This Month in the Garden (December 2012 – January 2013)

During late October, after almost a week’s rain, the sun came out, so I slipped on my gardening boots with the intention of getting out my leaf Vac and start to clear up fallen leaves. I danced up the garden and did, what should have been my little leap onto the terrace, unfortunately, the leap fell short and I finished up flat out on the terrace. I felt such a fool that the first thing I did was to look around to see if anyone had seen me, then I got up and told my wife I though I had sprained my wrist. Vi put on a cold compress,I did then manage to clean the leaves off my drive, but working one handed proved too much, so I gave up. The next day my arm was so painful I got a Taxi to the Leicester Royal Infirmary and had an X-ray, this proved I had a fracture and so my left arm finished up in plaster, which had to remain in place for five weeks.

This meant I was unable to do much in the garden, so my old friend Roger came along to not only clean up the fallen leaves, but also to move tender, pot grown shrubs into my greenhouse. Many years ago, to give added drainage to the base of the west facing house wall, I dug out a six inch wide by six inch deep, 15cm x 15cm, trench along the base of the wall and filled this with gravel. Now it is impossible to see the gravel as the whole of the area is now covered with Cyclamen hederifloium. This is a very hardy native plant, which forms corms often up to six inches, 15cm, in diameter; it will grow in very poor soils and will grow in sun, or even beneath the shade of trees and shrubs. Cyclamen hederifloium produces both its leaves and flowers during late September and October. The leaves are ivy shaped, but are green and have silvery Christmas tree-like patterns. The flowers are mainly lavender shades, but I have a number with white flowers. I did not plant the Cyclamen along the base of the wall, but the seed has a drop of sweet honey-like substance attached to it and this attracts ants that carry the seed to wherever there is a dry spot to form a nest. Cyclamen hederifloium can, in sandy soils, soon seed itself where it is not wanted, but as it starts to go dormant during the following May, it goes undetected during the summer months. Twenty years ago, I purchased a bulb of Nerine bowdenii ‘Fenwicks Variety’, now seen in the RHS Plant Finder under the name of ‘Mark Fenwick’. This superb autumn flowering bulb loves full sun and good drainage, so I planted my bulb in sandy loam in front of my South facing fence with only the bottom third of the bulb in the soil. Now it has developed into a clump of seventeen bulbs and the bulbs in the centre of the clump all appear to be above soil level. During October the bulbs of ‘Mark Fenwick’ produce eighteen-inch, 45cm stems, each topped with clear pink, trumpet-shaped flowers. The flowers last for four weeks and as soon as they have faded, I cover the bulbs with three-inches, 7.5cm of ornamental bark to help prevent hard frost from damaging the bulbs. I remove the bark during late April to expose the bulbs to sunlight. November, December and January are the best months in which to plant open ground trees and shrubs, although it is possible to order trees and shrubs online, you will find these are often small plants for ease of packing and transportation. Many local nurseries and garden centres will offer standard trees, some can be purchased as large semi mature trees, which are much more expensive and will need delivering to your door by road transport. I must admit that most of my trees were purchased as young plants from specialist nurseries then, over a period of years, I have caned them up and trained them into standard trees. Most people will select trees for their flowers, or foliage, but I have selected a number for their ornamental trunks and branches. One of my most outstanding is the hybrid Acer ‘Phoenix’ whose pink-white striped trunk and red young branches looks outstanding during the winter months. ‘Phoenix’ will eventually grow some twenty feet tall and is ideal for the smaller garden, whereas Betula utilis var jacquemontii ‘Doorenbos’ will attain forty feet, but if you have the room, plant this lovely Himalayan birch, which has a brilliant white trunk. Before you purchase any tree think carefully about where you are going to site it, if planted too close to your neighbour’s boundary overhanging branches will cause some conflict. Also, prepare the ground well in advance, an area at least three feet, 90cm, in diameter by eighteen inches, 45cm, deep will need to be dug over and plenty of garden compost, or old manure forking in. If a small hole is excavated, especially on heavy clay, trees will struggle to make new roots and may die through the planting hole filling with water.

My very best wishes for a happy Christmas and looking forward to prosperity in the coming year.