Friday, January 25, 2008

Plant of the month - January

Pyracantha 'Saphyr Jaune'

These little jewels have been cheering up my garden since last autumn. Pyracantha can be the only really bright colour shining through the dull months of winter, and they're all the more welcome for that. The birds have snaffled the red and orange berries already - I have P. 'Saphyr Orange' and P. 'Saphyr Rouge' planted along the same fence, and they're meant to mix 'n' mingle, but the yellow is all that's left. No complaints here, though - I'm just grateful to have such a dainty little sprinkling of colour at this time of year.

Pyracantha is one of those shrubs which is doing something useful all year round. I keep mine trained against the fence - I find they become badly-behaved thugs in the border if left unsupervised. If you're strict with them, though, they behave themselves beautifully. They're one of the few plants which provides evergreen climbing cover all year, and as a sideline are excellent security - climb over a fence clad in pyracantha and you won't forget it in a hurry. As if that wasn't enough, they froth up with flowers in early summer and then sparkle all winter too. I wouldn't be without them.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Outside again at last!

Well after what seems like weeks and weeks of non-stop rain, I'm gardening again!

The water table is still high, but the rain has subsided to a light drizzle and the floods have abated enough to allow me to get a fork into the ground without turning it to mud. I'm back to a full slate of gardens and muddy knees.

This week I was tackling an out-of-control mixed hedge, containing hazel, conifers (not sure exactly what - it's not a strong point of mine, but I think it's some sort of cypress), and various assorted self-seeded things like ash saplings.

I'm all for mixed, aka wildlife hedges - I've got one at the end of my garden which is part adapted from what was already there and part encouraged by transplanting, say, a hawthorn sapling that self-seeded itself where it wasn't wanted. But you do have to keep on top of them or, like most native species, they go mad.

Hazel in particular heads for the sky very quickly indeed. I've got one in my hedge which I keep under very strict control - any stems going in the wrong direction are snipped out right away. I let it grow well above the line of the hedge (I think it makes the hedge more interesting to have plants of different heights from time to time) but I do take out a few of the thickest and tallest branches each year. You can, of course, just shear over the top with hedge-clippers, which is a brutal sort of way of doing it but very effective in keeping it in bounds.

This one in my client's garden, though, was about 50ft high, so that was rather out of the question. In the way that hazels do, it had multi-stemmed and several of the trunks were leaning quite heavily into the main garden. Well - I did the best I could, and pruned back the worst of it into the hedge line again. But in this case, as it's quite a high hedge, I've advised the client to get a tree man in (gardeners aren't qualified, insured, or brave enough, to tackle full-grown trees - it's much better to get a proper arborist in). Hopefully s/he will curb the general skywards tendency and cut it back to just below the top line of the hedge - then it doesn't matter if it sends up some thinner shoots, as I can keep them in a kind of pollard and make them behave themselves.

Sometimes situations just don't comply with the textbooks, and you have to find your own way around.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Disappearing under water

As I write, I'm listening to the sound of a gale howling around my house and the rain splattering the windows with a viciousness which makes you realise why they talk about nasty weather. I've just had to cancel my third garden this week - and that's after last week when I only made it to one of my clients and was washed out for the rest.

There's nothing more depressing than being forced to stay indoors when you don't want to. There's not even anything very nice to look at outside: the path around the greenhouse I've been digging in my garden (of which, hopefully, more later) is now a stream, and when I walked down the garden to let the chickens out I was splashing through the film of water that now covers the lawn. The water table is as high as it's ever been in my normally dry and sandy conditions, and even if it were sunny you'd have to bail out a hole before you could dig it.

I'm sorry - I do try to be optimistic on the whole - but January is, by far, the worst month of the year.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Back to work

At last - the sun is shining, the frost has stopped (for the time being at least) and I can get outside again. I realised this morning that what with a combination of bad weather and Christmas, I only gardened one week in December... that must be some sort of record for me.

One thing I did do in my own garden - which didn't require treading on the frosted grass, which at one point didn't defrost for five days in a row - was to sort out my willow tree. This is the goat willow (Salix caprea) that's by my pond - you can see another picture of it covered rather fetchingly in snow here. You might be able to see from the earlier picture that it was overhanging the fence quite considerably - well on the other side of the fence happens to be my cut flower garden, so it was quite urgent that I take out the overhanging branches and let in a bit more light.

The depths of winter are a great time for pruning trees - you can really see what you're doing, and create a good, balanced outline. You can also get a good look at the general health of the branches, and those which are crossing other branches or generally growing in the wrong direction become very obvious when they're not hidden by leaves. In this case, I aimed for quite a tall, upright shape which was well-balanced but didn't cast too wide a shadow.

When pruning trees, you need to take care not to cut too close to the trunk. If you look at where a side branch leaves the main branch or trunk, you'll see there's an obvious junction. This is called the collar - it appears as a slight swelling between trunk and branch. You should cut on the branch side of the collar - not through it, or on the other side of it, as it contains lots of good hormones which promote the rapid healing of the wound. You can see where I've done this on the big cut facing you in the picture.

It's a good idea too to cut quite close to the collar, as if you leave too much of the branch on the tree, it'll die back and could rot and let in disease - I could have cut fractionally closer here, in fact, and it's not always easy to get it absolutely right. One tip is to cut away the branch little by little, from the far end back towards the trunk, so you get several chances to cut it to exactly the right point.
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