14 Feb 2017

February Report: Change Afoot

Ardd Fotaneg · Botanic Garden

There’s change in the air in the Horticultural department recently, and it’s not just the stirrings of spring. A lot of people ask me what gardeners do in winter- whether we sit around and wait for spring to come back or half-heartedly tidy up the potting shed over and over again, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Winter is the time of year when a lot of our plants are dormant, hibernating in order to wake back up once the days get warmer and brighter. This means that we can do a lot of our heavier work- digging them up, replanting and dividing clumps of plants- without damaging their roots whilst they’re trying to put on a lot of growth. This month, the Broadwalk team have been doing a lot of all three!

The Gatehouse Gets a Spring Clean

One of the first flower beds you’ll see after you go through the Gatehouse is the large, curved bed opposite that end of the lake. It’s usually planted with a swathe of Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’– brightly coloured dogwood shrubs that really come into their own in Winter with their bare red stems. These were planted to give an immediate hit of colour as you enter the Garden even on the most overcast February days, but they need to be cut back (coppiced) every year or so to remain young and bright. A couple of missed prunings can really add up in the garden, and these dogwoods were more like crotchety, overbearing old men- falling over one another, rooting where they shouldn’t root and swallowing up everything else in that bed.

Action had to be taken, and over about two days the Broadwalk team- Daryll, Piers and myself- made our way through the mammoth job of pruning the dogwoods into submission. An unexpected find was that, underneath their gnarled red stems, there was a carpet of snowdrops that had been all but hidden. The Gatehouse bed is now cleared and tidy, with the prospect of rejuvenated new dogwoods sprouting back this year and space for more spring bulbs to flourish.

Cut Back, Dig Out, Dig Over, Plant Up

There are also two beds nearby that are being taken on by our team- you can recognise them by our ‘Gardeners At Work’ signs. These were lacking that ‘wow’ factor that we try to give to our visitors, and so we are currently in the process of digging out the plants that were living there and re-planting them in other parts of the Garden where they will be able to really shine. We then have to come up with designs for how those beds will look when we plant them up in spring and summer- at the moment we’re considering an elegant, low-growing display of summer flowering bulbs that will complement the view of the lake.

Winter can be a wonderful time of year to be a gardener. We are outside when not many others are to see those frosty, crisp mornings and we notice the first shoots beginning to emerge long before anyone else. However, it’s definitely not all roses! Next time you find yourself wondering ‘what do gardeners do over winter?’, spare a thought for the professional horticulturists digging, lifting and sawing through the cold, hungry with anticipation for the start of the growing season in a few months time.