February 12, 2009

When to prune and when to leave alone.
Or how not to be a hack.

So, you’re standing in front of an apparently overgrown shrub and wondering how to go about taming it. Well done for at least being out there so early in the season to deal with it now.

Now, the first thing to ask yourself (ask it out loud – you will take better notice!) is should I be pruning this particular shrub now? There are a few reasons why you should not prune certain plants at this time of year. The easiest to understand and make a judgement on is whether this particular shrub is contributing to the winter scene – is it doing anything? If it is flowering then why start cutting at it now? I am enjoying SARCOCOCCA, VIBURNUMS, MAHONIAS, DAPHNES and CORONILLA right now so the only pruning practised on those is to cut flowers for the house.

Another group to leave alone for now is the coloured stem group. CORNUS, SALIX, STEPHANANDRA TANAKAE, KERRIA and some RUBUS. It surprises me how many people start on these so early in the new year just when we can start appreciating the colourful blaze when low sunshine strikes and ignites both them and our spirits.
The third reason not to prune is the hardest to grasp but once realized as a principle is like a light being switched on. Any shrub that has buds getting ready to flower in the next few months will not appreciate you depriving it of their reason for being. And neither will you when the result of your eagerness is no flowers! Think back to when you chose to buy this plant because it had ‘clusters of deliciously-scented white flowers in spring’ (VIBURNUM X JUDDII). It is about to provide you with this treat and you are standing in front of it with a sharp implement! Others, apart from other Viburnums, to spare for now are FORSYTHIA, KERRIA, CORNUS MAS, DAPHNES, CAMELLIA, OSMANTHUS, AMELANCHIER – any in fact that are going to flower in the next few months.

So what can you prune? Basically, any hardy shrub that flowers later in the year on growth made in that same year. You cut it, it grows again and flowers on those new shoots. Examples are SPIRAEA JAPONICA, HYBRID-TEA ROSES, SPARTIUM, LAVATERA (not a shrub but behaves like one) and of course BUDDLEIA.
Your reason for pruning may be to produce good leaf effect – these respond to hard cutting back by producing lots of strong new shoots that give a good display of foliage. Stooling this is called. Or coppicing and pollarding. These you can have some guiltless and worry-free fun with. Generally, the method here is to cut the whole shrub back to somewhere low down and stand back to see the results. COTINUS, PAULOWNIA, CATALPA, EUCALYPTUS, SAMBUCUS and ACER NEGUNDO FLAMINGO all make fantastic foliage plants treated this way.

It can be baffling this pruning business but before pruning, just think about;
• Is it contributing to the winter scene now? LEAVE IT TILL LATER
• Is it going to flower soon? WAIT AND PRUNE IT AFTER FLOWERING
• Flowers late in the year on new growth? GO AHEAD AND PRUNE. STEADILY
• Is it grown for the leaves? GO FOR IT!



February 12, 2009

After the fall of snow and my garden was covered with an eiderdown of white, it was confirmed to me how important structure is in a garden. Mine is composed of interlocking shapes that create planting beds that billow in summer with leaf and flower that ruffle up the edges of the lines.
In winter, the lines become apparent. However, there is still enough life in the beds to attract attention away from these basic support grids. Then comes this white unifying layer and suddenly the whole underlying shape of the garden is shown with no distractions. I was seeing my garden again as I saw it on white paper at its planning stage with the lines of hedge and masses of shrubs defining the areas.
Luckily, I like it as much as when I drew it!

The Scent of February

February 5, 2009

February – the last month of winter and the shortest one. I don’t necessarily like it but while we are in the middle of it, there is some joy to be had as a gardener. Scent is something that is heightened in winter, more positive in its attack and in getting your attention.

Snowdrops are the main theme this month. If you have managed to plant a colony on a bank or raised bed where they are a couple of feet nearer your nose, you would have discovered the honey scent already. I pick generous bunches for my office desk and the sight and smell almost (only almost!) makes me want February to stay a while longer.

The best scent for me at the moment, however, is being given up by the SARCOCOCCAS. One day nothing, the next, the whole vicinity is hung with the sweet and spicy scent. No warning, just stopped in my tracks and every year the same. There are several sorts of varying attributes but whichever you buy – plant it where you pass by. So many are planted where the owners never venture in winter and there they are, performing or perfuming with no audience. Go to them now (with some scissors – cut for the house they scent a room).

VIBURNUMS, especially V. X BODNANTENSE, is easier to notice, its flowers and buds giving a more visual warning that something good is on the way. A bush of this takes some beating with nose-pinching cold weather making the scent more apparent. Enjoy this scent on the air when it is sweet with a touch of spice. Close to, it has a slightly unpleasant back-note so don’t go sticking your nose right into it thinking you are going to get bigger and better thrills!

Another favourite of mine is CORONILLA GLAUCA. This is of the Pea family and it shows this in the flower. Yellow and with sweet perfume (slightly lemon in the CITRINA variety), it flowers all winter. I grow one on a sheltered wall and one in an open border and I doubt there is any difference in quantity of flowers but the wall does amplify the scent of the pampered specimen. This is good as it is near my front door. The other one has to be visited, usually with coffee in hand.

There are various varieties of the above shrubs but you will not go wrong whichever you use to get you through February.