Nature starts to peep out of the ground delivering generous dollops of colour

How much should you 'tidy' your garden at this time of year? In her weekly gardening column Olive Ryan shares her advice on what we can do in the garden this spring
Nature starts to peep out of the ground delivering generous dollops of colour

Hellebores benefit from cutting off the old leaves to reveal the flowers better and a mulch with some rotted leaf mould about now

EVERY week, there is a new arrival to the garden these days, as rumblings from below the soil begin, particularly during milder days after the frost that we have been having recently.

Bulbs are beginning to stir, with the snowdrops abounding, and some of the earlier bulbs like Crocus tommasinianus, Cyclamen coum and Eranthis hyemalis are arriving and delivering generous dollops of colour atop the soil.

It is great to have a certain amount of clearing done in the garden, so that the earliest of flowers can be admired and regarded without the distraction of dying vegetation or congested branches around them.

It is always a debate, how much to ‘tidy’ the garden for the winter months. Leaving seeds and stems in situ to provide food and shelter for invertebrates is to be encouraged and is perhaps more suited to some areas of the garden than others.

A seasonal spring wreath featuring snowdrops.
A seasonal spring wreath featuring snowdrops.

This is the debate that constantly needs to be considered when working through the garden and prioritising jobs. The very mixed up weather typical of this time of the year dictates what jobs can be undertaken in the garden on any given day.

The wet weather makes it difficult to work the soil and time is running out for digging up and dividing plants or transplanting, so make the most of any dry days for getting jobs like that completed.

It can be useful to use boards when working on the soil in bigger beds, to prevent damaging the structure of the soil, so old planks and bits of plywood should be put aside for this purpose. Walking on these will help distribute the weight and prevent compaction of the soil.

There is plenty of pruning to be completed before growth begins, with apple trees top of the list for some winter pruning right now. Look out particularly for any crossing branches, diseased and dead branches and aim to create an open structure in the crown of the tree.

Roses, buddleia, fuchsia and wisteria will all benefit from winter pruning now and get them in shape for the growing year ahead.

Tying in climbing roses and working on creating a good framework, and removing dead, diseased and whippy growth can all be done now to prevent the plants becoming tangled webs of branches with little flowers and this will instead encourage strong, healthy new growth that will provide plentiful blooms.

Be mindful that some plants flower on the current year’s growth, like fuchsia, and other plants flower on the previous year’s growth, like forsythia and witch hazel, and this needs to be considered when pruning to ensure that the potential flowering wood is not being removed.

Sowing seeds can be considered from now on, particularly if a heated bench is at your disposal.

It’s best not to start seeds too early or you may run into trouble when they need to be moved on and protected space may not be available.

Leeks, onions, celeraic and sweet pea are all on my list to be started soon as they require a longer period for germination and establishment before being ready to be pricked out and moved on.

Even if seed sowing will not be undertaken for a few more weeks, there is plenty of sorting and tidying that can be done now to make it a more enjoyable task later in the spring.

Purchasing seeds from the UK has become problematic since the start of this year due to the fall-out from Brexit. However, there are some Irish companies like Irish Seed Savers, Mr Middleton’s Garden Shop, Brown Envelope Seeds and Fruit Hill Farm all offering a good range of seeds.

Seed companies are experiencing a huge level of demand currently as people remain at home all over the world impatient for spring and planning what to grow in the coming year, so do not leave ordering until the last minute as you may be disappointed.

Gardening talks

The Snowdrop Gala would usually be taking place this weekend and in a normal year it features some great snowdrop talks, a plant sale and tour of the gardens at Altamont in Carlow.

It is always a great way to kick-start the gardening year, admiring and examining these early spring beauties. This year it will feature two online lectures, from Alan Street, giving a talk entitled ‘Green revolution and all things green in the Snowdrop World’ and Jim Almond speaking about ‘Growing species Snowdrops’ on Friday, February 12 from 7pm until 9pm approximately.

The cost of these talks is €20 and payment can be made by contacting or by phoning Robert Miller on 087 9822135 from Tuesday to Sunday.

Snowdrops are also for sale and will be delivered from Altamont Plant Sales, which is useful for all the galanthophiles looking to increase their collection this year.

Daphne bholua 'Spring Beauty'.
Daphne bholua 'Spring Beauty'.

Plant of the week

Daphnes are a treasure at this time of the year. They provide attractive dark green glossy foliage and more importantly beautiful clusters of delicate pink flowers that are laden with sweet scents.

Flowering from December well into spring, they are a joy to behold.

A native to the Himalayas this shrub is a great woodland plant and does well in full sun also with a free draining neutral to alkaline soil.

Plant it somewhere that the scent can be appreciated, it is a shrub that does not like to be transplanted or cut back too severely so plan for its eventual height of four metres with a spread of about 1.5 metres.

Daphne bholua ‘Spring Beauty’ (pictured above) is an attractive cultivar that is widely available.

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