When I think of a winter garden I think of evergreen structure and seed heads dusted with frost backed by a clear crystal blue sky. But, our winters are now so unpredictable in the UK that we cannot guarantee those crisp cold sunny mornings that warrant planting a garden solely for its winter seed heads.
Over the years many plants with winter structure have crept into the planting palette, but my garden errs on the damp side in places and plants that should look good during the winter in a ‘crispy dead’ sort of way look ‘soggy dead’ instead. So, this year I've hardened my heart. I'm going to cut it all down before the cold really sets in, feed it and mulch it with well rotted manure to prepare it for next summer.
I will miss the golden buff Miscanthus and Hydrangea and I will leave some of the berried plants for the birds. It will look ever so bare over the winter, but I can cope with that if I know the garden is getting ready for next year under its blanket of ‘black gold’.
This practice is also useful if you have a garden with plants that are generous with their seeds (Verbena, Lythrum, Althaea and Papaver to name a few). A thick mulch helps quash unwanted seedlings next year.
The same goes for tender plants or those with fleshy stems; Zantadeschia Aethiopica, Gunnera and Rheum especially benefit from a mulch and a layer of straw and manure to keep the worst of the winter wet away from them as well as keeping the surrounding soil from freezing too hard. As with all mulch, keep it away from the stems of the plant to avoid rotting them.
If you garden in a Mediterranean way with gravel and scree then adding more gravel to the garden gives the same effect as an organic mulch. It won't feed the plants, but most of these plants are happy on a lean diet and don’t require the boost.
There are also some tough pruning jobs to tackle in my garden and a fifteen year old Amelanchier ‘Obelisk’ that has looked decidedly unwell for most of this year will probably have to be removed. It was rocked heavily by a gust of wind in the spring and is really beginning to lean over. This will leave a gap but that isn’t a problem per se; the only problem is deciding what new plant to put there to replace it.
My well-crafted scheme has slowly diluted itself over the years and would benefit from lifting, dividing and re-planting. This year I am going to be ruthless and tackle it head on; no lame excuses (well that’s the plan anyway!).
Other jobs that you might like to tackle before and during the winter:
· Tie in climbing plants to make sure they are secure and the wind doesn’t damage them, this is especially important for climbing roses.
· Rake up fallen leaves and compost to provide an organic mulch next year. Leafmould is a great soil improver. Discover how to make it at RHS.
· Clean your pots. It isn’t the most pleasurable of jobs but will help to keeps pests and diseases at bay next year.
· Plan for next year, whether it’s a landscaping project, vegetable garden or simply a new herbaceous planting plan inspired by a seed catalogue.
· Provide food for birds in your garden and keep doing so until the weather warms up. You can find out more at RSPB.