The Galanthus (snowdrop) holds a special place in the hearts of gardeners.
The small white, bell-shaped flowers are a welcome sight in the garden in the bleak days of January and February. They are a sign that winter is coming to an end. They look at their best in a naturalised situation, in light shade, planted in drifts through a border, under deciduous shrubs or in a woodland setting. They can be grown in containers, on the patio, if they are re-potted each year.
Like most bulbs, snowdrops require well drained soil with lots of humus added so that the soil does not dry out in summer. Snowdrops may be planted in the autumn as dry bulbs. The best time to plant snowdrops is in spring when the bulbs are available with full leaf on them, this is often called ‘planting in the green’. Clumps of snowdrops are best divided every three years to avoid overcrowding. Lift the plants after flowering, carefully tease the clumps of bulbs apart by hand, trying to avoid damaging the roots. Replant the bulbs in small clusters spreading the roots out well and water in. If growing snowdrops in containers, re-pot in July or August when the plants are dormant, using fresh compost.
There are many different forms of snowdrops including double flowers, a wide range of different green markings on the petals and even a yellow snowdrop. Every garden should have a place for some snowdrops, if only to remind us that winter is over.
With the leaves gone, it is the barks of deciduous trees and shrubs that attract attention at this time of the year. Trees tend to develop their best barks as they mature, the young growth of dogwoods and willows can be very attractive. Birches produce dazzling white stems. There is an amazing variety of tree barks, some are smooth, flaking, mottled, coloured or rough. Some trees, like the eucalyptus shed its bark in large strips to reveal its new stripped bark underneath. Acer davidii ‘Serpentine’ produces beautiful green and white patterns on its bark. Mature trees of Liquidambar (sweet gum) have a nice rough grey, furrowed bark.
Bark is not just ornamental, some barks have a practical use like Quercus suber, its bark produces cork, used as stoppers for wine bottles.
Cornus (dogwood) is a deciduous shrub whose young stems are bright red or yellow. Prune the shrub hard in spring to produce new young colourful stems for next winter.
Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ (corkscrew hazel) is a deciduous shrub with bizarrely twisted stems and branches. In winter the plant also produces pale yellow drooping catkins.
There is great satisfaction in growing your own fruit trees, picking and tasting your own fresh fruit is one of the great pleasures of gardening. In the modern garden where space is limited fruit trees can be grown as an edging to a bed or trained on a wall or in pots on a patio.
Fruit trees like apple, pears and peaches can be trained to grow against a wall where the branches are trained to grow in a horizontal fashion. The branches are tied onto wires on a wall or fence. This is best done with young shoots while they are pliable. The advantage of a wall is that the fruit receive the maximum amount of light and heat reflected off the wall, especially on a south facing wall. Where space is limited choose fruit trees that are grafted onto dwarf rootstock. Fruit trees can be planted now, pay a visit to your garden centre and select your favourite fruit trees. Check that the ultimate size of the tree will fit into your available space and that you can train it into your desired shape.
Pollination must also be checked as some trees are self pollinating while others need a pollinating variety. Fruit trees like a soil that is adequately drained and fertile. When planting, dig in lots of well rotted manure.
Jobs for the week
Get your lawnmower and hedge-trimmers serviced and sharpened before the new season of growth starts.
Prune late-flowering shrubs such as buddleia, fuchsia and late flowering clematis. These plants flower on shoots produced this year.