Head Gardeners Blog – Winter 2016


great-autumn-oak-colourFollowing a particularly dry and notably mild Autumn, Winter has slowly crept in and made it’s presence felt, although still, with some definite exceptions, it doesn’t feel like we’ve had too many especially cold days.

We’ve had a really good Autumn and early Winter from the point of view of work being completed. This Autumn past, has been as beautiful as I remember as far as colour is concerned, the prevalent weather conditions allowing a fine display to be better sustained. Our deciduous trees and shrubs gain their Autumn colour when the production of chlorophyll slows with the reduction in photo period (amount of daylight) and photo intensity (quality of light) which allows other chemicals and pigments always present in leaves – to different extents in various genus, to show through, thus producing the beautiful Autumn colours we’ve all enjoyed this year. The benign conditions – few heavy winds, slow onset of cold weather etc. allowed foliage to be held for longer than most years, producing a more abundant, fuller, and truly splendid display.

These pleasant conditions have also been a great help to us in terms of progressing our usual jobs for this time of year, not to mention allowing some good momentum with our program of additional works. We’ve spent a little less time in the Rockwood over the last probably 2 years than might be ideal, and took the opportunity to address this in part at least. Much of the deadwood and general debris that will always tend to accumulate in an area like this has been cleared, some pruning carried out, and some newly harvested material used to redefine some of the paths, edges and walkways. There’s always so much more to do in an area like this, you really can never be finished. That said, I anticipate we will spend a significant amount of time here through January and February. A huge amount of mulching is due, a big post Autumn clean up on the cards also. There is likely to be afew pockets of new plants used here and there, and probably some more pruning will be required. Thankfully, the overall good progress on our current work plans should enable us to devote ourselves a little more to areas like the Rockwood, where, when pressure of work and workload comes to bear, are among the areas that can get dropped form our thoughts.

bare-root-beechReaders of old may recall my keenness for the use of bare root material. The cost of plants available in this form are always a fraction of those produced in the more familiar containerised form. The kind of material typically associated with bare root planting are the usual hardy deciduous hedging type plants and trees, but a wider selection of material can be bought this way. I would always advise a hedge in particular be planted bare root – nominal cost, easier and quicker to plant and a better, much faster to establish result – it really is a no brainer. This year, we will plant about 550 bare root hedging plants, and are already well underway. No new hedges this year, but a small area of Hawthorn being extended near the Bowling green area, with the bulk of the planting being used to fill gaps, and act as replacement plants to some of the ageing constituents in the Beech, Hornbeam and Lime hedges in the angles and Beech Hedge Pond. I intend each Winter over the next number of years to rejuvenate the pond area and Angles hedges in this way, hopefully managing to have reasonable plants in situ, to take over from some of the older ones, now displaying considerable decrepitude.

bulb-planting-beneath-yewBulb planting is traditionally an Autumn job. Although not quite fitting into the ‘regular maintenance’ column, it feels a little like something that is very much an annual fixture at this time of year. More I suppose an aspect of the development of the garden, we will always do some bulb planting around October/ November, and I find myself in recent years itching to try things that are a little different. It’s certainly true to say that you pretty much can’t fail with the staples – Daffodils especially are available in so many forms and varieties, with variations on colour, height, flowering time, structure etc., – I find it troublesome to whittle my order down to manageable (monetarily and from the point of view of a good planting location) proportions… You’ll always get a very high level of success with the ‘usual suspects’ as far as Spring bulbs go, but trying other things with slightly more exacting requirements re soil and location can be fun and rewarding too. This year, we used a couple of different daffodils – Narcissus ‘Bravoure’ one which I’m fond of – I don’t like them too fussy, and a variety called N. ‘Avalanche’ – a new one for us, promising good fragrance and multi headed flower stems. In addition, we mass planted some Cyclamen hederifolium beneath some Yew, and again trying for something a little different, also as a mass planting, we tried some Colchicum. Colchicum are an Autumn flowering bulb (as is the Cyclamen hederifolium) and in structure resemble a Crocus. When choosing a variety of Colchicum, the flower colour of the one I went for was described to me by my supplier as ‘knicker pink’… With that kind of imagery, my mind was made up, Colchicum ‘Giant’ is was to be. Planted beneath Anthony’s Liriodendron tulipifera, we’ll hopefully see a worthy display in 10 or 11 months time.

planting-underway-at-carparkThe single largest job completed in this period has been planting the second side of the top carpark. It’s pretty much exactly 12 months since we planted the first side. I recall clearly the terrible weather while we planted, and the seemingly inhospitable soil in this area. We planted with a slow release general fertiliser and additional mycorrizal fungi, and this along with timing of planting (Autumn – optimum time) I feel has been the deciding factor (that and the generally, outstandingly wonderful techniques and abilities of my fantastic colleagues…). The planting here, despite the soil conditions, has done really well. The second side was a very different prospect, the weather was beautiful, and having cleared the area, raised the tree canopies and incorporated about 300 tonnes of soil and 50 tonnes of manure, we were planting into very a favourable environment. Several hundred plants were used, almost all either produced on site through seed, cuttings or division, or else grown on in the nursery from plugs or liners (very young plants) over the last year or so. We would have planned ahead with our nursery work, knowing we would need a large number of reasonably reliable mostly shade loving/ tolerant plants. A nice mix has been used, everything from Hydrangeas, Epimediums, Geraniums, Primula, Astilbes, Pachysandra, Thalictrums, Hellebores and many many others. We finished the area off with 50 kgs of daffodil bulbs, and a small fence will be erected here to define and protect the planting a little bit.beautiful-autumn-display

We’ve also planted some Roses, completed some turf repairs, cumulatively spent an eternity chasing leaves, and prepared a lot of our planted areas for mulching. Its been a great period for us, really productive and satisfying and I feel our programme of work is in pretty good shape. Despite all this, post Christmas we will have a full and busy work schedule, but at our momentum is good right now, and we’ll aim to maintain that.

Soon enough, shortly before the Christmas break, my neurosis will kick in (it’s never that far away…) and we’ll begin our ‘Spring’ cleaning of all our sheds and outbuildings. We’ll give our many hard working machines the best cleaning they’ll get till the same time next year, everything oiled and greased, maybe even some paint touch ups and windows cleaned. Hand and power tools will get cleaned, linseed oil might magically make its way onto tool handles – it is Christmas after all…

My office floor will get a clean, and I may even work through some of the stacks of paper on my desk. The garden canteen…well… that’s another story…

To all our members, visitors and clients, Happy Christmas and Happy New Year from Daragh, Dave, Ken and Colm in the garden department.

Daragh Farren, Head Gardener – December 2016