How to make your garden storm-proof

In her weekly column, Olive Ryan shares some advice on how to make your garden safe when the weather turns bad
How to make your garden storm-proof

Willow obelisks at Beth Chatto’s garden

THE combination of wind and rain during storms Ellen and Francis over the last few weeks has certainly made its presence felt in the garden.

Summer colour that was naturally peaking and edging past its best was blown into autumn with no apologies made!

It is still only the end of August, with many weeks ahead for plants to recover somewhat before retiring for the growing year.

Some cleaning up and tidying now as well as selective pruning can help to extend colour into the autumn.

Plants have certainly been tossed about a bit in the gale force winds, but they will recover provided we get some settled weather, so fingers crossed.

Do remove any cracked or damaged stems on plants as these will not recover and may provide entry points for disease, also they give a dishevelled appearance to the garden.

Check larger trees for any hangers that may have cracked off and are still hanging by the bark as they may be a danger if over a footpath or driveway.

The winds certainly put any plant supports that were in place to the test. The stronger and more secure the supports, the better really. Hazel rods coppiced every two years provide sturdy and sustainable stakes for plants and lattice patterns can be created to make attractive supports for peas and beans in the vegetable garden.

 Willow tunnel at Blarney Castle Gardens.
Willow tunnel at Blarney Castle Gardens.

Obelisks made from natural materials such as hazel or willow can provide attractive supports for sweet pea during the summer and they look well even before becoming covered by the plants.

While we may be too late for the plants in the garden this year, and perhaps the damage has already been done, learning from mistakes made this year will lead to better gardening next year.

The winter months can be a good time to begin collecting materials for use the following year. Willow rods are useful and flexible for the creation of supports and creating naturalized sculptures in the garden.

They also respond very well also to regular coppicing or cutting the growth right down to the base. They will readily send out plentiful new growth the following year. They grow extremely easily from cuttings so be careful where you stick them into the ground, especially if they are freshly cut rods, not dried out, as there is a strong possibility that they will root in the ground.

Willow are most at home in wetter soil and are often growing adjacent to rivers or lake sides. They grow very rapidly with new growth easily exceeding one metre in a growing year where growing conditions are favourable.

Some wonderful structures can be fashioned from these long rods that emerge rapidly and consistent tieing in and maintenance is key to keeping them looking well.

Future Forests in Kealkill occasionally run willow workshops where tips and tricks involved in the creation of living sculpture and other useful items for the garden are shared as well as the best varieties to use and how to store harvested rods to achieve the best results. Check out their website, for regular updates.

The recent weather events do get you thinking about planting schemes in the garden and the merits of having mixed borders that include trees, shrubs, herbaceous, roses, grasses and perhaps seasonal fillers.

A lot of herbaceous plants and taller annuals like sunflowers and cosmos have been challenged during recent weather events. It becomes evident that the shrubs and trees do help to maintain structure, especially during the winter months, and also when the weather takes a turn during the summer months as it has done of late.

It also reinforces the importance of locating larger trees and shrubs a good distance away from built structures so that crown reduction does not need to be undertaken and plants can grow to their full potential without fear of causing damage in high winds.

It all comes back to that famous gardening phrase, I believe coined by Beth Chatto: “Right plant, right place.” Choosing the right location for a particular plant will provide it with the conditions that it needs for growth, and with large trees, one of the requirements is space to reach eventual height and spread without restriction.

Growing plants in a mixed border also brings its own challenges in that different growing conditions are created within the plant community as it matures. There can be dry shade, wet shade, full sun, semi-shaded, sheltered and exposed areas to contend with, all in a relatively small area.

This is one of the great challenges of gardening which many accomplished gardeners like Beth Chatto overcame by understanding an individual plant’s requirements and choosing a spot in the garden that suited it best.

It makes sense and is something that we are constantly refining, and extreme weather events like storms and drought, for example, force us to review how we are gardening and if it is working well or if it can be improved.

Happy Stormy Gardening!

A Blue Fortune — see Plant of the Week
A Blue Fortune — see Plant of the Week

Plant of the week

This week’s plant is quite a robust one that came through the wind and rain with flying colours over the last few weeks.

Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ (right) is a great, compact, late flowering perennial which is covered with pollinators on dry sunny days. It bears several spikes of purple flowers from midsummer into mid-autumn.

This cultivar can grow to about one metre in height and prefers full sun and a moisture retentive but free draining soil. Its compact growth habit works well during inclement weather and it has come through the recent storms well, and continues to flower with some assistance provided through dead heading spent flowers.

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