First pangs of growth in our gardens

There are lots of small jobs to be done to put things to bed for the winter, and with spring around the corner the time is short for getting them done, says garden expert Olive Ryan
First pangs of growth in our gardens

ABOVE: Snowdrops making an appearance along the lime avenue at Blarney Castle Gardens last week

SPRING is starting to make an appearance in the garden, as snowdrops brave the winter sunshine, winter aconites abound, the nodding heads of the flowers of helleborus appear emerging from the old foliage if it has not been removed, and even a few early daffodil varieties provide splashes of yellow in January.

From now on ,we can expect something new to appear in the garden each week, as bulbs in particular begin bursting up through the soil to welcome a new year.

At this time of year, the weather dictates what jobs can be undertaken in the garden. When the frost and snow prevail, there is little option but to retreat.

The last week, however, offered a generous weather window where there was little rain and winter sunshine appeared on and off for much of the week. A wonderful week for winter gardening.

There are lots of small jobs to be done to put things to bed for the winter, and with spring around the corner the time is short for getting them done.

The sweet scents of Daphne are blooming right now
The sweet scents of Daphne are blooming right now

That is one of the consequences of choosing to share the garden with any wildlife that may be interested, a less tidy garden with lingering jobs. It is really worth it, however it does involve a change of mindset and learning to look at things differently.

It is safe to cut down most herbaceous perennials now, with the exception of Penstemons which are best left until March or April when the risk of major frosts has passed.

Plentiful rain before Christmas has reduced most perennials to a decaying mass of leaves, ideal for addition to the compost heap, and there are only a few very sturdy plants that still look good. This is worth reviewing now — what is standing well through the winter months and is it worth getting a few more plants for winter interest?

There are a few stalwarts remaining among the herbaceous, Miscanthus maleparthus, which is a tall clump forming grass that has shed a lot of its grassy leaves that remain straw-like on the ground, its flowering stems still stand tall and provide some interest and movement until they are cut down next month.

Cynara cardunculus, or cardoon, often mistaken for globe artichoke, has large-toothed soft grey foliage and has begun growing from the base already.

The architectural foliage of Cardoon
The architectural foliage of Cardoon

Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii is a great plant for year round interest with its evergreen grey/green foliage throughout the year and bright green/yellow flowers in spring.

As well as plants that look good, some plants that smell good are providing a different type of interest in the garden right now to lift the spirits.

Daphnes are wonderful early flowering shrubs with heavily scented flowers that flood the garden with a powerful aroma.

From now on, we will be searching out what plant is producing wonderful perfumes detected around every corner. The scent is further heightened by the cold, crisp weather enticing us out for a walk. Keep an eye out for mahonias, sarcococca, viburnums, witch hazel and winter sweet over the next few weeks when pleasant perfumes waft your way in the great outdoors.

While we may be confined to 5km for now, there is plenty happening online to keep us inspired. The Cork Alpine Hardy Plant Society is open for new and existing members to join their monthly meetings, which take place on the 4th Thursday of each month. The cost of membership, which runs from January to June this year, is €20. The next meeting is on Thursday, January 28, ‘Branklyn Garden — A Legacy To Mr and Mrs Renton’ is presented by Jim Jermyn, the head gardener. Enquiries can be made at Corkahps@gmail.com.

The Clare Garden Festival Facebook page regularly hosts speakers on all topics horticulture and next month there is a new series planned, starting off with ‘Herbs and Wellbeing’. Previous talks can also be viewed on the facebook page.

The Limerick Garden Festival Facebook page is hosting regular online talks also so check out their page for more details of these free information sessions.

Social media has become a great resource in these days of limited travel as people share photographs and videos of plants, sunrises, sunsets, wildlife and work being done in the garden.

It is usually at this time of the year that we contemplate the annual snowdrop gala. This year, Hester Forde is doing a lecture for the Garden masterclass series on January 27, ‘Snowdrops —White Gold’, check out www.gardenmasterclass.org/webinar for more details.

Traditionally, the snowdrop gala is held near Altamont Gardens in County Carlow, and there are plenty of snowdrops and other spring flowering plants for sale at the garden centre on site run by Robert Miller. In response to the current situation there are plants available for sale by mail order, email sales@altamontplant.com or phone 0879822135 for more details.

Plant of the week

Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii (inset) is considered a sub shrub as its stems get quite woody. It provides value and interest in the garden all year round as it is evergreen but really looks at its most beautiful in spring when it flowers.

The flowers are an eye-catching lime yellow colour and are produced when other perennials are only beginning to wake up!

This plant can get to about 1.5 metres in height with a similar spread and does best on a free draining soil in full sun. Dead heading after flowering is recommended as the flowers can detract from the attractive foliage that remains throughout the summer.

As with all euphorbias, when cut it weeps a milky sap so do be careful when cutting off the dead flowers as the sap is a skin irritant.

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