Last time I wrote I was extolling the beauties of autumn. Within days winter arrived with a bang! We had the heaviest snowfall we’ve had for a number of years and in spite of some lovely sunny weather there has been consistently cold weather, especially at night. And now, at time of writing, we have the coldest snap for 10 years. Just when spring was in sight, when the snowdrops have been brilliant and all the other bulbs are pushing through and buds fattening on the spring shrubs, it is like the whole lot has been shoved in the freezer.
The snow in early December caused a lot of damage. Virtually every conifer suffered. Either branches broken clean off or twisted and bent out of shape meaning they could not be repaired. The problem was the sheer weight of snow: 8 inches fell in 12 hours, froze overnight and stuck like glue. Some larger shrubs keeled over. Made top-heavy with snow they were levered out of the ground. Suffice to say, 48 hours of snow created three weeks of clearing up!
Using a combination of chainsaw, pole-pruner, pruning saw and loppers the whole lot had to be carefully and safely brought down to the ground, cut up and carted off. If nothing else a great winter exercise routine. There are many reasons gardeners are fit and healthy and this is just one of them!
The good news is that when we have not been pre-occupied with clearing up after winter, there has been time to actually make changes in the garden: to work on new planting schemes and make adjustments to the layout of beds and borders. The new woodland corner has been completed, plants and all, and the construction and planting of a brand-new fernery, tucked away behind the priory church in the space of an old chapel, is nearing completion.
Believe it or not there has also been time before this cold snap to cut the grass. Taking advantage of a dry spell in January I have been able to get the mowers out and go over all the lawns on a high cut. It is not so much to cut the grass, although in one or two places it did need cutting, it is more to consolidate the ground. Iron out all those bumps and lumps that winter and worms combine to build, so that the surface is good and even ready for the coming season.
Normally by now I would have been looking to rake and scarify the fine lawns. This achieves several things, but mainly it takes out any moss and aerates the surface. It has been a good(!) autumn and winter for moss, there is plenty of it. Normally, when it is a bit warmer than we have had of late, I would first treat the moss with a proprietary moss-killer. This quickly kills the moss (you know it’s dead because it goes black) which is then easier to rake out. Looks like I’ll have to wait a while for this job, but as long as it is done before the grass really gets going it’ll be OK.
Other tasks in the next month or so include pruning the roses. I have many different varieties to look after and although there are exceptions, my rule of thumb is to carry out the major prune at the start of March. So much is written about pruning roses it makes people nervous. And yes, there are some right ways and wrong ways to prune them. But one thing I would say to bolster confidence, is don’t be shy. Roses are vigorous growers, so get stuck in. Once pruned remember to feed: I use pelleted chicken manure and a mulch of well-rotted garden compost. Roses are hungry plants too.
The last days of winter are the ideal time to make sure tools are oiled and sharpened and ready to go in spring. Well maintained tools, both manual and mechanical, do a much better job and make life easier. Whether you do it yourself or take your tools and machines to a local lawnmower shop, it is an investment that repays itself.
Here’s to a fantastic spring, good gardening to you!