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Moe's Spring Newsletter

“I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose, I would always greet it in the garden”. Ruth Stout

As I look out of my window on a somewhat untidy space and as a new spring is heralded by signs of life, there is the promise of warmer days and happy times in the garden again ……………..getting on with all the work that needs to be done! The winter hasn’t been as kind as it was last year and there will be much tidying up and ‘rescuing’ of damaged plants to undertake. Particular casualties have been the succulents and pelargoniums in the cold greenhouse. There is a limit to how many I can bring into the house to overwinter and even though the pots in which they all grew were bubble – wrapped and covered with layers of fleece, some specimens have lost all their leaves or gone to ‘mush’. Bubble- wrapping the pots insulates the roots so, hopefully they will have been protected and all may not be lost. The best way to cope with frost damaged succulents is to take off the damaged top growth, water very sparingly and place the pot on capillary matting in a warm place. If I am lucky they will start growing from the base. If they have grown from a stem, then I cut it down at the point where it is green (damaged stems will appear brown and withered). Pelargoniums get the same treatment and have all top growth removed. If the roots are not frost damaged they will certainly start growing from the base or from a stem cut low down. The saying about ‘heat’ and ‘kitchens’ comes to mind when I get to grips with these tasks but because I love them so much, I wouldn’t want to garden without succulents so I suppose there are a few lessons to be learned that have relevance to gardening as a whole:

  1. We should prepare for the fact that global warming does not guarantee higher temperatures for us in winter.

  2. The weather has been, and always will be, unpredictable in the UK.

  3. Succulents succumb to very low temperatures. If you choose to grow them without some warmth in winter we should expect losses and some disappointment.

So we should……….

4. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst.


New growth on succulents

Frost damaged succulents

Of course there are more quotes and sayings about ‘expectations’. Many seem to advocate that we should do away with expectations all together! In modern life, having them will mean disappointment. What’s wrong with having high expectations? It would seem that Ruth Stout (above) has expectations that the garden will be better than anywhere else in spring because that is where she would choose to ‘greet it’!

In my winter newsletter I reported on the devastation to the box hedges caused by box leaf caterpillar. How were they going to fare this year with the organic control methods I have at my deposal? If last year is anything to go by, my expectation is - not very well! Despite my very best efforts many plants didn’t survive the attack. We nurture our soil, weed, feed and water it and, in my case, after planting box hedge saplings, had a reasonably high expectation that they would grow. With all that effort I expected healthy, happy plants. I hoped for the best but didn’t bargain for the worst, because box leaf caterpillars are totally out my control. They are a pest (yes I said ‘pest’) that I would NOT normally associate with gardening in this country. They don’t belong here and are only squirming around eating my plants because somebody failed to implement more stringent import controls on produce coming from Asia. When we spend our hard earned cash on plants from nurseries and garden centres we do have the expectation that they will be pest free and healthy. To make sure, we can ask where the plants we are buying have been sourced. Are they grown in the UK or imported? Getting back to my problem………..when is a box hedge NOT a box hedge? Certainly, I think we would all agree it’s when they are totally defoliated and unable to photosynthesise! In gardening there are some things we can plan for and others we can’t.

I have decided to replace all the box in my north facing front garden with Euonymus japonica ‘Green Spire’, Euonymus fortunei or Ilex crenata ‘Convexa’. Ilex is a very accommodating evergreen with small tight leaves. It grows at a reasonable pace and can be clipped as one would box. Although the area gets little sun, light levels are reasonably high so all should grow satisfactorily. In the Mediterranean garden (full sun) there are other options open to me: Lavender, Teucrium,  Berberis, Podocarpus  or Pittosporum Tom Thumb’ .The latter is deep purple in colour and will grow to about I metre in height and width, although it can be clipped to keep it much smaller. The new leaves appear green but change to purple when the sun has warmed them for several days. This is a useful if you wish to replace a larger box ball. Corokia virgata makes another very good specimen shrub with its small tightly packed leaves. It clips very well and is useful for a larger plant form, growing to about 1.5m. ‘Frosted Chocolate has frosty looking bronze leaves that are at their best in cold weather. ‘Silver Ghost’ has black stems and tightly packed leaves. Both require two clips a year to maintain their size and shape. Teucrium chamaedrys and Teucrium fruiticans fit well within a Mediterranean setting. The latter (tree germander) is a vigorous evergreen member of the mint family and will grow to 1 metre high with a 4metre spread. It will make a lovely low hedge but it will require hard pruning in spring. Teucrium chamaedrys will probably be a better choice for a low hedge because it has a very compact habit. It is a dwarf evergreen sub shrub with fragrant lilac – purple flowers. It is not without its needs though: watering during hot days and neutral to alkaline soil. If I want to use the plant I will have to do a soil test. Most of my garden is acid loam!

In his presentation on May 16th William Woods will, I am sure, enlighten us about how to care for lavender and teucrium and offer further suggestions for herbs to grow in my Mediterranean garden. Having to remove most of the box in my Mediterranean garden will, leave many empty spaces so I may decide to have a bit of a re- design.

I’ll be doing a lot more work in the Woodland garden this year. I will be introducing some exciting new plants. Included, will be Sanicula epipactis ‘Thor’ (formally Hecquetia). I love this charming ground hugging spring flowering plant. The flowering bracts are an intense acid green and have spread across the garden floor very well, infiltrating the space between the paving.  ‘Thor’ has variegated leaves and when planted in selected areas will give the effect of dappled sunlight on the garden floor. Another lovely plant for a woodland area that I am introducing is Filipendula ulmaria ‘Aurea’. With its beautiful finely divided lime green leaves and creamy inflorescences this rhizomatous, summer flowering, herbaceous perennial lights up gloomy corners of the garden and looks well with ferns, grasses and hostas. No doubt I will find a few other gems when Neil Huntley from Hartside Plant Nursery, Cumbria comes to speak to us on March 21st.He will also be including primulas in his talk about woodland plants. At our April meeting Jack Willgoss from Wildegoose Nursery will talk about hardy perennials and violas. There will be our annual spring plant sale on May 13th that will offer other gems to try. There will be plenty to tempt us all.


Sanicular Epipactis (Hecquetia)

Sanicula Epipactis "Thor"


Japanese toad lilies (Tricyrtris hirta) are another genus that I am thinking of introducing into a woodland border. They are late summer flowering, hardy rhizomatous perennials with unusual speckled flowers that open all the way along their arching stems. They should do well as the soil never dries out in this part of my garden. I particularly like Tricyrtis hirta ‘Autumn Glow’ for its wide white edged leaves and purple flowers. All toad lilies are quite slow growing but will form a good clump after a few years and are a useful addition to the garden when interest starts to towards the end of the summer. I fed my little garden with compost during the winter so there isn’t much to do but sweep up all the blown leaves on the paths. If you like to tidy up in spring and you grow epimediums, then you will need to cut down the foliage before the flowers start appearing. If you don’t, you won’t see them! They are beautiful but SHORT stemmed. As I write there is much to see: snowdrops, crocus and narcissus are all making a show now with the promise of lots more beautiful foliage and flowers to come. David Attenborough on BBC Winter Watch has been discussing the loss of British wildlife. This is a sad state of affairs but with a woodland garden that accommodates rotting timber and a stumpery, I can say I am at least trying to help the insects, voles, shrews, hedgehogs, frogs, mice and birds that make it their home. I have even been lucky enough to have seen them from time to time.

Filipendula ulmaria ‘Aurea’

Tricyrtis hirta ‘Autumn Glow’

Filipendula ulmaria ‘Aurea’

Filipendula ulmaria ‘Aurea’

Epimedium rubrum flowers

I am conscious that, in other spring newsletters I have listed tasks to undertake, and at this time of the year there are many. Forgive me if the following is not extensive enough or conversely, that I am repeating myself!!

Tasks to be getting on with:

  • Plant snowdrops in the green by splitting those that are congested when they have finished flowering.

  • Start begonias off in good, moist compost.

  • Clear away garden debris and feed borders with compost or manure

  • Finish cutting down large grasses started in February

  • Remove nets from ponds and any foliage that has fallen into the water

  • Complete your seed orders and plant out hardy perennials raised from seed.

  • Pot on overwintered annuals that have come through unscathed

  • Tidy up the greenhouse and repot overwintered cannas and agapanthus

  • Top up Eucomis bulbs in pots, with John Innes no 3

  • Cut down pelargoniums and repot/ top dress. Water to encourage new growth

  • Complete the planting of any new fruit including trees

  • Plant all types of hedges except broad-leaved evergreens

  • Enjoy the spring sunshine in the garden, but don’t overdo the hard graft to begin with after a long inactive break! Garden visiting is on the cards now as many RHS and National Trust properties will be opening their gates and welcoming us all to view the spring displays.


Happy gardening


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