Melanie Dool’s gardening column in association with Orchardstown Garden Centre
MANY plants have to be managed in one way or other, otherwise they will outgrow their allotted space and smother other weaker plants. It is said that if an area is abandoned to nature there will be a continuous cycle of growth of plants that grow and die until it all ends up with one tree dominating the space.
I suppose I have a tendency to let nature takes its natural course and allow plants to grow as much as they wish without any input from me. This attitude works well in our native wood which is beside the garden but, even then, some vegetation grows stronger than some of our weaker plants and they then need a helping hand to become established and stand on their own two feet. In the garden this practice has just not worked out as even after last year, much tree and shrub growth has become a tangled mess and needs sorting out before the spring growth starts.
Just so this tidying up is not that easy, briars have taken advantage of my ‘easy going’ gardening activity and now it is down to building up the determination to ‘go for gold’ and get stuck in.
The vast majority of plants will take kindly to hard cutting back and pruning, and should grow back with vigour the following season. The only obstacle that holds you back is a lack of confidence or perhaps you are reluctant to do the right thing for fear of damaging the plant. At times hard pruning, cutting back or trimming are all necessary if you are to have a garden full of lovely plants.
While gardens go through a dormant period during the winter months, and it con look pretty dull with little of interest to show but it need not be so as there are enough plants that can liven up the area if chosen with care. I have mentioned winter flowering plants recently and will only repeat some here including a few left out the last time. From the low growing we would suggest winter heathers, hellebores, cyclamen, aconites and snowdrops and moving to medium and tall growing plants, which would include camellia, daphne, hamamelis (Witch Hazel), mahonia, sarcococca (Christmas Box), viburnum tinus and viburnum x botnatense.
Whatever about plants that flower during the winter months, there are some that have dazzling displays of coloured stems for many months and the best is provided in the dogwood or Cornus family. The stem colours are shades of amber (Midwinter Fire), yellow (Bud’s Yellow), red (Siberica) but you can add to the enjoyment by choosing some that have coloured leaves in the summer such as Aurea (Yellow leaves), Elegentissima (silver edged leaves) or White Gold (yellow stems and silver edged leaves). These plants can be enjoyed each winter and then all need annual pruning down to 30cm (1’) from the ground in late winter to allow for new growth for the following winter’s display.
There are some trees that have coloured bark and they include the common birch which is good but there are other types with whiter bark, and outside that, there are snake bark maples with striated white, pink stripes on a green background (e.g. Acer grosseri ), cinnamon flaky bark (Acer griseum), mahogany bark (Prunus serrula). Some Eucalyptus species have beautiful striated, flaky or white bark but they are only suitable for larger gardens, and bamboos contain a number of types with either yellow, black or powder blue stems which if placed with care can enrich the garden but need to be root contained as some will (if they like your conditions) spread out of control in time.
TIP OF THE WEEK
Some of our tomato seeds are up after sitting 7 days on the warm kitchen windowsill. As soon as they have germinated they are moved to a cooler window in another room where growth will slow down until the plants get potted up into single 5-10cm ( 2-4”) pots. Chillies will take longer and need around 21 degrees C to encourage germination.
We use the dormant growth time to put general fertilizer around any plant that looks like it would appreciate a feed and add mulch with a mixture of compost, manure and bark in a circle around plants to encourage strong growth, particularly to fruiting plants but if we have enough compost we will spread it further afield to choice plants such as azaleas, camellias, pieris and magnolias.