SEASONS In the Garden

Spring

We await spring with great yearning after the recent long winters. The crocus spikes and golden heads of daffodils brighten our morning walks.  If lucky enough we may smell the amazing fragrance from some of the scented daffodils such as Bridal Crown and Cheerfulness or spring flowering shrubs such as Viburnum bodnantense or the Daphnes

Day to day:

An instant pick-me up is to get into the garden for 15 minutes or so.  Little and often is the key to keeping on top of ‘jobs’.  It’s a great de-stressor and relieves mental fatigue.

For a positive start, first deal with a front entrance or views from windows – we are naturally attracted to what looks ‘bad’.    Remove any dead leaves on or around plants and cut back dead stems from herbaceous plants to make everything instantly tidy and fresh.

Weeds – To reduce weeding jobs later, hoe over annual weeds in drier weather leaving them on the surface to breakdown and put back nutrients into the soil.  Remove perennial weeds, ie dandelions which are easier to remove whilst the ground is still moist.

Lawn weeds can be persistent without chemical control.  Maybe consider living with these ‘wildflowers’ and attract wildlife to the garden.  Sprinkle some grass seed onto bare patches to re-grow and discourage further weeds.  A trim of the edges will soon smarten up the lawn and set off the borders.

Pruning – After a harsh winter evergreen shrubs may have suffered some damage.  Although it may be tempting to prune out damaged growth, wait until later into spring so that new growth will not be further damaged – no need to feel guilty, you will be protecting your plants.

Prune winter flowering shrubs if required to shape or rejuvenate them giving them a chance to make new growth for flowering next year.   Buddleia can be pruned hard and these will make new growth to flower this summer.

Compost  – Start a new compost bin and you will thank yourself later in the season.  Last year’s compost can be placed straight onto borders with no need to dig in (the worms will do that for you).  Sifted compost will provide a wonderful ingredient to use on containers.

Some general fertiliser can be sprinkled around the borders to provide nutrients for your plants. Finish off with a mulch of garden compost around plants which will help smother weed seedlings, enrich your soil and create a fresher look to your whole garden.

Plan ahead – look for summer and later flowering bulbs such as Dahlias, Crocosmia, Ixia and Nerines to plant.  Cheaper than buying them in the summer as a ready grown plant.

Towards the end of spring is a good time to plant up hanging baskets and containers but watch out for any frosts before leaving outside as the plants are tender.


Summer

Hopefully the weeding has been done allowing you time to enjoy the garden with its fragrance, colours and lush green growth with just the occasional deadheading of flowers to encourage more.

With the temperatures soaring make sure pots are watered regularly and thoroughly, morning or evening and not in the sun which would scorch plants.  Watch for garden plants especially newly planted and water well if needed.  A long thorough watering carried out occasionally is more beneficial than a daily quick watering.  The water needs to get down into the soil to encourage roots to go down, rather than a quick watering which soon evaporates and creates surface rooting of plants where they are unable to retain moisture.

Lawns may look a bit dry and again, if watering, this needs to be thorough as small amounts would really be water wasted.  I prefer to leave them and just enjoy the rest of the garden as the grass will soon come back again into green growth after some rain.

Plants to enjoy, especially in hot sun which brings out the fragrance – lavender and herbs or Perovskia (Russian sage) with a blue  haze of flowers and silvery stems.

Other fragrance from climbers such as Trachelospermum jasminoides, an evergreen with small white flowers, and of  course honeysuckles or Jasmine.  As the early summer flowering plants finish, longer flowering plants follow, many which will last into autumn such as penstemons, sedum, Echinacea and the tall airy Verbena bonariensis.  Gaura is a pretty plant with delicate butterfly-like flowers of white or pink and will do well in hot dry conditions.


Autumn

As summer fades into autumn the summer flowering perennials will still look good.  Later, autumnal tones change the scene with dying foliage and stems of plants and remnants of seedheads reminding us of the once lush growth of summer.  Before rushing out with the secateurs to chop them all down save yourself some work, leave them, then enjoy another phase of their beauty.  The drying seedheads of plants like Sedum or Echinacea have their own particular beauty providing a dark architectural silhouette through the winter months.  Then when any frosts appear they charm again enclosed briefly within a crystal-like form.  These also provide mini hotels for wildlife and many unseen garden visitors, enabling them to overwinter and add to the biodiversity in the garden.

Ornamental grasses look good through autumn and winter, their colours enriched when highlighted by the low sunlight.  Our trees which have blended into the background are coming front stage and putting on a final dramatic display of colours.  Look out for something different, the Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum) with its heart-shaped leaves, as well as colour in autumn it smells of candyfloss!   Also shrubs with attractive berries, there is Callicarpawith its unusually coloured striking violet berries.

As the leaves begin to fall, remove them from your lawn and plants so that they do not rot under soggy clumps, then bag them up to make a leaf mould.  Leave the rest amongst the borders to create a mulch which will nourish your soil then during the winter you will be able to enjoy watching birds turning them over and scratching around for tasty creatures amongst them.

There is still time to plant bulbs.  Try Chionodoxa (glory of the snow) with starry blue flowers.  These will naturalise under deciduous shrubs where you are less likely to disturb them and only about 4” high so do not leave lots of untidy dying foliage to clear.

If you are planting containers with winter pansies etc, maybe add something which can later be used in the garden such as a fern, coloured leaf Heuchera or the small shrubs which are available.

This is a good time to think about your garden and plan for next year.  If you are prepared for more strenuous work you can dig over areas in preparation for planting.   Ensure removal of perennial weeds, incorporate plenty of organic matter, manure or garden compost and dig over leaving clumps to break down.  This is not generally an essential routine task but is ideal for new areas and difficult soil and done thoroughly should only need doing once.  Just continue to add organic matter which will naturally become incorporated into the soil.


Winter

Doesn’t have to be dreary – there are many plants that can add vibrancy, provide colour, shape and texture and bring the garden into life.    Trees and shrubs provide some structure and this is a good time of year to look at your garden to see where this is needed.    For the rest of the year they will provide a framework and good foil for the rest of your plants and flowers.

Silhouettes

Trees – Interesting outlines and skeletons.   Colourful bark of Acer griseum(paperbark maple) or Prunus serrula with gorgeous glossy mahogany red bark.   Many others with berries to provide food in the winter

Structure and shape

Shrubs will add structure.  Evergreen shrubs can fill spaces and provide interesting shapes and the variegated types add extra  colour.

Texture

Grasses like miscanthus have a good winter presence and take on a new look in winter frosts.

Colour

Stems of many of the dogwoods such as Cornus alba sibirica with its red stems or other varieties with green, black or fiery orange stems.

Evergreen grasses  – varieties of Carex provide interest at ground level

Flowers

Bulbs – Snowdrops, Chionodoxa (glory of the snow) – these will look particularly good coming up beneath the coloured stems of Cornus.

Hellebores – remove old leaves to reveal flowers.

A fresh mulch on the bare soil will enhance the look of these plants.  (Preferably applied in the autumn and not when the soil is cold or frozen).

Add some winter perfume – many winter flowering shrubs are highly fragrant.  Make room for Sarcoccoca  (Christmas box) a small evergreen shrub ideal for shade.   Grow near a path or your front door to appreciate its fragrance.  Flowers whilst small are big on fragrance and are followed by glossy berries.

Gardens – Many of these plants can be seen at their best at open gardens and particularly Anglesey Abbey in Cambridge or Marks Hall Arboretum which have a wonderful winter walk.