Traipsing through a wet, rough and steep bank on a garden where we have been trying to gain control over acres of Bracken, I have been putting into action the ‘succession planting’ phase of this particular job. There is not much point getting control over invasive weeds if you are not going to try to replace them with desirable plants that can become the new dominant species. In this instance we have been planting hundreds of bare-root whips of native trees. The winter months are the best and least costly time of year to get bare-root trees and shrubs planted, and this goes for general garden planting too.
When you order bare root plants, what arrives look like not much more than sticks, with some straggly roots attached, but do not be discouraged – in the spring these plants will once again burst into life. Most plants are in their dormant period at the moment so the stress of transporting and planting is much reduced. It is easy to purchase bare root plants online, and it is best if you can get them planted straight away so that the roots do not get exposed to freezing temperatures. If you can’t do this immediately, it is not a problem – but do not keep them indoors, simply ‘heel them in’ somewhere in your garden. ‘Heeling in’ involves covering the roots with some compost or soil until a convenient time comes for planting. I will happily heel a bare root tree in for weeks if really necessary, but it must be done as soon as you take delivery of the plants.
When you are planting, do make sure you do a good job, as this stage is critical for the survival of the tree or plant. For each plant, find the ‘nursery line’ on the main stem, this is the point somewhere above the top of the roots where the soil reached up to before the plant was prepared for sale. It is important that the soil is at the same level once the plant is in the ground – not higher, and not lower. For larger bare root plants and trees, dig a square shaped hole in the ground which is plenty big enough, and firm the soil several times as you in-fill the hole. The square shaped hole ensures that roots don’t spiral around and that they are forced to spread out – more critical when planting pot-grown plants, but still important. For shrubs you can add a handful of compost or a bit of fish, blood and bone mix, but for trees it is important that you do not use any compost or fertilizer. This is to force the tree to go searching for nutrients, and thereby develop a strong network of roots.
Mycorrhizal fungi is also a very wise addition at the planting stage. Do not forget that trees will need staking too, and potentially protection from pests such as deer and rabbits.
Do not forget that the winter months are also a great time of year for getting in touch with landscapers, designers and gardeners as it is a great time to start prepping the garden for the spring, and getting any plans ready for you to enjoy once spring rolls around. And, I always mention this, but do not forget to feed your birds at this time of year, as many really rely on the extra food that we put out
Sitting next to the fire as I write this, with a steaming cup of coffee on the table and the dog curled up next to me, I am reminded about why I ended up living in the highlands. A day out enjoying the autumnal colours, followed by cosy evenings spent indoors make for a pretty unbeatable mix. The beautiful autumn display this year was never going to last too long, the trees and plants have had a stressful summer with the lack of rain, so will have been keen to shrug off their leaves at the first sign of frost. The Birch trees that I can see beyond my garden fence are looking increasingly sparse, and are starting to take on that magical monochromatic sheen unique to Birch woodlands in the winter.
There are jobs to do in the garden, not only to put the garden to bed for the winter, but to keep it looking interesting from the warmth of the house. Once the remainder of the leaves are down, I will use my lawnmower to collect them from the lawn before putting them in bin bags to create a nice leaf mulch for next year. If you put too many leaves in your compost it will make it too carbon-heavy, but a good well-rotted leaf mulch creates a reliable soil conditioner for use next year.
In the flowerbeds I will be raking the leaves out, and paying special attention to clearing the leaves from the base plants where they can cause fungal infections to build up. There are plants to divide, plants to mulch, and some lawn repairs to do too. My shed’s green roof which has been looking very sorry this year will get some running repairs as well. Plants with spent seed-heads will be cut back if they are looking messy, and others I will leave to catch morning frosts and add some interest to the garden.
I have some great projects on the go at the moment too. One that has recently come to completion was a tricky planting plan for a boggy bed that is both exposed and shaded – a perfect storm of difficulties! Careful selection of plants will reward us with a long-lasting and robust display next year and for years to come.
Autumn and winter are the best time of year for planning and undertaking garden projects, and the absolute best time for planting bare root hedges and trees. Keep thinking about your garden through the winter and you can reward yourself with some magical results come spring time!
Have you ever wondered why trees produce such beautiful autumn colours? What mechanisms are actually behind the wonderful fiery displays that we are being treated with across the strath right now?
Ultimately, the triggering factors are the reduced amount of light the trees are receiving during shorter days, and lower temperatures. As these environmental changes occur, leaves produce less food and the green pigment chlorophyll disappears, revealing the oranges and yellows that we would be seeing anyway if it wasn’t for the presence of the chlorophyll. Other chemical changes add to these colours, creating the really vibrant autumn colours. Warm summers and mild autumns add to the vibrancy of the colours, though the stresses that our dry summer will have caused the trees this year may mean an abrupt end to the autumn colours, so enjoy them while they last!
We can see the same changes in leaf colour in some of the shrubs and plants in our gardens – be that as autumn leaves, or brightly coloured new foliage in the spring. This brings us to one of the key principles of plant selection – plant interest. The most obvious characteristic of plants that creates garden interest is of course flowers, but if you look beyond flowers you can create a garden that provides interest every day of the year.
Choose plants that have got bright foliage such as Pieris japonica ‘Christmas Cheer’, which is hardy enough for the highlands, and produces light pink foliage over winter and spring. Other plants produce interest with their fruits or seeds. I planted a Crabapple tree, Malus ‘Evereste’, in my garden last winter, and this autumn I have been rewarded with a bounty of beautiful and dramatic little crabs.
Fragrance is another characteristic that can add interest. Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile’ produces a wonderful scent, and the Jonquil variety of daffodils are grown for their fragrance too.
Coming into the winter months it can be difficult to find plants to create interest, but if you make sure that you include some attractively shaped plants you can easily overcome this. Ornamental grasses such as Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Goldtau’ look great being blown about in the wind. There are even some plants that flower in the winter such as Daphne mezereum. All of these plants can survive highland winters, hardy to -20C and colder.
Keep these ideas in mind when choosing plants. Make sure you are mixing in grasses and shapely evergreens with your herbaceous perennials, and you’ll soon be on your way to creating a year-round garden.
Philadelphus (Mock Orange) are beautiful, tough, fragranced deciduous shrubs, but they can have a messy habit and be a little intimidating to prune. Once again, remember my usual advice: if you get the pruning wrong the worst that will likely happen is losing some flowers, or having a funny looking shrub for a while, and neither is the end of the world! However here is a quick guide on how to do it properly:
Shortly after your Philadelphus has flowered, it is time to do the prune. You will need shears and secateurs.
Firstly, using secateurs trim back all the long new stems to within the bush, below the line of the foliage in order to disguise the cuts.
Here is what it might look like now –
Now tidy the shrub up with shears to give a nice shape.
Using the secateurs, cut out 20-30% of the old stems from within the bush. Jiggle each one before you cut it and observe what grows from it – do not cut any that will remove large parts of the outer foliage shape of the plant.
Finally, give another quick trim with the shears to tidy the bush, and you’re done
#philadelphus #pruningphiladelphus #pruningmockorange #angehorticultureltd #themountaingardener #horticulturalconsultancyscotland #gardendesignerscotland #gardening #gardeninginthehighlands
Not the most exciting picture I grant you! However, this is a small section of a 5 acre site in the Black Isle where we are undertaking a three-year program to eliminate Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) from the site. As it is present on neighbouring properties we will likely never completely eradicate it, but we’ll reduce it to a point where it is not a problem.
Bracken is actually a native a fern, but causes a problem because it outcompetes just about every other plant.
This site is complicated by the presence of more desirable native ferns and wildflowers, however through a careful regime of chemical and manual control, plus succession planting, we will achieve our goal in time!
#brackencontrol #bracken #horticulturalconsultancyscotland #invasiveweedsscotland #angelhorticultureltd #themountaingardener
Great to meet Iona at Grassroots Garden Shop in Kingussie today, we’re hatching plans for an autumn gardening event, watch this space!
#grassrootsgardenshop #kingussie #gardendesigner #angelhorticultureltd #themountaingardener #gardeninginthehighlands #gardeningwithnature #scottishhighlands
I thought I would talk about another couple of key garden design principles this week. This time we’re going to look at unity and repetition. This is the way we tie the various parts of our garden together, so that the garden makes sense as a whole, doesn’t look disjointed, and sits well with the house and surrounding environment.
There are some obvious techniques that you can kick off with if you’re developing a grand overall design, such as creating brick garden paths if you live in a brick house, or using more fences and timber edging if you live in a rustic wooden house. Something that I think works well up here in the highlands is the use of ornamental boulders, but weathered granite would be my choice as that very much sits well with our surrounding mountainous environment. If you place these on gravel, you could try squeezing some plants in around the edge of the boulders to add a touch of rustic, natural-feeling planting design.
Other tricks with plants is to repeat the same varieties around the garden. So if, for example, you have some Crocus’ in the planters at your front door, why not put some in the planters and beds in the back garden? Ideally you would use similar planters about the place too. Another option might be to repeat similar planting shapes within a garden, such as architectural conifers.
Another advantage of repeating similar or identical materials and plants around your garden is that you avoid your garden looking too fussy. Gardens that use more than three different kinds of (non-living) landscaping material tend to end up looking fussy, so if you’ve gone for a mix of gravel, boulder and timber, it makes sense to keep using them in some form or another throughout the garden.
Hopefully this gives you a few ideas to work on, till next time, happy mountain gardening!
Planting up a stream in a garden near Loch Ness today. A total midge-fest but looking forward to seeing how this comes on over time.
Here’s a list of the plants I used, all tough planting happy in boggy highland ground.
#matteuccia struthiopteris #caltha palustris
Have you ever looked at an enormous tree right next to a house and pondered on what’s going to happen when the tree gets old and fragile? I know I have! I thought that this post I would run through a couple of the key elements of garden design that can help make your garden a nicer place to spend your time in – kicking off with balance and proportion.
The first thing I would say, however, is to try to get away from the idea of a ‘finished’ garden. Just as the great ornamental gardens of the world are living works of art, your own garden is a living, breathing, changing landscape.
One of the features that makes a garden comfortable to look at and spend time in is a sense of balance. This does not necessarily mean a symmetrical garden, unless you are going for a formal look, just try to balance the mass of vegetation on one side of the garden with the other. For example, a small tree at the end of one side of your back garden could be balanced by a group of medium-sized shrubs on the other side, slightly closer to your house. If you are going for a more formal look, for perhaps the entrance to your driveway or front door, then this is easily achieved with two identical plants on either side. Do be aware, however, that if you are placing a couple of decorative planters with costly shrubs in either side of your front door, that they may well end up being sheltered from the rain by the eaves of your house. In this situation, you will be needing to water them a lot.
Balance goes hand-in-hand with the principle of proportion – don’t plant that tree that will grow to a huge height next to your house. Not only will this lead to problems with roots, it will just look awful. Small gardens should have small trees. In my own modestly-sized garden, I have recently planted new trees, but a critical factor in my choice was their ultimate height. They are both beautiful flowering trees, one a Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata ‘Paul’s Scarlet’) and the other a Crab Apple (Malus ‘Evereste’) but neither will grow to more than three or four metres in height.
Finally, keep things simple. A garden full of curves, different landscaping materials, or too many focal points (attention-grabbing features that draw the eye, like sculptures or gazebos) can end up looking fussy. Complex gardens are usually difficult to maintain as well, and you should always keep an eye on the amount of maintenance you are going to have to do in the future.
Pruning of Wisteria can be an intimidating job, and whilst it needn’t be, let’s get one thing straight – your Wisteria is not going to die if you don’t prune it! With enough space, Wisteria is happy to roam and will continue to flower. However, to get the best from them, and especially if you have limited space, they should be getting pruned twice per year.
The first pruning should take place in July or August after flowering, and this involves cutting back new growth down to five or six leaves – this encourages it to form more flower buds and is a great opportunity to check the plant’s growth.
The second, winter, pruning, should obviously be done in the winter months. At this pruning, the same growth should be cut back to two or three buds – this helps ensure that new flowers are not obscured by new leaves. It is as simple as that – as with all pruning, take your time, and step back to check on your progress regularly.
Other jobs that you can be getting on with in January and February include –
* Renovate straggly and wild Beech hedges while they are dormant and there are no early nesting birds in there.
* Plant bare root shrubs and trees.
*Prune summer-flowering Clematis, as well as winter-flowering shrubs such as Mahonia japonica, Viburnum tinus and Winter Jasmine.
*Prune Apple & Pear trees, NOT Cherry trees though.
*Get all your garden machinery serviced now, mechanics may have waiting lists so it’s best to get it sorted ASAP.
*Cut back deciduous grasses and any tired-looking seed heads that have been left standing over the winter.
Spring is just round the corner now, and March is a busy time in the garden, so use January and February to get everything looking ship-shape – that’s what I’ll be doing!