This Month in the Garden, February 2013 with Derek Cox

During November and early December of last year, I recorded eight frosts, this brought an abrupt halt to the growth of most of the trees, shrubs and perennials. However, the constant rain and frost free period during late December and January has caused many of our native weed seeds to germinate and as a consequence, for the last few weeks, during any dry spells, I have been out with my kneeling mat and hand hoe trying to keep the weeds under control. Here I must admit that three of my most troublesome weeds are plants that, many years ago, I planted in my garden for their flowers and foliage. Campanula persicifolia is a lovely bellflower with either blue, or white flowers, but it seeds freely around the garden often in amongst clumps of lest vigorous plants. Milium effusum ‘Aureum’, which is often referred to as ‘Bowles Golden Grass’, is a superb foliage plant with pure yellow foliage, the seed heads dance around in the wind and as a consequence, seedlings appear in the most unwanted places, but unlike the Campanula, it is so easy to remove. Our native violet is at its best in part shade so large carpets of this lovely native plant have appeared beneath trees and shrubs where its blue or occasionally white flowers look attractive during late winter. Violet seedpods explode to shoot their seed in all directions, much of the seed landing in the pot and container grown plants on my terrace and amongst low growing perennials.
I grow a number of Foxgloves, which give floral height to the herbaceous border during the summer. However, I select a couple of the finest flower spikes and tie a piece of string around them, all of the remainder I cut down as soon as they have finished flowering. I try to remove the selected seed before any of it is shed, but even so, many seedlings appear in the most unwanted spots around the garden. During August of last year, I sowed the seed of one of my best Foxgloves and within a week, this germinated and two weeks later, I transplanted the seedlings into cell trays. I gave two of the cell trays of young Foxgloves to Sue Gamble who assists the children in the planting of their wild flower garden at St Peter and Paul School in Upper Church Street.
On new years day, due to the mild weather, my garden had a number of plants which were in flower, the most spectacular being Hamamelis ‘Barmstedt Gold’, which grows in my front garden, and as I write this it is still covered with a mass of golden flowers. If left to their own devises Hamamelis will form large, open shrubs, but I prune mine as soon as they have finished flowering. Now, ‘Barmstedt Gold’ forms a vase-shaped shrub some eight feet tall by four feet, 2.5m x 1.25m, I occasionally have to reduce the length of its new branches during July. Helleborus niger ‘HGC Jacob’ has pure white flowers and ‘Walbertons Rosemary’ a contrasting dark pink were also in flower on new years day and are still in full flower. My Early winter flowering snowdrop reginae-olgae, which usually flowers in November, did not come into flower until mid January, whereas Galanthus ‘John Gray’ was in full flower by early January, but this snowdrop, although having large, attractive flowers, has very weak flower stems, which during wet weather cause the flowers to often hang down onto the soil beneath. I have just pruned all of my late flowering Clematis; those trained out on a fence I prune back to the framework of branches that I have trained out on the fence. Those I have planted to grow up through large early flowering shrubs, I prune just back to inside the shrubs branches. Spring flowering Clematis need to be pruned after they have flower and the large flowering forms, which flower during May and June need to be pruned after flowering and these will then often give a second flush of flowers during August.

Derek Cox