooms that cascade to make a beautiful canopy.  The whole tree buzzes with bees who probably think they’ve just arrived in heaven. There’s a reason why Acacia Honey sells at a premium.

I’m unsure as to the variety. I’m fairly certain it’s not the more common Acacia dealbata or mimosa which is a relatively common sight in English gardens. I’m currently trying to get an ID and will of course report back when I get the definitive answer.

I’m also waiting for the seed pods to appear so I can nab a few and attempt to germinate some of my own.

Acacias are native to Australia where they are often known as wattles and grow practically as a weed. After Eucalyptus they’re one of the most likely forest species to be found in those sun baked parts.  They’re also common in the Mediterranean where their foliage is often used by florists. They require lots of heat to put on such a good display as this one which really does underline just how extraordinary the first half of our summer has been.

The reasons the flowers look pea like is because they’re part of the legume or Fabaceae family (as too is wisteria) as too is the Robinia pseudoacacia which as the name suggest goes around pretending to be an acacia when it actually isn’t. There are a few giveaway clues that mark them out, the shape of the leaves being one of the most obvious.

That said, should someone come back and tell me that this is indeed one of those pretend acacias acting up I’ll take this news in the correct manner and chalk up a bit more hard won horticultural knowledge.

 

A year of extremes

Working outdoors I’m perhaps more aware of the weather than most. My ‘summer timetable’ began on the tail end of The Beast From The East’.  Usually in March there’s enough glimpses of sunshine to complement the first flowers and to suggest that Spring is well underway. This year it was cold, the ground was sodden when it wasn’t frozen and working in it was sometimes a challenge. But you plough through the worse of March knowing that April will bring some sunny days, shirt sleeves and better weather. This year it didn’t. It was still cold well into the middle of the month and at times it felt like it would never stop raining. I lost count of the number of times I came home looking like a drowned rat.  I remember talking to clients about the similarities with 2012 which was famously wet and cold throughout.  There were weird goings on elsewhere however with the London Marathon being run in the middle of an unlikely heatwave. The Met Office this year has had to issue warnings for serious snow, flooding and heatwave.

May began with a continued wet theme  before the weather began to settle into the dry and increasingly hot pattern we’ve seen over the last few weeks.  My plans for this blog post were originally going to include something about helping your garden to cope with the lack of water but that now feels superfluous following the Biblical deluge we’ve had over the past few days.  Organisers of summer events who were gleefully anticipating perfect conditions for this weekend just gone were instead tethering down gazebos or issuing cancellation notices.

It’s hard not to think that something is going on.  It is, but perhaps not quite how we imagine. The weather in March was actually not particularly unusual for that time of year we’ve just adjusted to milder winters.  The earlier arrival of Spring across the Northern Hemisphere is a well-established phenomenon, and one that has been linked to the changing climate.

What’s happened over the past few weeks, not just in  the UK but globally however is much more alarming for climate watchers. The planet is getting hotter. There were times over the past couple of weeks when places in the Arctic Circle were as hot as southern Spain. The consequences for communities across the globe have been clear to see.

In our own country we might not face quite such extreme consequences (but the people living near moorland areas that have been ablaze recently might disagree) but a warming climate will have profound consequences for how we live our lives, not least how we garden.  Should dry hot summers become the norm lush lawns will become a thing of the past, some of our much loved plants which thrive in a temperate climate may have to become history replaced by tougher sun lovers.

Now thankfully I’m not spending as much time watering as I have been and the ground is thoroughly soaked.   As older born and bred Yorkies have been telling me over the past few weeks we’ve never had a hosepipe ban in York as our water comes from the rivers Ouse and Foss but you can’t help but worry about indiscrimate use of water on our gardens.

We might be a nation that obsesses over weather but this year has given us much to think about. I really wouldn’t want to predict what the second half of the summer into autumn will have in store but I do know that we all need to make changes to prevent unavoidable climate change becoming a global catastrophe.  It’s one very big reason why I’ve elected to be a cycling gardener rather than a man with a van.

 

Happy New Gardening Year !

New-Year-1 As the year turns I always start to anticipate the gardening year ahead with a sense of excitement.  Each year invariably brings new clients , new gardens, things to learn, plants to get to know, dogs and cats to meet and miles to put in on the bike.

Before that though I’ve some time this week to do some work in my own garden. It often gets a little neglected when I’m flat out gardening during the summer months. What I’ve discovered is if I start the year fully on top of it then I stand a better chance of it staying that way as the year progresses.

Being passionate about wildlife gardening I can get away with a slightly shaggier look, but the abundant perennial style of planting I love does mean it can sometimes get carried away with itself.

This week I’ll be planting a Ribston Pippin apple tree and under planting it with a selection of bulbs.

When it’s dank, dark and dreary outside this is definitely the time of year to start imagining what your garden might look like in the summer. Anticipation of what’s to come is one of the great pleasures of being a gardener.