How did you get on in your garden in January? Well, despite the wet weather I did manage to get into my garden for a bit, to tidy up leaves and to pick out a few over-wintering weeds, but mainly to plan what I would like my garden to look like in this coming year. I find it's a good idea to get wrapped up and go and sit in the garden with a notepad and pen/pencil. Then, have a good look at what is growing there, maybe take some photographs and just ask yourself a few questions, such as…..do your plants still look good where they are? Have any outgrown their space? Could some do with a bit of complementary companion planting? Maybe it's time for some to be lifted and divided or re-potted. Are there any that you are not in love with as much as you used to be and so perhaps need to be taken out?
Planning for the coming garden year in this way is great fun, inspiring and will keep you busy at what can be a relatively quiet time of the year.
Now, I am going to talk about weeds...yes...weeds! We all know that common saying "a weed is just a plant growing in the wrong place" but this year it has been such a mild winter, particularly in England and Wales that some weeds have not gone into full dormancy and have simply carried on growing! With spring coming up, all plants are soon going to start growing with vigour, including weeds, so I just wanted to talk about a couple of the pernicious type of weeds commonly found in our gardens and how best to eradicate them.
So, for this month, let's talk about bindweed and couch grass and firstly bindweed. It is certainly a fast growing climbing weed and loves to scramble through anything that will support it. Its roots travel very well too! If a piece breaks off the root, another plant will grow. Grrr, I hear you say! You could try and dig it out, or you could follow this great tip from the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). Place a tripod of canes over a patch of bindweed and allow it to scramble up the canes. This will enable you to get at the plant in order to apply a herbicide gel directly to the leaves. This gel contains glyphosate, which is a selective weed killer. It is absorbed by the leaves and will eventually end up in the roots causing the weed to die both above and below the ground. Don't be tempted to dig the plant up as soon as you see the leaves shrivel up as it may not have penetrated down to the roots, so leave it for about three weeks.
Couch grass is a weed which looks rather like ordinary grass. It is very difficult to pull up because beneath the soil there is a mass of roots, or rhizomes, which spread. You could try to dig it out or you could treat with a selective weed killer spray which has glyphosate in it. Another great tip from the RHS is to cut the bottom off of a plastic bottle, place the bottle over the couch grass and spray through the spout of the bottle. This way, the spray will only kill the couch grass and not anything else surrounding it. It's best to do the treatments when it is dry, otherwise you will have to keep reapplying. We'll look at another couple of weeds next month.
Now, in my January letter, I talked about snowdrops and how I had seen them in flower very early. So, this month I want to talk about how you can increase these plants in your garden by lifting clumps of bulbs, about the size of a spade blade, when they have finished flowering but are 'in the green' (still showing lots of green leaves) then divide the clumps into four decent portions and replant elsewhere in the garden.
I do a similar thing with daffodils. I like to lift them whilst the foliage is good, but the flower-heads have gone over. Sometimes, it is easier to chop some of the foliage off the top as then the leaf blades will stand up better. I lift them whilst still in the green because A) you can see where the existing bulbs are and B) you can immediately see where you have planted the new bulbs. I have carried out this practice for some years now and it is so simple and most importantly, it works.
My favourite plant of the month for February is Sarcococca, a compact evergreen shrub, which is native to Asia but tough as old boots. I have one growing in my garden and at the moment it looks gorgeous, it has deep glossy green leaves and the most exquisite petite white flowers with an absolutely heavenly scent. It is a fabulous plant to have in your garden, especially as it flowers in the winter and brightens up the garden and the spirits. If you have a good garden centre of nursery near you, you should find they have them for sale at this time of year and February is a good time to plant them.
I recently visited Stratford-upon-Avon and in the garden of the cottage I was staying in, there was a Daphne odora 'Aureomarginata' in flower. It was perfectly placed alongside a footpath, so every time you walked by the plant, there was this incredible scent - absolutely intoxicating. I also saw carpets of snowdrops, so pretty; and a winter-flowering honeysuckle Lonicera x purpusii, climbing up a wall, also in full flower and it had a scent that was subtle and sweet. During my time in Stratford-upon-Avon I visited Shakespeare's birthplace . Perhaps not the first place that you would think of as having a garden, but it does and it is charming. In the garden there was a Coronilla valentina in full flower, with a profusion of yellow flowers. Now bear in mind this was the end of January and it is a plant that originates from the Mediterranean region and once again we can see just how mild this winter has been.
I'm planning to visit Chiswick House, Hampton Court, Kew Gardens and Wisley this month, time permitting. All of these places have gardens to amaze and inspire you, even at this time of year and I hope to come away with lots of inspiration and ideas to help set me up for the coming year ahead. I shall tell you all about them in my March letter.
Happy gardening everyone.
Gardener, Garden Designer & Writer
A compact evergreen shrub native to Asia
An unexpected and charming garden