Eco-Gardener: Getting cosy for winter
I cannot fathom how little old me – all 5ft 2” of me, managed to produce a son who is rapidly approaching 6ft. Ollie delights in patting me on the head now that he is towering over me and another annoying consequence is that he takes up so much space on the sofa. There are five of us in the family and with winter and Christmas fast approaching, and the inevitable mammoth TV sessions, we decided it was time to invest in a bigger sofa.
Thankfully, ensuring the plants in the garden are as comfy as we will be over the winter months will be somewhat cheaper.
Winter weather in my garden brings several risks to even my hardy plants: wind rock, which can expose vulnerable roots leading to root damage from freezing conditions, and, on my clay soil, waterlogging which also damages the roots. The very best remedy for both problems is a blanket of about 5-7.5cm of well-rotted manure, leaving a collar of clear ground around the stems and trunks to stop any softening which can make them prone to disease. This mulch has the added benefit of feeding the soil and improving the soil texture-helping to reduce the possibility of poor water drainage, and it encourages beneficial soil organisms. At this time of year I also prune out any dead, dying, damaged and crossing stems from shrubs as it is easier to see what you are doing with no leaves – except tender plants and Prunus varieties (cherry, plum, almond), as there is a risk of introducing silver leaf a fungal disease. I also cut back roses by a third to reduce wind rock, as well as regular walk-abouts to re-heel in any plants (often newly planted specimens) whose root balls have been exposed by strong winds.
Despite repeated deaths I stubbornly refuse to give up on some plants, like grasses that really prefer a sandier soil; this year they are getting a little extra pampering. I am growing them in a warmer south facing aspect nearer the house walls and I shan’t tidy up or cut them back this year, leaving that job for the spring if required to give added protection. This also provides extra nooks and crannies for over-wintering creatures. I am also trying bamboo stuck in the ground with lengths of fleece, hessian or netting wrapped around the bamboo and the insides loosely packed with straw, bracken and/or polystyrene packing chips before finally using a piece of polythene over the top secured with garden twine. To prevent sweating and possible rotting, I remove protective covers if milder weather returns. You can buy covers from activegardening.co.uk. Straw is also brilliant packed around winter root vegetables as it makes it much easier to pull them when the ground is frozen.
After a whole morning trying out different sofas we finally chose a style we all liked and fitted on.
“Now for the colour; I really like the brown one,” I offered briskly, but should have known I would be thwarted by a voice from above: “Mum, there is no way I am sitting on a poo-coloured sofa.”
Well, my plants rather like poo to sit on. In fact it helps them to reach similar lofty heights as Ollie, and what’s more they stay put in the garden and don’t lollop into the kitchen and empty the cupboards and fridge searching for food. Plants are so much easier than children!
This article was published in the combined December 2012/January 2013 edition of Reform.