Know your plants – February Ecotherapy Activity

Your garden can be your sanctuary, even if you don’t consider yourself to be a gardener or want to spend much time tending it.  This little exercise teaches you how to evaluate the plants in your garden and how to slowly, carefully transform your garden into a more positive and rich place to be.

Choose a favourite plant in your garden.  Make a list of all the reasons why you like it and its positive attributes.  How does the plant make you feel?  What does it bring to the garden? Does it hold any special memories?  Really take the time to get to know the plant, its leaves, its bark, the number of petals in its flowers; how the leaves are arranged around the stem (do they grow opposite each other, or alternately up the stem, either on two sides or in a spiral).  How does it feel to touch, does it have a scent (leaves or flowers)?  Research it if you can to find out more about the plant’s origins and needs and wishes.  Do you know how to care for it? If not, research this too.  How is it pollinated?  Is there anything you would change about the plant if you could?  Are there any negative attributes? List these too.

Now you know more about the plant do you love it even more? Does it inspire you to care for it more or do you already take good care of it?  Ask yourself if this plant reflects a little bit of you and how you feel, or want to feel?  If it does, is this a feeling you would like to bring to the whole garden?  If not, are there different feelings you would like to bring to different parts of the garden?  Identify them.

Armed with this knowledge, do the same for a plant that you don’t like or feel ambivalent to.  When you’ve done this, ask yourself if you still want to keep the plant, or perhaps replace it with a different plant that makes you feel more positive.  If you choose to keep it, perhaps now it won’t seem such a negative influence in the garden, and you will better understand and be more willing to care for it.  If you think you would like to replace it, then you are better equipped with the knowledge to choose a suitable replacement that you will like, that will bring positive vibes to the garden.

You can over time repeat this exercise for all your plants if you wish, and you can use this to help you when choosing new plants for the garden too.

Right job, Right time: An effortless action plan for a gorgeous garden – Febuary

Now that the worst of the winter darkness has passed; the days are getting longer and the sun is gaining strength, plants are starting to think seriously about waking up for the year ahead.  Buds will start to swell, and the early bulbs will start to flower.  There are a few timely tasks to do this month to set yourself up for a great garden through the spring and summer.

Cut back roses – for detailed advice and ‘how to’ guides I suggest referring to the RHS website https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=186 , but as a general rule, prune back shrub and hybrid tea roses to 1/3 of their height, choosing an outward facing bud and cutting about an inch above it at a 45o angle.  Rambling roses are best pruned in late summer, removing the stems that flowered that year and tiying in the new growth for the following year, but climbers can be pruned now.  Remove 1-2 of the oldest looking stems as close to ground level as possible, and cut down remaining stems by 1/3 -1/2 keeping the heights of stems slightly different each time so as to look more ‘natural’, rather than sheared!

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Prune Acers (Japanese maples) as they start to show signs of buds swelling slightly.  This swelling indicates that the sap is starting to rise, and so any bacteria introduced from pruning cuts will move out of the stems rather than in, thus reducing the chances of disease and die-back.  Aim to thin out crowded and crossing branches, and reduce the stems to the size of plant that you want (remembering it will grow over the year!)

Cut back grasses, perennials and ferns ready for the new growth in spring

Move and plant any shrubs during this month

“Feed the birds”.  We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again!  Please keep putting out food and water for hungry birds, including those visiting us over winter from colder climes.  Sunflower hearts are hugely popular for many species of bird, and ground feeders will appreciate foods high in fat and protein – specialist ground feeding mixes, mealworms, or cheese, oats and egg.

Sowings of many summer bedding plants, such as geranium, petunia and nicotiana along with some perennials, can be made in a propagator, in a heated greenhouse or on a windowsill at a temperature of approximately 21ºC (70ºF),. Take care not to sow too thickly or over-water as this can lead to the seedlings damping off (small patches of them suddenly dying for no apparent reason). Many people find that it’s best to pour the seed into the palm of their hand first, rather than sowing it directly from the packet. If seed is very fine, it can be mixed with silver sand to make it easier to sow thinly and evenly across the surface of the compost. Also during this month cuttings may be taken from chrysanthemums that have been over-wintered.

Vegetables that can be sown now include broad beans, peas, leeks, onions, peppers and aubergines (the latter two in pots in the greenhouse)

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Remember to regularly deadhead pansies, primulas along with other winter/spring bedding plants as, depending on the temperature, you may find they flower at varying times. Also by removing faded flowers this will help to prevent seeds setting which in turn reduces flower performance.

This month is also a great month to renovate lawns or lay new turf.

5 of the best winter flowering shrubs

Flowering shrubs are perhaps no more welcome than in the winter months, with its bleak, short days and long nights, and when many plants are resting and bare.  They command our attention and brighten our view, particularly when planted where their flowers are easily seen against a darker background such as a fence or evergreen hedge.  If the blooms have attractive fragrance as well, this makes them all the more desirable, especially to the blind or partially sighted.

Winter heathers (Erica carnea)

These wonderful often fragrant shrublets have sadly been somewhat out of fashion in recent years, after a boom in the 60’s and 70’s.  But I’m glad to say they are beginning to make a comeback, and rightly so, for their compact habit and valuable winter flowers make for a very useful and attractive plant.  Being small, they make great winter pot and basket plants, where the extra height makes the scent all the more accessible when we breeze past.  They also make good ground cover in acidic soils, and can cope with shade.  The key to keeping them looking good and flowering well is a good trim all over in the spring after they have flowered. Take off about 1.5 – 2.5 cm of foliage.

Viburnum

Viburnum are a popular shrub in the UK thanks to their tough, hardy, resilient behaviour in almost any garden situation. The deciduous Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Charles Lamont’ gives excellent winter colour with pretty pink, heavily scented flowers, borne on the bare stems from November to March. It also makes good cut stems to enjoy in a vase indoors.  Alternatively, for an evergreen winter flowering viburnum, try V. tinus;  ‘Eve Price’, ‘Gwenllian’, and ‘French White’ are all good varieties for the garden.

Hamamalis

Hamamelis is a beautiful larger winter-flowering shrub, commonly known as witch hazel. Its spicy fragrance and spidery flowers on bare stems in yellow, orange and reds make it a must for the winter garden.  Try Hamamalis x intermedia ‘Pallida’ for one of the best yellows.  It also happens to have the added bonus of good autumn colour.

Daphne

Oh Daphne, one of my most favourite plants.  It’s a tricky customer, but get it right and you will be rewarded with the most amazing heady fragrance from its clusters of white, pink tinged flowers atop evergreen foliage on most species. They need a sheltered position in light shade.  Try Daphne odora ‘aureomarginata’, or if you come across the rarer Daphne bholua var. glacialis ‘Gurkha’ – deciduous back of the border plant with amazing sweet scent.

Chimonanthus praecox

Aka wintersweet, in its summer clothes, Chimonanthus praecox is an unassuming shrub with long droopy leaves. Come winter, though, the leaves are gone and the bare branches throw out clusters of dangly, yellow star-shaped flowers that pack a perfumed punch.  They are prized by flower arrangers who use their stems to fill the house with scent.  Try ‘Grandiflorus’ which has pale yellow flowers with a purple heart.