At the beginning of last year we were looking at the issue of water shortage and drought tolerant plants. Since April 2012, just as the hose-pipe ban came into effect, we have been besieged by deluges and are now surrounded by muddy, soggy borders and lawns. Having faced an extremely cold spell before Christmas, we are now experiencing unseasonally warm, winter temperatures and grey gloomy skies. Unpredictability seems to be the message being broadcast- we must be ready for anything and surprised by nothing!
Luckily, our native plants seem to be remarkably resilient but choosing the right plants for your site and maintaining healthy, attractive borders is likely to become more challenging as the climate becomes more changeable and volatile. We should all review the conditions that exist within the micro-climate of our individual gardens, and not just because of our changing climate. Levels of light in areas of the garden can change as our own or neighbours’ trees grow, new buildings appear or are taken down or boundaries change. We need to consider how good the drainage is in different parts of our gardens and whether we need to move plants or improve the planting to take advantage of these changing conditions.
The good news is that the growing season is gradually growing longer and this year, with the warmer temperatures, the first spring flowers are already bursting into bloom. Early Snowdrops are in flower, together with Hellebores and Hamamelis (Witch Hazel). Winter-flowering shrubs such as Skimmias, Viburnum tinus and Jasminum nudiflorum are relieving the dullness of the overcast skies, and shoots of bulbs are appearing and buds swelling. However, the weeds are already taking hold. Borders need to be cleared of last year’s debris, now collapsed and sodden. It is then a good idea to apply a thick layer of organic mulch that will help suppress the weeds, enrich the soil ready for the rapid growth in spring and break up our predominately London clay soil. Puddles and muddy areas of lawns can be improved by aerating or forking the turf and by applying some lawn sand to assist drainage.
Once the borders are cleared, it is easier to look at the framework of your garden. Do you have a good balance of evergreen structure? A low box hedge, edging a border or path, can add invaluable colour, definition and interest at this time of year. Variegated foliage from shrubs such as Euonymus or Ilex (Holly) can help brighten the darkest foliage and provides a good foil for winter bedding such as heathers and cyclamen. Berries are bright and swollen with all this rain and attractive hedges and screens become important features.
So make the most of your garden and Happy Gardening!
Anne Fraser and Caroline Streets
Planting Gems 07729 835988 or 07930 876348