Little To Do But Plenty To Think About
WITH more than 35 years combined experience, Adam Woolcott and Jonathan Smith are seasoned garden designers who live in Bishop’s Stortford. They have won three consecutive gold medals at Chelsea Flower Show and are regular guest experts on the BBC’s Three Counties Radio, sharing their top tips and gardening advice.
So what do we do? Well, why not take the opportunity to start thinking about what you want out of your garden this year and plan accordingly. You may want to get more flowers into the garden, encourage more wildlife or just have a go at growing something a bit different. Start by making a few notes, get your reference books out and make a plan of action over a coffee and a hob-nob. When it’s this cold and bleak, it’s always nicer to be on the inside looking out rather than on the outside looking in.
As far as any horticultural jobs to do this month, nothing is so urgent that it can’t wait until March, but if you do have itchy feet then there are a few things you can do. Make a start on pruning your roses but don’t get too hung up about the technicalities, it often doesn’t make too much difference to the number of flowers you get. I knew of one rose grower who pruned all of his roses with a hedge trimmer without any problems. With bush roses, reduce them down by about a third, just above an outward facing bud, cutting out any dead bits or crossing stems.
Whilst you’ve got your secateurs out, don’t be tempted to get too trigger happy. If you can’t remember what a plant is, it’s probably best not to cut it back as you might be cutting off this year’s flowers. We had a client who religiously trimmed her lilacs back every March and then wondered why they never flowered; she had cut the flower buds off without knowing it. As a general rule if a shrub flowers before the end of June cut it back after it has flowered (such as forsythia, lilac, mahonia, viburnum bodnantense etc.) but if it flowers after the end of June cut it back in the autumn (such as spireas, potentillas and hypericums).
Tidy up any dead herbaceous perennials, if not already done so, and dig-in any well rotted garden compost that you made last year. It’s also the ideal time to prune your wisterias to give you maximum flowers in the spring. You can be quite harsh, cutting those whippy stems right back to two buds away from the main stem and cut away any dead wood.
As it is quiet in the garden right now, take the opportunity to give your greenhouse a thorough good clean (if it is empty). Scrub the frame and glass to get rid of any fungal spores or any over-wintering pests and clean and disinfect any seed trays and pots to give your seedlings a clean and healthy start.
If by any chance you received garden centre vouchers for Christmas don’t be tempted to spend them too early as many garden centres will start to have good offers and more choice in the next couple of months as their new stock starts to arrive.
Whilst you are tidying up this month, be careful not to disturb any heaps of old leaves or old fire heaps – they can be great places for hibernating animals such as field mice and hedge hogs. The same goes for damp places under trees or near ponds as things like toads, frogs and newts could be sheltering.
If you have been storing bulbs or any other types of tubers, now’s a good time to check them over to ensure that no rots have set in.
Remember to get your gardening equipment serviced early. Take it out of the shed now to make sure it all still works. Don’t’ wait until March or April to take your mower in for a service; we know from experience that if you leave it too late to take your mower in, you might have to wait weeks to get it back, just at the time when you need it the most. Everyone else leaves it to the last minute.
February can also be quite an exciting time in the vegetable plot as you decide on what you want to grow this year and go out and choose your veg seed or start ‘chitting’ your seed potatoes in readiness for planting them out in March. Get ahead of yourself now by digging over any bare soil and breaking-up any clods to give you a fine crumbly seed bed in preparation for sowing. It’s still too early to sow most things outside but you could have a go at planting a few radishes, leeks or parsnips if you are really keen. Inside, you can start sowing a few tomatoes on your window sills to get an early start.
One last thing I would recommend to do this month is to try to find a snowdrop walk and enjoy them before they go over. It will really lift your spirits and get you in the mood for gardening when it does warm up. Anglesey Abbey, near Cambridge, has a great winter walk that goes on until the last week in February.
Finally, on a romantic note, don’t forget its valentines day on the 14th Feb. Instead of buying the usual bunch of flowers for that someone special in your life, try something different. Have a go at making a valentine wreath. All you do is just get hold of a ring of oasis and push into it a mixture of red roses and white chrysanthemums and hang a red heart in the middle. Simple, guaranteed to make you flavour of the month!