Date: 3 December 2001
Originally published in: Prima (UK)
Written by: Kim Wilde
Don’t be put off by inclement weather, there’s still a lot you can do in your garden at this time of year, says Kim.
1. protect your plants from frost
Container-grown plants are more vulnerable to frost than those in the ground. Even hardy shrubs like skimmias may need protection in frost-prone areas. If you have placed a container in an exposed position and it’s too heavy to move, wrap it in bubblewrap, newspaper or hessian sacks.
Early flowering daffodils are star performers in late winter and stand up weIl to harsh weather. Planted in Autumn, Narcissi ‘Peeping Torn’ and Narcissi ‘February Gold’ are two varieties that flower profusely over a long period (eight weeks), and will naturalise weIl in the ground. Place them in pots outside, near the kitchen window so you can enjoy them over a breakfast cuppa. I place a variety of small terracotta pots on an old wrought-iron table and plant dwarf bulbs, including irises, crocuses and snowdrops, to get the New Year off to a dazzling start. Plant bulbs with evergreen foliage, preferably with ye1low or cream variegation, such as ivy or thyme – try Hedera helix ‘Golden Ingot’, Osmanthus heterophyllus or variegated thyme (Thymus serpyllum ‘Goldstream’). Vulnerable wa1l shrubs, such as ceanothus, fremontodendron or Garrya elliptica may need protection.
Frost has its benefits, though. It’s most welcome in the vegetable garden where it will break down clay soils, making the soil much easier to work with. Frosts can also kill off a build-up of garden pests.
Tip: Place small containers in a sheltered spot close to the house for warmth.
2. Prevent snow damage
The main problem with snow is its weight, which can misshape shrubs and hedges, or even break branches. Heavy falls of snow should be knocked off the branches before damage occurs. However, snow can also provide some protection against low temperatures and chilling winds by insulating smaller plants, acting just like a winter blanket.
Tip: Shape hedges so that they slope towards the top. Flat-topped hedges can split under the weight of snow.
3. Keep the wind out
Wind can scorch plants in hot or cold weather, causing toliage to wither and turn brown, not to mention battering, or even knocking plants over. In milder coastal regions, leaves that are tough and leathery, such as Griselinia littoralis and Escallonia macrantha provide a good evergreen barrier. For colder, inland temperatures choose from yew, Berberis darwin ii, pyracantha, Prunus laurocerasus and Prunus lusitanica. Deciduous shrubs such as beech are often planted for hedges as they can hold onto their tan leaves through the winter.
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), hedge maple (Acer campestre) and hazel (Corylus avellana) make excellent natural hedges, as well as providing a home for local wildlife.
Try to plant a deciduous hedge before the end of February to give the plants more time to establish their roots before the summer.
Tip: Hedges are the best protection, allowing the wind to filter through. Wind hitting a solid barrier causes turbulence.
4. Learn to love the rain
‘It’s good for the garden,’ I often hear myself say, on yet another rainy day. Rain is one of the most important life forces in the garden, but, like all good things, too much can be a nuisance. If plants are exposed to prolonged periods of waterlogged conditions, the roots may die. In extreme conditions, if your garden is constantly saturated, it could be time to invest in a proper drainage system. If you have heavy clay soil, you could improve conditions by digging in plenty of grit and organic matter. A bog garden could include a wide variety of beautiful plants, such as Astilbe, Gunnera star manicata, Primula denticulata and Rodgersla aesculifolia.
Tip: Take advantage of a saturated environment by planting moisture-loving plants.
5. Grow a scented winter garden
A cold, still winter’s day can be punctuated by delicious scents. Top of the list is Christmas Box (Sarcococca), which provides vanilla-scented flowers on glossy, evergreen foliage. Plant as ground cover or as a smal! front of border shrub near to a path. Bring a few cut sterns inside to fill a room with fragrance.
Daphne laureola (spurge laurel) is grown for its glossy, evergreen leaves and also has clusters of small, honey-scented flowers in late winter. Daphne mezereum has a profusion of pink flowers borne on bare sterns in winter and grows well in woodland conditions.
Also try Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’, Hamamelis and Lonicera fragrantissima.
Tip: To get the full benefit of a scented shrub, always plant at the front of borders.
Wonderful indoor flowering plants
Although there’s lots to do in the garden at this time of the year, it’s nice to bring some colour inside with attractive house plants. Garden centres are brimming with pots of winter colour. Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) has hot pink flowers – miraculously, the plant starts to flower when daylight hours lessen.
The elegant peace lily (Spathiphyllum wallis ii) has a double treat of glossy dark green leaves, which are attractive in their own right, and elegant white flowers. It’s trouble free. African violets (saintpaulia) produce beautifullittle flowers. You can have a display every year by taking cuttings in autumn.
1 Take healthy leaves as cuttings, making a clean cut with a sharp knife and leaving about 2.5cm of stalk. 2 Dip the cut end of the stalk into hormone rooting powder or liquid. Plant two leaves, back to back, into a potting tray with moist compost. 3 Cover with a clear polythene bag. Keep in good light. When grown, divide and pot up individually.
Things to do in January
- Have a good tidy in the garden
- Tie young trees securely to protect from wind
- Protect vulnerable plants from frost
- Prune the climber wisteria
- Plant bare-rooted shrubs and trees
- Sow onion seed indoors now for best results later
What’s in bloom
- Helleborus niger ‘Potter’s Wheel’: The Christmas rose displays flowers in the depths of winter.
- Skimmia japonica: This evergreen shrub has berries well into winter. It loves shade.
- Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ (witchhazel) brings welcome scent by way of unusual coppery flowers on bare branches.
- Erica carnea ‘Springwood white’: This white flowering heather makes for good year-round ground cover.
Q: My garden path gets slippery, from fallen leaves, and slime in wet weather. I’m afraid someone might slip. What can I do?
A: Try using one cup of Soda Crystals, diluted in one pint of warm water. This should break up the slime and, with regular use, stop it coming back. Vou can buy them in supermarkets, tor around 7Op for 1 kg.
Garden to visit
Royal Botanic Garden, 20A Inverleith Row, Edinburgh EH3 5LR, tel.: 0131 552 7171
This garden boasts 70 acres of prima plantings. Open all year – except Christmas and New Year’s Day – 9.30 am to 4 pm in December and January. Free.
I love these pretty Daisy Aqua Sure gloves, 1.99, from Town & Country, made from washable, coated cotton. Call 01530 830990 or visit www.townandco.com for stockists.