Friday, March 11, 2011

A tricky thing called early Spring

Our garden is starting to wake up from its winter slumber. This photo was taken this week.
Spring is definitely just round the corner, with buds enlarging on several deciduous trees and shrubs, as well as some perennials starting to peep out from their winter dormancy. Even several woodlanders are starting to push out now. It's nice to see some 'life' starting to come back again all over the garden.  

But it's also this time when most of the evergreens are showing winter weariness and looking their scruffiest, and last years growth on some plants seem to wave at you, begging for your attention, needing to be cut back in preparation for this season's new growth. And it has been a harsh December too which left a few unexpected casualties that needs clearing out.The weather has been relatively mild for the past few weeks, mild enough to start getting stuck in with spring maintenance. And there seems alot more to do this year compared to the previous ones.

Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty'

Digging up a dead palm

It's good to start early, left too long it becomes a mad rush come April when the tidy up post winter merges in with the preparation for the new growing season. I usually take a few days vacation that month to dedicate my time with this spring preparation, so I can be on top of things rather than drag them on. So anything that gets sorted and ticked off the 'to do' list will help ease off the April rush.

One of the things that can be done this early, plant out a bamboo. Or in this case repot it. I line the sides (but not the bottom) of a terracotta pot with plastic to make it more water retentive as bamboos require more moisture but good drainage.

In truth, things never really get entirely finished. There's always something to do and other things do crop up on the way that you weren't expecting before that needs sorting out. That's gardening in general for you though, a never ending process that is mostly enjoyable to the hobbyists like us. All sorted or not, as long as most of it is done then I'm content with what I've achieved.

As tempting as it may be to get fully stuck in, early spring is a tricky time of the year and can be unpredictable. You have to be careful and cautious on what you do, as well as limited by the current conditions, unable to rely too much on the forecasts. The weather may be mild, but the threat of frosts, low temperatures, and even snow is still there. A constant eye on the weather is still needed.

Epimedium looking good after the winter

One word that comes to mind now is the word Tidy; you can't be too tidy at this time of the year, or rather just be selectively tidy and not be in a rush to do everything too quick. It's true that early spring can be the scruffiest time of the year in the garden (with autumn being the messiest) and the temptation is there to tidy up everything so the area is more pleasing to the eye. But it's best not to remove all of last years growth on certain herbaceous plants, they also serve to provide some protection to the tender new shoots starting to come back from the growth. And you can't remove all of the winter protection you have afforded on some plants, nor place outside all of the hardier plants mollycuddled inside the greenhouse. Not yet anyway with the weather still unpredictable. 

A lot of our evergreen ground ferns were flattened by snow last year, and are currently looking all splattered. But the fronds are still green and photosynthesizing, giving support to the new growth that will unfurl later in the season, so best left untidied for now. Tree ferns all still have their crown protection but I've loosened them up a bit to increase air circulation.

Gunnera tinctoria

Our Gunnera tinctoria however is bursting to get out of its protection so I have uncovered it from its fleecy blanket. A section of it was actually under the plastic roof panels covering the pond, and it was only bought to my attention that it needs uncovering when it actually pushed up one of the panels. That is remarkable strength from the plant considering the panels were weight down with stone blocks! It was lovely to see this prickly giant bursting to life, it's put on a massive display of leaves last year and looks like it will get even bigger this year.

Despite the limitations we've managed to do loads already, and looking forward to much later in the season when the weather is a little bit more stable and predictable (although it never really is). And that's when we can go full swing.

Which reminds me, I need to book some time off from work soon.....


  1. Now you've got me even more excited about spring! That's an amazing amount of green for a winter garden.

  2. Your gunnera is amazing. I've always wanted one but our climate is simply too hot and too dry. Ditto for 'Spotty Dotty'. The best we can do in the large-leaf department is rhubarb, LOL.

    I can't wait to see your garden go into overdrive soon!

    :: Bamboo and More ::

  3. Sad about the palm, it looks like it was a real beauty before it froze to death. The Gunnera, however, already looks quite impressive.

  4. I find it fascinating how many plants survive the cold and the how dormant ones come back to life so quickly, but would have felt sick having to remove that palm. You look like you've got a lot of work ahead - It's a good thing you enjoy gardening.

  5. Great post, so true that gardening is never "done", particularly at this time of year. Ii love the patterns of light and shade in that first photo. I love your gunnera even more, wish I had room for one. One day...

  6. What a garden!

    It's always sad to see a palm die.


  7. Excellent point about how tricky it can be at this time of year. We're all so anxious to get out in our gardens and work but the risk of poor weather needs to be remembered too. Despite how early it is your garden already looks incredibly lush.

  8. So much work to do! Your garden really has an exotic feel to it. You have some great plants. Got to love that gunnera!

  9. I had to google spotty dotty as I've never heard of it before. I'm looking forward to seeing yours.

    By the way - I think it's amazing that you had a vision of creating a tropical garden in the UK.

  10. I keep planning on getting a Spotty Dotty, but then I forget as I get swept along with other things, I will take a peek at my gunnera and see how it faired!

    I found a book on 'The Lost Gardens of Heligan@ signed copy too in a second hand book shop the other day. We first saw the garden in 1994 even in the early days it was amazing and I have not been back since, I will one day though!

  11. My next door neighbour had a gardener who was in his eighties. He told me that he still managed to look after a few gardens, Telling him that I found this quite admirable, he said, the trick is never to break sweat, nice and easy does it. So yes, I agree keeping on top of things is the way to go. I have never had Gunnera and didn't realise it would need protection over the Winter. I have an ornamental Rhubarb (Rheum) and was thinking of replacing it with Gunnera.

  12. We've had a lovely weekend, spent the day with friends on Saturday then all day gardening today, hence the delay in our replies. Thanks everyone! :)

    Alan, we try to include as many evergreens as we can to sustain interest and structure all year round. It'll be more lush in the coming months :)

    Gerhard, that was new to me that you can't grow Gunnera in your location. Your summers are much warmer than ours, and the leaves do wilt when it gets too warm, but springs up with extra warmer and in the evenings. Culinary Rhubarb is a great ornamental plant too!

    CG, shame about the palm indeed, especially it was a birthday gift. We've had a really cold December, coldest since records began and it was too much for it.

    Missy, it still never fails to amaze me how many plants are actually alot hardier than first thought. There's a sense of triumph if you get them to sail through. It pays to experiment every so often :)

    Janet, things never get truly 'done' indeed but it sustains the interest especially for us who enjoy gardening. G. tinctoria is a touch smaller than the massive G. manicata, and you can thin out leaves like rhubarb when they get too big :)

  13. Thanks Esther! We've come to terms with the palm, it was hard work to get it out though!

    Marguerite, it's easy to get carried especially on mild days but you just have to keep reminding yourself that it's not risk free just yet :)

    Debs, I think for that exotic look, Gunnera is a must have if you the space and boggy enough conditions for it :)

    b-a-g, Spotty Dotty is a fantastic woodland plant for the shady garden. Do get one if you like that sort of plant, highly recommended!

  14. Hi Libby, you musn't delay getting a Spotty Dotty anymore :) Try Long Acre Plants, their prices are good for these sort of plants. That book is a definite keeper, how lucky! And one of my favourite Cornish gardens too.

    Alistair, I totally agree with your next door neighour's dictum, easy does it! If it becomes too intense you're more likely to burn out from the hobby and get fed up with it, not a good thing! Gunnera doesn't need heavy protection as such, I used to just fold down its own leaves to thecrown once the first frosts brown them, but find using a couple of layers of frost fleece, netting, then fastened with pegs much neater as come spring you don't have the slimy old leaves to deal with. Overall it's not a fussy plant, but needs plenty of moisture to keep its leaves constantly upright in the summer.

    It might be worth replacing your Rheum with a Gunnera, the leaves are bigger and get mre dramatic :) I have both in the garden mind you!

  15. You have a great garden there, but I know how you feel with the Spring cleanup. Spent my day doing that also. I am always so glad when it's all done and I get to pretty much enjoy the rest of the season.
    Goldenray Yorkies


Thank you for taking the time to reply to our post, we love reading comments and hearing your views.

Due to the increased level of spam, please note comments on older posts are moderated and only published after approval. All new comments are read and any spam is deleted.