Gardening in winter

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Jonquils from the garden of my grandmother bloom now

It can be quite hard to motivate oneself to go outside to do a spot of gardening on a winter's day. It's easier if it's nice weather - with the sun shining and the temperature mild - but on a bleak, cold day with leaden skies, the thought of lying on the sofa under a cosy throw rug with a good book has far greater appeal. On such days, it can take all my self-discipline to don my gardening clothes and head out to do some tasks. I usually bribe myself by saying that if I put the gardening clothes ON, I can then have a cup of tea on a garden bench before having to start work. Before I know it, though, with my cuppa half-drunk, I find myself engaged in the garden, checking out my plants, seeing weeds, and desperate to do some gardening! Having some winter-blooming plants in flower (such as the jonquils, pictured above) can also lure us on to explore the garden. Once I start moving, I find I do warm up quite well and I begin to enjoy myself.

There is something so peaceful and tranquil about the garden in winter. There is a stillness that doesn't seem to be present in other seasons. One can almost feel that everything has slowed down and somehow that seems to help relax the gardener's mind down too - quite therapeutic when the rest of life is busy. Because there is not the frantic growth of spring and summer, one can go about one's gardening in a less hurried manner. In turn, this gives us time to really look at our gardens and plants closely.

Self-seeded Nicotiana langsdorffii in my garden

Such examination yields a number of benefits. We can find exciting little seedlings that have come up; in other seasons, we might not even notice them. At the moment, I am enjoying spotting seedlings of such spring annuals as Orlaya, Nigella, Nicotiana langsdorffii, honesty and forget-me-nots that have self-seeded, plus some tiny poppy seedlings from a packet of red Flanders poppies I was given in autumn, which in a hurry I tossed into a garden bed, thinking, 'Well, I bet THEY never come up!' There are also seedlings of perennials such as hellebores and Linaria appearing, and even baby shrubs, such as Rhinacanthus beesiana. I leave some of these seedlings where they are, thin out others so the remainders can have a decent amount of space, and dig up the rest to be sold on the sales table of the local garden club.

Leaves of the corms of Watsonia Wedding Bells in my garden

It's also a delight to look at the fresh foliage of spring bulbs and corms, and dream about their flowers in spring. It's fascinating to look at the bare tracery of twigs on deciduous spring-blooming shrubs, too, and visualise that in just a few months time, they will be covered in gorgeous flowers. It is sometimes hard to believe that all the gaps in the garden will fill in again, but I know they will! I often grow quick-growing crops of herbs and leafy vegetables in the gaps in my borders in winter where Dahlia, for example, lie dormant.

Salvia Amistad was in the wrong place in my garden and has just been moved

Another great advantage of having time to stop and stare in the winter garden is that it gives us a chance to work out what is in the wrong place and where it might be better sited. It seems easier to gauge this in winter, when all the frippery of flowers and many leaves has gone and we see the bare bones of the garden. And, what is even better, is that winter is simply the best time to move plants around! The cooler weather and slowed growth allows them to get over the shock and stress of being moved and the prognosis of the transplant is much better than plants moved in the warmer months. Do keep any moved plant well watered, however, for some weeks. A dose of Seasol in the water will help the plant to recover well.

All my Salvia leucantha plants have been pruned this week

I start cutting back some of my plants at this time of year. Salvia plants that show their new growth at the base of the shrub (such as Salvia leucantha and 'Meigan's Magic') can safely be pruned now except in the very cold suburbs, when this job is best left to late winter or very early spring. I also cut back all my ornamental grasses now (mainly Miscanthus cultivars), along with my daylilies and Kniphofia. The foliage of the latter two plants is cut to the ground, as are all the dead stems of the Dahlia. Plants which are more semitropical, such as my Acanthaceae plants, other Salvia and Plectranthus are left until August, so that their existing leafy canopies will protect them from cold spells . Of course, spring-blooming shrubs are left well alone, otherwise we will be removing their flowering wood! Hydrangea can be tackled, and in July it will be time to do roses and Fuchsia cultivars. It's good to be able to spread out the cutting back over several months, as all our prunings go through the mulching machine: a daunting job. I love removing all the old foliage and imagining the new leaves growing, all fresh and pristine, in a few months' time.

Abutilon and Tagetes lemmonii are winter-bloomers in my garden

And of course, there are many winter flowers to enjoy whilst you are in the garden at this time: Daphne; Salvia such as 'Timboon', 'Costa Rica Blue', Salvia elegans Purple Form and Salvia rubiginosa; Camellia japonica; Corsican hellebores; Abutilon; Tagetes lemmonii - and many more! See here for what is out in my garden at the moment.

Remember how awful it was trying to garden in those summer heatwaves? Gardening in winter is actually a joy!