Winter Gardening.

E. A. Bowles saw the possibilities of all seasons and winter was not without its interest: “So, if only the owner of a garden will plant enough plants of the most different types and habits  procurable, there ought to be never a day in which he cannot find some pleasure in watching growth or decay, structure of bud, leaf, blossom, fruit or stem, not minute of the daylight hours of the working days in which there is no interesting and health-giving work to be done.” – E. A. Bowles in “My Garden in Autumn and Winter.”

Winter view (4)
The trees are bare, the beds are empty, the clouds are threatening and the air is cold but it is still possible to find interest in the garden. 

Winter view (3)Winter view (1)Winter view (2)

Vegetable patch
The vegetable patch is looking quite bare. 

These are the days of the year when one must search for interest in the garden. The days of summer exuberance have long gone; autumn and early winter have been quite miserable and days suitable for gardening are rare rather than commonplace. Despite the bad weather, and taking advantage of any day of even bearable weather, I have managed to complete the normal autumn/winter maintenance. All the usual herbaceous plants have been cut down; those that suited were shredded and all heaped onto the compost bin. The leaves have all but a very few fallen from the trees; in places I have simply raked these onto the flower beds while those on the lawns have been raked up and bagged to rot down to make leaf mould, an invaluable material to add to the soil when lifting and replanting snowdrop.

Front garden view
A small lawn in the front garden – I cut the grass yesterday and you can see that the ground is soft as the lawnmower left noticeable tracks.

The autumn has been mild and flower buds have begun to grow on hellebores so I have removed the old foliage to help prevent disease and as it allows one to enjoy the flowers all the better. The last few days have been without rain, and I have taken advantage of what have been unusually dry and pleasant days to cut the grass – though, to be honest, by volume there was more leaves than grass – and trimmed the edges which gives a tidy appearance to the garden, a little like a neat frame setting off a picture.

There are some spots of colour in the garden: 

Mahonia 'Soft Caress'
Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’
Mahonia 'Winter Sun' possibly
Mahonia ‘Winter Sun’ 
Kniphofia near Magnolia 'Leonard Messel'
An unnamed kniphofia – gifts from gardening friends often come without names! It always flowers at this time of year.
Kniphofia 'Christmas Cheer'
Kniphofia ‘Christmas Cheer’ about to his full flowering. 
Garrya x issaquahensis ‘Glasnevin Wine’ (1)
Garrya x issaquahensis ‘Glasnevin Wine’ 
Penstemon
Penstemon something or other!

As if to repay my efforts, the main snowdrop season is getting underway. We had an earlier splash of snowdrops, the autumn-flowering cultivars of the Greek species, Galanthus reginae-olgae, which are a treat as they flower so very early but they have never thrived in my garden. They require a very dry and very hot summer dormant period, not always guaranteed in Ireland, and I grow them simply for the curiosity of their early flowering rather than their contribution to the garden.

Galanthus 'Barnes'
Galanthus ‘Barnes’ which flowers reliably this early in the season each year.
Galanthus 'Castlegar'
Galanthus ‘Castlegar’ always flowers in early December. It is of Irish origin, found by the late Dr. Keith Lamb on the Castlegar Estate in Co. Galway.

Peculiarly, there are still some fruits in the garden – those which I don’t wish to use this year and which have been left on the trees or have fallen and have been left.

Feijoa sellowiana (Acca sellowiana) has a very attractive flower earlier in the year and later develops egg-sized fruits. It is an evergreen shrub, native to Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina and Colombia. The fruit has a pleasant flavour, similar to pineapple, but are small and a bit of a fiddle to eat – split and scooped out with a spoon – and we generally don’t bother with them.

Feijoa sellowiana fruit (1)
Feijoa sellowiana still on the tree – the fruit is about the size of an egg. 
Feijoa sellowiana fruit (2)
Many have fallen to the ground. 
Feijoa sellowiana fruit (3)
A cross-cut to show the interior of the fruit. 

The medlar, Mespilus germanica, is a peculiar fruit which needs to be left on the tree – or picked and brought indoors – to ripen, or over-ripen so that the flesh turns a light brown and becomes soft. I have used them in previous years to make a jelly which is quite nice but will never compete with the freshness and flavour of a strawberry or raspberry jam.

Mespilus germanica fruit Medlar
Mespilus germanica – the medlar. 

The Chinese quince, Chaenomeles cathayensis, produces fruit much larger than the more common Japanese quince but it has never ripened here. Even when left on the branch until it falls and brought indoors in hopes of further ripening in the heat of the house it never approaches being fully ripe. As with the medlars, I have used them to make a jelly – which is pleasant but hardly delicious. They certainly don’t match the delight of baked quince from the true quince tree.

Chaenomeles cathayensis fruit
Chaenomeles cathayensis, Chinese Quince grow to the size of a tennis ball but remain rock hard! Note the snouts of Trillium albidum appearing above ground already. 

Regardless of the weather and the season, the garden is still enjoyable. There is always something of interest – and there is always something to be done! It keeps us busy, occupied and if not quite sane, at least on the safe side of being a danger to society!

 

 

8 thoughts on “Winter Gardening.

  1. What a lovely read and how ahead of yourselves you are. I thought I could call last Thursday but didn’t make it. Haven’t got a lot done outside lately though dying to do so. But little by little. At least I’m putting down good bones! Removing old rubbish stuff that’s been there for years.

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    1. This has been such a miserable autumn/winter with so much rain – between 200 and 400% of normal levels so on many days we were confined to the house. Given any chance I was out in the garden, some days in rain clothing, just to get out, to get some fresh air, to get a break and to do a little and bit by bit it all gets done. See you soon, I hope!

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  2. I so agree with you Paddy! My first garden in 1973 was planned from “The Readers Digest Encyclopedia of Garden Plants and Flowers” which had a list of plants that flowered at different months of the year and I sourced them with great difficulty but was rewarded with something flowering every month and I have continued to have this attitude to planting in subsequent gardens! I also enjoy gardening throughout the winter and like you take advantage of any dry day to get my “fix” in the garden! You have a great selection of winter interest in your garden!

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    1. Fashion has gone more and more towards the summer colour splash, tender plants, the jungle look, and winter is often seen as a time to shut down and neglect the garden. I enjoy the garden very much in winter and I especially love my winter snowdrops which I often say give a wonderful display at a time of the year when I am not working so furiously in the garden and I have the time to enjoy them. The tempo slows in the winter and we have more time to stop and stare and to enjoy.

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  3. It never ceases to amaze me (and perhaps induce envy) what gardeners of the British Isles call bad weather. Mow the lawn in December! My lawn is covered in snow, and barring the odd thaw, will probably remain so until mid-March. My “Christmas” roses bloom in March (along with the earliest snowdrops) and my “February” daphne blooms in April. Winter interest? When the snow sticks to the trees, we call that winter interest. The much-touted ornamental grasses are flattened by heavy snow. Winter color? Much more subtle, plus whatever berries the birds haven’t eaten. I won’t see the luscious green of the lawn until late April. Count your blessings!

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    1. It’s all relevant, I suppose, Kathy. An inch of snow would possibly lead to the country shutting down here – it would certainly be a dramatic event. Thankfully, it is quite rare. Indeed, We are very fortunate with our weather here, to be honest. I spent yesterday afternoon in the garden, pruning trees and shrubs. The snowdrops are in flower at present. The first of the primroses are peeping. Hellebores are in bud. Our gardens don’t really go dormant here in Ireland and we can, more or less, garden all year round. See, I have just counted my blessings!

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