Moe's Winter Newsletter
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that has” - Margaret Mead
As we head into a new season and a forthcoming Christmas and New Year I have no doubt many of you, along with me, will be glad to say goodbye to the bad times and are looking forward to a future that, hopefully will be better, both in terms of our health, and for the environment in which we live. Whilst COVID, we are told, has not gone away, we have all been vaccinated and ‘boosted’ so to speak! Life goes on and with some adjustments we can all enjoy ourselves a little more as we say hello to 2022. We can look forward to our club restarting in January after a long break, made longer by our need to find a new venue. We were told that the cricket club would not be suitable for our meetings anymore! Now confirmed, our new club starts on 18th January with the AGM and Hot Pot supper at St Mary’s Church Hall, Wigan Rd, Euxton, Chorley PR7 6JW. The committee hope that many of you will take this opportunity to join us as the New Year begins. We will also have a packed programme of speakers to look forward to in 2022, starting on February 15th when we will welcome Judy Popley of Flower Power Fairs who will be talking about some splendid gardens in her presentation Gardens worth a Visit.
If you really haven’t got much to look at in your garden now that it is stripped down to its bare bones, then why not pay a visit to a few National Trust properties or RHS gardens over the winter season to get inspiration for the range of choice trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs you could plant in your garden to give it more winter interest and make it worth going outside for: Dunham Massey (Trafford) Harlow Carr (N. Yorkshire) Bodnant garden (Conwy) and Bridgewater Garden (Salford) are within easy reach in a day. Here are some candidates: Every garden needs a Witch Hazel for winter. Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Vesna’ flowers exceptionally early and is exceptionally fragrant too. Its’ pale orange petals appear on leafless stems after the yellow, orange foliage has fallen. At an eventual height and spread of 4m x 3m it needs space to develop though. Very fragrant also is Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Aurora’. It has to be said that if you wish to grow this genus you must choose them when they are in flower. Scent is a very personal thing! Another shrub that is exceptionally fragrant of a similar size is Chimonanthus praecox ‘Luteus’. Smaller gardens can accommodate the upright Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ and the much smaller ‘Juddii’, Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata Alba’ or Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna all have wonderful fragrances in winter. Although it needs annual pruning to keep it in good shape Cotoneaster x suecicus ‘Coral Beauty’ (growing to 2m x 3m) has gorgeous small red berries that last a long time. I kept mine very small for many years and have now decided to let it take up a little more air space so to speak. When planting, give some thought to how your new acquisition/s will relate to other plants in your garden. Plants don’t exist in isolation and look much better if they become part of a bigger picture. When planting, dig a hole big enough to accommodate the roots comfortably and if the weather is dry (heaven forbid!) fill the hole with water and let it drain away before placing the plant in it, filling with soil , firming it and watering again. For more colour at ground level there are several perennials that give winter enjoyment. Helleborus foetidus and Helleborus x ericsmithii perform well although the former will need careful placing as it has an unpleasant smell. Although I hate the idea of any plant being ‘unfashionable’, Ericas have a bad press at the moment! However there are few plants that can provide the same winter colour as Ericas. There are many colours from which to choose but one to look for is the lovely ’December Red’ (pink!).
It seems a long time to wait before we can all feel the heat on our backs again, but that shouldn’t stop us from getting out into the garden to work off a few calories after the festivities by undertaking the seasonal tasks of netting the ponds, pruning the fruit trees and making sure all plants in pots are well insulated against the cold weather that winter brings. Some of you will have tidied up the borders by now and spread an insulating blanket of compost or manure over the plants. If you are leaving the borders until spring to tidy them that will be fine but just ensure that there are no tall plants that could be damaged by strong winds. Take a bit of height off these whilst you’re pruning the climbing roses to prevent wind rock that will damage the roots. Blackcurrants and autumn fruiting raspberries can be pruned during January and February as can blueberries.
Nothing makes as much impact as a swathe of gorgeous bronze foliage in a corner of a border than Bergenia ‘Eric Smith’. It makes a great foil for spring flowering bulbs. Greener but with the coppery tints of the new growth is the useful Dryopteris erythrosora. It too is good for setting off taller spring flowering narcissus. Of course, winter wouldn’t be the same without snowdrops (Galanthus), Eranthis, and Cyclamen coum, but there is Iris unguicularis ‘Walter Butt’ and Iris lazica that will flower when the snowdrops arrive too. You can find these bulbs in the garden centres. If the weather is clement, shrubs and trees can also be planted now whilst they are dormant so you could make as start improving your winter garden pretty soon!
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Aurora’
Inside, my major gardening pastime is ordering seed for next year’s crops and flowers. It hasn’t escaped my attention, (and probably not yours either) that the C.O.P conference in Glasgow has been in the news and that the political commentators have been informing us about how the world’s leaders are going to tackle the serious issue of climate change. Of course, all the world’s leaders work on our behalf and it is going to take a monumental effort from everyone to get the planet on a better footing. However, it really is true that as gardeners we can make a difference in our own way. Those of you who read this newsletter on a regular basis will be aware that I have always advocated a ‘green’ and ‘organic’ approach to gardening. In the past I have written about the need to recycle, to make do and mend, to grow organically without spraying our flowers and edible crops and to tolerate the occasional pest for the sake of the planet. Preserving the insects and wild life in our part of the world is just as important as the need to change the climate. It is predicted that 40% - 70% of insects could be extinct in the not so distant future if action is not taken to provide them with the means to collect pollen and nectar and to move from one environment to another easily. The way in which our countryside is structured could be improved to create corridors for insects to move through. In our gardens we can take additional action to allow bees, butterflies, moths and hoverflies to access the pollen and nectar they need by growing certain flowers. If you don’t grow them already, you can include plants such as Buddleia, Borage, Cow Parslip (Primula vulgaris), Dahlias, Hylotelephiums (Sedum), Golden Rod (Solidago), Foxgloves, Calendula, Salvia, Tropaeolum, Cosmos, Agastache, Echinacea, Leucanthemum, Aster, Monarda and Lavender in your gardens. Also take a little more time when choosing which annuals and perennials to grow in the coming year. Any flower in the daisy family that is simple in structure will do very nicely but there are many more that would be just as beautiful and beneficial. What I definitely won’t be growing are doubles. Bees pollinate 80% of all flowering plants and I don’t want to be giving them a hard time by planting doubles in my garden. Simple single flowers are definitely the best. One would have thought that the seed companies would have had a handle on this issue and changed what they offer for sale in their seed catalogues. However I was shocked when I looked through one or two of those from the well- known companies that I’ve ordered from in the past! There was hardly a single flower type in them in the 2022 catalogues. I did go so far as to telephone one company and make a plea for a rethink on their behalf to help the bees and other pollinators - and the planet! Here I am asking everyone to give the doubles a wide birth and buy single flower types in 2022! If your favourite seed provider hasn’t included many in their catalogues why not tell them you aren’t shopping with them and are choosing your seed elsewhere? If we all did this it should have some effect for the better because as we all know the old saying ‘The customer is always right!!!’
SINGLE Dahlia ‘Moonshine’
Anthemis tinctoria ‘Kelwayii’
AS gardeners there are other things you can do to help the insects, other wildlife and the planet! You can:
Reduce your flood risk by choosing your paving carefully. Any material that allows water to permeate it easily will help.
Have a water butt (or more water butts) in your garden to collect and save water to top up a pond or water crops.
Tolerate weeds. You don’t need to go so far as having a weed infested garden – just tolerate some in hidden places. Those that are particularly useful are nettles (for butterflies) and clover
Use your lawn mower less often. If you have a large garden make a specific area of wild grass sown with meadow flowers too. If you feed your lawn, do so with an organic food NOT a chemical one.
Create a log pile from old tree stumps
Put up bird and bat boxes
Plant another small tree. At 3m-4m high (eventual ) the crab apple Malus ‘Wisley Crab’, Malus toringo ‘Scarlet’ or Malus ‘Sun Rival’ would enhance any garden with their lovely structures (which need no pruning or attention other than removing suckers from their bases) gorgeous blossom and fantastic crab apples. A tiny garden would take a tall slim, pyramid apple. Edible fruit is a bonus.
Have a pond (I’ve mentioned these before). A barrel would do to attract birds!
Plant at least one variety of Hedera Helix somewhere in the garden. There is an ivy available that will be particularly useful for beautifully covering a wall, shed or fence, for creating topiary, making into a standard or simply used for ground cover. What makes this plant so special is that ALL wildlife likes Ivy!
Don’t forage! Humans (in our country ) don’t NEED to forage. Leave these plants for the animals, birds and insects that depend on them!
Make leaf mould and compost to feed your soil
Buy a subscription to a wildlife charity for someone at Christmas!
Merry Christmas and happy organic gardening!
P.S. Feed the birds!!!
Hedera Helix ‘Goldheart’
Hedera helix ‘Erecta’