I recall having a conversation with another gardener earlier this month. We were remarking on how mild the past winter had been. But this was in January and we both agreed that we could not count on a lucky escape as February was still to come. February storms seem to have become a norm and the most recent, Doris, was no exception.
The beginning of March brings a kind of cabin fever to gardeners who just want to get out there and get on with a bit of early weeding, soil improvement, seed sowing or the multitude of other tasks which are needed. One task that I try never to neglect at this time is to re-pot containerised shrubs which live year round in their container. If they become too congested then it is easy for potted shrubs to languish and fade. Shrubs such as camellias should be lifted and handled carefully so as not to damage the buds that they are carrying.
Try to tease out the more fibrous roots and knock off as much old compost as possible. You can use secateurs to prune away some of the thickest and most woody ones so as to leave room for the thinner feeding roots that will regrow in the pot. When you put it back in its home make sure that you water the new compost in so that it settles around the root ball without leaving any air gaps that could lead to the plant drying out. Protect the new plants from getting blown over by the wind before they have gotten a secure purchase in their new home.
Sometimes it is no good, we get beaten by the weather whatever our intentions. That is when it is nice to do two things. The first is to settle down with some good gardening books. I have read three recently that have kept my attention and that I would recommend to you.
The first is by Michael and Anne Haseltine (yes THAT Michael Haseltine) and is entitled ‘Thenford’ after the garden that he and his wife have created. It is a large coffee table sized book, certainly not one to carry around. However, it is worth sitting down with as the writing is really very good and the images are excellent. It is always nice to peer into the gardens of the great and the good to see what they have got that we can’t have in our own garden and there is always a vicarious thrill for good gardeners in seeing something grown well.
My next recommendations cross the Atlantic to the USA which is home to some excellent gardens and in which Chanticleer is amongst the most renowned. I first read about it elsewhere but a recent book about it was on my Christmas list. The book is rather pretentiously titled ‘The Art of Gardening’ but as you read on it seems not far from the truth as the gardeners at Chanticleer use plants as set designers do on stage to conjure magical effects.
Finally, my last choice for a wet weather read is titled ‘The New York Botanical Garden’ and is a celebration of that institution and a history of the rise and fall of its fortunes until the present day. Since Frederick Law Olmstead designed Central Park and more recently with the creation of the High Line, New York has been an inspirational city in the creation of public green spaces though the Botanical Garden has been comparatively overlooked. Perhaps this book will put right that omission? It is worth a read in any case.
My final tip for a windy or wet evening is to seek out your local gardening club or horticultural society. Many hold excellent winter lectures by local or visiting gardeners though a good many have suffered a decline in membership and you might be just what they are looking for! Who knows you could swap a few gardening books around.
Cheer up its almost looking like spring out there!