Mike’s Garden Diary

1-7 February 2020

Partially cloudy but with long sunny spells, 12°C

When I designed our garden two years ago I was very aware of a congested bank of conifers on the far side of the garden on the boundary between us and the neighbours. They bothered me immensely (the conifers, not the neighbours); I was also aware that the fence behind the conifers was in a severe state of disrepair; I believe the technical term is ‘knackered’! As such, head firmly entrenched in sand, I decided to exclude that part of the garden from the design.

Towards the end of summer last year, a young gardener friend came round and pointed aghast at the conifers and exclaimed ‘What the dash are those dreadful conifers’? Well, those might not have been his exact words! Irrespective of the words actually used my conscience was well and truly pricked. Something had to be done and pretty quickly. Any work would need to be completed ahead of the season getting started, probably in January/February. 

Two quotes were obtained to cut down and take away the arisings from the conifers, each quote in the region of £500.  Ouch!

The next day, pruning saw, bow saw, secateurs and a stick of dynamite in hand (just in case) we took to the garden and started about removing the conifers ourselves.  Ten man hours of sawing, digging, sweating, cursing and perhaps even more cursing (yes that ‘dash’ word being thrown recklessly around again) and four van loads to the local tip, saw the wretched conifers gone without trace. 

If we had walked away at that point and done nothing else, it was already an improvement. Our neighbour, rightly so, was ecstatic; His previously shadowy garden now flooded with a watery February sunlight.  

The fences, which had probably been erected just after the dinosaurs exited stage left, stood haphazardly like putrefied molars; green, rotten and crumbling. A job unfortunately beyond the capabilities of our good selves would require some professional input. 

So here we are, mid-February and storm Ciara ravaging wildly around us and the garden as I write. The fences are scheduled for the last week in February so I need to start thinking about planting. Trees (possibly Pyrus ‘Chanticleer’ or P. ‘Red Spire’) for screening the neighbouring large, red brick house (see picture below); a climber for the wall, shrubs and perennials for the raised wooden sleeper and perennials for the lower, slightly shadier borders. Here would be the perfect location for some tree ferns, hostas, ferns and tiarellas. So many options and possibilities.  I love this part so I’d better get a wriggle on and get planning.  

Another update in March  

10 January 2020

Partially cloudy with sunny spells, 10°C

First proper day out in the garden this year and it’s been wonderful. I was given a couple of good-sized, bare-root yews by a client this morning. These were duly planted outside the kitchen doors, on either side of the borders adjoining the lawn. Eventually, they will be shaped into pillars to add a little bit of structure and formality. I tend towards being a little bit formal in the garden at times, I guess. Is that bad? I don’t think so! A few vine weeveil riddled Heucheras were ‘evicted’ to make way for the yews. I quite like Heucheras, but my patience is waning quickly as I have lost too many now to the dreaded vine weevil. I’ve also been a little unsure at times if they sit comfortably in my borders, or indeed any borders for that matter.

Bare-root yews will eventually be trained into columns

Elsewhere in the garden, I got around to planting the collection of ‘significantly reduced’ plants I’ve accrued in recent months. I have to state ‘significantly reduced’ to justify to myself and ‘others’ that their purchase was completely necessary! Three Astrantia ‘Star of Billions’ in one border; six Armenia maritima in another and just a few more Hellebores. Note to self…. no more Hellebores needed, unless of course they’re irresistible.

In addition to the above, a little weeding (flippin’ hairy bittercress), tidying up of more fallen Miscanthus stems and still more leaf clearance.

Galanthus ‘Sam Arnott’

Snowdrop news!

My favourite snowdrop, Galanthus ‘Sam Arnott’ flowering already. These bulbs were only planted in August so it’s great to see them already.

Heavenly Hellebores

January sees the first Hellebores coming into flower. Here’s a selection of those already flowering :

29 December 2019

Cloudy but mild, 8°C and dry

It’s fair to say I’m feeling the excesses of Christmas today. A four mile run helped me feel a little more lively, or so I thought at the time, and so I celebrated with a ‘leftover’ mince pie and a cuppa. Ten minutes later and I’m feeling the excesses of Christmas, again. I don’t really understand why, because I was sure mince pies were included as a part of my five a day; they’re chock-a-block with sultanas, raisins and currants for heavens sake!

Anyway, I eventually pulled myself into the garden and got down to some serious weed-pulling. Not, you understand that there are lots of weeds, because there really aren’t. ‘Weed-pulling’ was really the wrong description for what I was doing. It was more ‘shooshing’, which is a gardeners word for pretending to look busy and productive in the borders, whilst randomly moving a garden fork over the surface of the soil. Eventually the ‘shooshing’ gave way to some serious cutting back of untidy looking perennials. I tend to cut perennial geraniums down in late autumn to about 10cm. Then, after a few weeks, the remaining, spent, brown stems can be carefully pulled away, leaving the crown of the plant beneath the soil, til spring.

I also pulled the remaining brown and sodden leaves of the Sweet Chestnut from around the bases of the Spirea, Rosemary and from around a group of Asplenium ferns. I’ve always liked to clear the borders of all leaf litter after the autumn winds have done their work, but I’m far more relaxed about it these days. I realise more-so now than I ever have, the important and delicate balance of the garden’s precious cycle of life. Leaves fall onto the cold, damp soil to decompose. A silent army of earth worms pull the decomposed remains deep down into the soil where they are eaten and the excreted remains enrich and feed the soil with nutrients to enable plant life to continue with renewed vigour and energy. It’s truly amazing. So tidy those borders, but not too much!

24 December 2019

Clear azure skies, 8°C and dry

Fennel seeds germinating across the borders like Billy O. So weapon of choice in hand, my trusty hand fork, I set about battling the fiendish fennel seedlings. A quick tickling (that’s garden-speak for tilling or forking) through the seedlings, enough to separate immature roots from soil will see them on their way.

The tired and blotched leaves of Hellebores can be cut back now. Dependent upon prevailing weather conditions, you’ll start to see the new flower buds pushing through the soil now. Removing the older leaves will allow the beautiful flowers to glory in the late winter/early spring spotlight.

I am pleased to tell you that following lots of enquiries from fellow gardeners, I am introducing a new feature shortly.

Mike’s Garden Diary will allow you to read about the things I do in my own garden day to day, throughout the year.

There won’t be an entry every day, as occasionally I do allow myself the odd day off now and again. But, hopefully it will illustrate the more mundane things that I don’t otherwise get to share with you.

Watch this space…