Around the Garden with Busy Lizzie - January


A NEW year often brings change with it.

This is true in the garden too and there is no better time than now to re-assess your plot. I mention this because my own patch of ground is now mature.

I have been cultivating it for eight years and some of the features, such as the large pond, have been here a lot longer.

While it still generally looks good and remains very enjoyable to work in, I find that one or two areas are becoming tired and are in need of regeneration.

These areas are where the main structure of the garden resides, such as the arches and frames for the rambling roses which I grow in abundance, which have all been blown apart by the near continual wind which we seem to have experienced, and the edging which provides the support for the terraces to the side of the garden, which have now rotted away and are allowing the soil to drop.

When things like this go wrong, there is no other solution but to remove the offending article and to start again. I could tinker about and prop things up for another year or so but this is a marvellous opportunity to make a fresh start and one which will, ultimately, make a vast improvement to the garden as a whole.

Now, I do not profess to be a garden designer. My thing is plants and when you love them as I do, you need somewhere to grow them. That necessitates the graft involved in making a garden and all my plots have evolved gradually rather than being a source for instant gratification. I have been lucky that most of my gardens have also started as clean sheets, having little or no structure to them and little in the way of interesting planting.

Now I find myself in unknown territory. The areas under modification house some of my most precious treasures and I am unwilling to make major sacrifices.

I had taken a number of cuttings in the autumn, which are doing well in their temporary homes, so I have a little insurance if things do not want to move, which is why I have been able to wield a spade with some confidence and have started to dig the whole lot up.

Winter is not a bad time to do this. Most plants are lying dormant and do not object to being messed about with half as much as if they were in full growth.

The soil is still reasonably warm so tucking them in temporary accommodation in the vegetable patch has not been too hard on them.

The herbaceous perennials which have been lifted have been split. This reinvigorates the plant as well as making it smaller and more manageable. It also bulks up your stock with several plantlets, which may be an advantage if you lose one or two over the next few months.

This procedure is traditionally left until spring but, thanks to some mild weather, things are still growing so it is easy to determine where to make the cut.

Cutting may be done with a spade, tearing apart with two garden forks or slicing up with a bread knife (don’t put that back in the kitchen!) depending on the size of plant to be split, and is not as risky as it first looks.

Plants want to grow and as long as you give them the means to do so – at least one, preferably two crowns of growth and a good root supply – the operation should be successful. Re-plant at the same depth at which it was previously growing and water in.

If you do not have some spare ground, pot up in John Innes No 3 and put somewhere sheltered. Moving larger, more established plants usually requires some more thought.

Pruning would be a good place to start and this is okay for things like roses which are traditionally pruned at this time of year.

The pruning mantra runs like this – remove anything that is dead, diseased or unhealthy; remove anything that is old (darker bark, lack of buds etc); remove anything that is in the way (crossing or rubbing branches).

Always cut back to a healthy, outward facing bud and cut at an angle, sloping away from the bud to allow for rainwater to run off rather than to pool. Lift the plant, taking as much root material as possible and either heel in to its temporary home or pot up, again at the same depth that it was growing before.

Other shrubs may be treated in the same way but remember that spring flowers may be lost as a result. Later flowering shrubs, such a Lavateras and Buddleias, benefit from leaving their old growth on over the worst of the winter so resist the temptation to hack these about.

A short haircut will keep them tidy for now.

I already have Snowdrops out and one or two Crocus are showing signs of colour. As long as these are moved without disturbing the root system (ie with as much soil around the bulb as possible) they should be okay. Any other bulbs which come up should be re-planted as soon as possible. Spearing is inevitable, particularly for me as I grow a lot of bulbs. Damaged bulbs are unlikely to survive, but just in case, I have popped mine in a pot.

Finally, you can stand back and admire your clear plot. It will look much larger than you expected and be under no illusion, the real hard work has not even started.

But take some consolation from the fact that all that Christmas food will soon be burned off and you won’t have to go on that diet after all.

Plant of the month

Eranthis hyemalis – Winter Aconite

A LATE winter flowering bulbous perennial which, if happy, quickly carpets the ground with bronzy-green, ruffled foliage and bright yellow flowers held over a long period.

It requires moist, fertile, well-drained soil and will establish quickly if left undisturbed.

Specimens may be bought in pots now, ‘in the green’ in late February or as dried bulbs in the autumn.

All parts of the plant are toxic so the wearing of gloves while handling is recommended.