Sunday, 10 February 2008

Warming up and smelling stunning.

It’s starting to warm up a little, not so much that we may get complacent and start sowing and planting in a fever, but a pleasant enough reminder that better weather and longer days are coming.
I used to earn my keep as a gardener at a very old private garden near Weston that had some well established lawns with long beds across the front of them. We used to empty the beds and borders every autumn to replenish them with a healthy dose of rotted manure and leaf mould from the estate woodland. The established shrubs would be either lifted and split or could be left in place and worked around. Some of my favourite plants in those ancient strips of hungry soil were the least showy, the least flamboyant shrubs you could ask for yet they were the most valuable to me. They were the heralds of early spring, the winter scented shrubs.
I know a lot of people look forward to the dainty heads of Snowdrops (Galanthus) or the bright yellow bonnets of Daffodils (Narcissus) and I can see the attraction, but I’m a bit of a lofty fellow and my nose could find those shrubs long before I could see them , the heady scent of Witch Hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena') and the magnificently demure Viburnam (Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn'), both shy flowering but highly fragrant. Winter Sweet was an odd but delicious plant. Winter Sweet (Chimonanthus praecox) has tiny little nodding flower heads with warm orange centres that give off a , appropriately enough, warm cinnamon and spice fragrance. A taste bud enticing scent that normally precedes Easter and the hot cross buns that smell so similar.

If I ever reach a grand age and my senses start to fail me, as long as I can still recall turning the corner from the gravel drive and being bowled over by the wall of intense almost out of season perfume, then I will see my dotage through with a smile.
Meanwhile, I advise anyone with a spade and a wallet to find a supplier ,the RHS has a very good website for that purpose, and plant one or more of these shrubs as soon as they can.
You may just miss the best of the scent for this year but the wait for next spring will be worthwhile.
While you wait, consider your lawns. Is it time to tidy up, maybe even replace?
Do you fancy introducing a lawn into your garden?
If so, now is the time to get started.
Seed beds for lawns can be prepared this month and next and turf lawns can be laid from now on until the summer heat is a problem.
If your existing lawn is showing signs of wear, get a sharp edged spade out this weekend and turn the worn edges in. The secret is to cut a rectangle around the worn edge, lift the turf and rotate it 180 degrees so the healthy straight edge is on the outer edge and the damage is tucked inside. Then, after lightly forking the bare soil, you can reseed the bare patch and let it grow while you continue to trim and mow the repaired edge.
It’s not too late to move established deciduous trees or shrubs that have outgrown their place or if you just fancy a change.
Down at the plot, my early peas are starting to emerge, as are the late broad beans. The seed potatoes have arrived at the allotment store and so I’ve set my Earlies, Rocket, in trays for chitting. The lates, a variety called Desiree, won’t be chitted but will go straight into the ground at a later date.
Chitting, for those new to it, means standing the tubers in a tray and encouraging small shoots to start forming on the potatoes. This is believed to increase the size of your crop and can help early varieties but really doesn’t make much of a difference on the generally heavier cropping main or Late varieties.
Next week, I hope to grab some bags of Onion Sets, Shallots and Red Onion Sets from the Store.
In a future blog, I will return to the container/small garden with a plan for a productive fruit and vegetable plot in a large tub for the patio.
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