Melanie Dool’s gardening column in association with Orchardstown Garden Centre
THERE are very few people who like excessive rain and wind but most of us are happy enough or can manage with cold dry weather as we can wrap up in layers. The key is to keep moving even a little, which generates heat, and also eat the right foods to provide that energy. Venturing outside in the garden for short spells helps, especially during the milder period, which tends to be between 11am and 3pm in the day.
One of the essential outdoor facilities is to have an area where you go outside at a minute’s notice and enjoy the moment if conditions are warm enough. Having a patio made of a hard surface, such as a concrete pad or paving, means that it is potentially usable all the year round. I never took to decking as our generally damp climate does not suit timber, which becomes slippy with moisture.
It is the normal practice to cover or bring in outdoor furniture during the winter months, otherwise wooden ones start to rot, plastic types deteriorate, and rattan furniture and similar will look jaded and get covered with a green algae. The alternative is to have some stone or brick seating constructed around the garden and just fetch out a cushion as a soft option when spending some time outside.
I should think that those who actively garden in the winter might be considered lunatics or masochists. But there are advantages in spending some time out there whenever there is a mild spell. This can be as short as 20 minutes poking around and seeing what is of interest out there. It is funny but we all make assumptions that there is nothing to spark the interest and yet within a short time we see or notice the unexpected and that is the fun aspect of gardening at any time of the year.
It is in winter that you can check if your balance of plants is good as all the deciduous ones have lost their leaves and only the evergreens have foliage. It is then that you can see how important they are in a garden setting and also see if their spacing is widespread throughout the garden and not all bunched in one area. Many consider evergreens to be solely conifers but they are not as they include a large range of shrubs and even some trees.
It is always about a balance of different plants within a garden setting as an overload of either evergreen or deciduous plants would be duller and less interesting. I would suggest about a quarter should be evergreen and planted as standalone plants or a small group, and that would give you scope to add a few more if the mood takes you. Some suggested plants might include hybrid Lenten Roses, Bergenia, Mahonia, Daphne bholua and odora Mariana, and even a pyramid clipped yew or bay leaf.
Of course there are some non-evergreens that shine through the winter months and they include snowdrops, which are amazing, but it would be nice to see more winter aconites too. The bright winter bark of birches, dogwoods and some maples are striking also, as are flowers from bare stems, such as the witch hazels and some viburnums and willows.
TIP OF THE WEEK
Open and air out sunrooms, tunnels and greenhouses on mild days for good air circulation and to reduce any moulds building up. Covering up vegetable areas with polythene will keep the soil drier and warmer, which is an advantage when sowing later in the spring. Wind causes damage and loosens outside fixtures so check, repair and secure anything that needs attention. If you have any queries or comments you are welcome to share them with me on 051-384273 or [email protected] and if of general interest I will include it in a future article.