January 9, 2017

Winter Gardening Tips Part One from Bowcliffe Head Gardener, Anna Chaffey…

After the last – hugely popular – blog on gardening from our own horticultural genius, head gardener Anna Chaffey, we decided it was high time she once took time out from her gardening gloves and pruners and treated us to a masterclass on everything winter gardening. From top tips to topiary and the ‘must see’ winter plants across the estate, there was so much brilliant information that we’ve actually split Anna’s winter gardening blog in two, so look out for the next installment in February…

First things first – what are the must see winter plants, trees and bushes which tenants and visitors should make an effort to see around the estate?

The flowerbeds offer some prominent perennials displaying a winter show. The finely structured and textured plumes of Miscanthus sinensis ‘purpurascens‘ become illuminated on beautiful sunny mornings.

Miscanthus sinensis 'purpurascens'

Miscanthus sinensis ‘purpurascens’

These tall grasses contrasted with the narrow seed heads of Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ and saucer shaped like seed heads from the Sedums make beautiful winter viewing…

Sedums

Sedums

Silvery white PervoskiaBlue Spire’ stems truly embrace the ‘look’ of winter, adding a graceful aesthetic especially on frosty mornings.

silvery white Pervoskia ‘Blue Spire’

Silvery white Pervoskia ‘Blue Spire’

Beautiful snowdrops will be popping up around the estate so it’s worth a walk to spot them! Last year they were fantastic between the far lawns under the evergreen glaucous Cedrus atlantica tree. Bluebells form a sea carpet behind the West Wing which frame the grand ballroom windows, followed by daffodils and pretty native primroses.

Bowcliffe Winter Garden - Blackburn Wing

Christmas has been, but what is your number one gift for the avid gardener?

A must for every keen rose grower are a pair of strong gloves, the RHS gauntlets have protected my hands from thorns for years. As a bonus, they are big and yellow so you can’t lose them either!

RHS gloves

How does your job change in winter? Is there less to do or is it a case of shifting priorities to different jobs?

There is a myth that gardeners sit around with cups of tea in winter with nothing to do! It couldn’t be further from the truth – winter provides key opportunities to focus on the aspects of the garden that there has been no time to do during the growing season. Winter objectives can include winter pruning; of apple and pear trees, tidying, mulching, power washing, tree planting, bare root hedge planting, seed sowing, and general annual garden planning. I’ve found the more active projects you complete the warmer you keep!

Pruners bowcliffePruning and tending to trees Bowcliffe Garden

If you could get every amateur gardener to do three things in the garden in winter, what would it be?

Pruning badly is a common mistake seen in a lot of amateur gardeners. Poor pruning can result in a loss of flowers, fruit, and structure. It can also increase the chances of infection, and the general health and vigour of a plant.

Wisley winter 2010. Although this may look like a cold job, it’s one that I find most rewarding!

Wisley winter 2010. Although this may look like a cold job, it’s one that I find most rewarding!

Before hacking back your garden plants without thought take some time to research the individual plants through books or online. The RHS offer some good and clear advice pages on what to cut back when, how and why.

I would suggest they learn how to prune back fruit trees and roses! Additionally, with any climbing plants, it’s worth checking what types you have in your garden as some require hard pruning, whilst others prefer none.

What should gardeners be thinking about in winter for coming months? Is there lots of planning to be done on the estate or is everything in place for spring?

  • For keen fruit and veg gardeners, now is a great time to choose what produce you wish to grow for the year ahead. Consider crop rotations to keep yields healthy, and carry out soil preparation of vegetable gardens to replenish the nutrients in the ground. Spread organic matter (manure) to the areas except where you are planning to grow root crops. This matter can be left on the surface to break up particles from the winter frosts. Remember to rotovate this in by the spring.
  • Cut back perennials when they become leggy before spring to allow for fresh new growth. Keep bases clear of leaves and debris to reduce pests and diseases harbouring amongst them.
  • Winter is a good time to power-wash slippery paths from algae build up. You can also clean greenhouses and clear gutters/drains. Sterilise last years used pots ready for seed sowing to help reduce pests and diseases.
  • Prune back roses. Keep secateurs sharp and use an antiseptic between cuts to reduce cross-contamination of disease.
  • When the ground is dry and frost-free, edges of lawns can be sharpened up or re-aligned using edging irons/half-moons and edging shears.
  • Between November – March is the best season to plan and plant any bare-root plants, such as hedges, trees or roses – make sure it’s done when the ground isn’t frosted over.
  • Check tree ties, tree supports, and rabbit guards. Tree ties that are wrapped around plant stems or trunks hold tree supports in place and often need replacing annually to ensure they don’t rub and damage the bark

Winter can be seen as a rather dull month in terms of colourful plants – how can gardeners add splashes of colour to gardens through the winter months?

There is so much to choice from bulbs, perennials, shrubs, trees or climbers for colour with consideration to foliage, stems, texture, berries, shape, and scent! Make sure you do a bit of background research to ensure you have the right location and soil pH conditions for the plants you choose so they will thrive. If you want any specific recommendations, don’t hesitate to seek me out and ask!

Hellebores (Christmas Roses) offer real value to the winter scene, with long lasting beautiful flowers that grow in shaded areas. Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’ offer showy all year round foliage – this variety has a purple leaves. Bergenia is another good winter foliage that will flower towards the end of the season. Traditional winter pansies offer cheerful splashes of colour for planters. It goes without saying that bulbs like snowdrops and early varieties of daffodils and winter aconites can give rewarding impact en masse.

Colourful plants

There are plenty of winter flowering shrubs to choose from, such as Mahonia x wagneri ‘Pinnacle’ with scented yellow flowers and architectural foliage or Chimonanthus praecox ’Grandiflorus’ which is prized for its deep yellow fragrant flowers similar to Edgewothia chrysantha. A small winter flowering evergreen, which is great in shade, is the Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna, or for a larger shrub in acidic soil Hamamelis (Witch-hazel) offer beautiful winter flowers. Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ offers a pleasant flower display, which we have in the estate gardens planted in the large clay pots, under-planted with Heathers.Colourful plants

Some top winter flowering climbers include Clematis cirrhosa var. balearica or Trachelospermum jasminoides ‘Variegatum’, Clematis urophylla ‘Winter Beauty’ or Lonicera x purpusii.

What are your top tips for gardening through winter?

  • Buy some thermals, they make such a difference when it gets cold!
  • Keep your secateurs sharp for winter pruning, and between pruning cuts use some horticultural disinfectant (such as Hortisept) on your tools to reduce the chances of cross-contamination of diseases.
  • Enjoy having time to plan your garden for the year ahead, visit or research some gardens for inspiration.
Planning winter garden

Look out for part two of Anna’s winter gardening blog in February, and remember if you have any further questions about your own garden that you can add a comment here and we’ll be sure to get Anna to answer it!