Archive for February, 2010


 The wisteria that graces the back of the house needs attention. The old adage is ‘two and sixpence’ meaning that wisteria are pruned lightly in the sixth month of the year which is June and then pruned harder in the second month which is February. This climber has covered the wall space available for it to grow into and so pruning is limited to cutting back the long flexible shoots that have grown since its summer pruning. By cutting back hard to two buds from the main stem, a stud system is formed, similar to an apple tree, which will provide the flowers later in the summer. I’m not particularly keen on climbing heights, the older I get the more interested I become in self-preservation, but soon there is a satisfying number of shoots collecting on the floor underneath my ladder. A few of them have tried to grow under the tiles of the roof and have to be carefully eased out; they would cause damage if they were left to their own devices.


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     When I became a gardener, many years ago we used enormous wooden wheelbarrows with high sides to contain the grass clippings. Just to move them unladen needed the strength of Samson. These days our garden tools are mercifully lighter and more streamlined. However, it is of paramount importance that we keep our tools well-maintained. A sharpened pair of secateurs or loppers will cause much less strain to our muscles than a neglected pair. A hoe with a sharp edge will glide through the soil, slicing the roots of the weeds, whilst a dull edge makes for hard work. A blunt pair of lawn edgers will simply drive us to distraction. If you are not sure how to sharpen a tool then the simplest advice I can give you is to pop along to your jolly old hardware shop and buy a sharpening stone on condition that they give you a full demonstration on how to use it. After that, it’s a matter of getting into the habit of sharpening your tools as often as possible.

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When designing garden borders, Christopher Lloyd always recommended starting with the trees, shrubs and perennials that give interest in the winter. The bark of a tree takes centre stage without leaf or flower to distract the eye. The clusters of silver birch that meander the length of the drive have the winter slime washed from their trunks and boughs so they shine their best. The acer griseum, the paper-bark maple, needs no such attention; the peeling orange-brown bark is divinely handsome just as it is. Meanwhile, the evergreen variegated hollies, the scented viburnum bodnantense and the bold shapes of the daphne, skimmia and euphorbia griffithii combine to keep the winter borders interesting. Those who resist the urge to cut their herbaceous borders down to the ground in the autumn are now rewarded with the magic of a sedum or crocosmia catching the rime of a frozen morning.

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