Friday 8th Dryveganuary 2021

A cold but light and bright January morning saw Friday Group reassembling virtually, if not virtuously. Sharing the highs and lows of our Christmas and New Year celebrations revealed that certainly more than a couple of tins of Quality Street had disappeared over the period. Many were quite certain that naughty neighbours had taken the liberty of dumping empty bottles into their recycling bins. How else to account for the volume of glass?

So, the highlights. Spending time with, and cooking for, those family members we were able to see in lockdown, yet at the same time relishing the fact that this year most of us actually had less washing up to do as a result of participating in the ‘Lockdown Numbers Game’. Appreciating gifts such as gardening tools, a heated propagator, an insect house, plants, trees, and Raspberry canes. Looking forward to taking part in a garden safari at Knepp Estate in 2021. Getting out into the garden – applying mulch, manure and leaf mould; planting bulbs; starting to clear and prune. Finding new podcasts to enjoy, like Monty Don’s on the Gardeners’ World website:

Ordering seed and plant catalogues (or horticultural porn as it’s known). Buying pots from local nurseries; bird-spotting; watching hyacinth bulbs grow in forcing jars and Amaryllis unfurling indoors.

Walks and reading featured strongly. Books recommended were: The Almanac 2021, by Lia Leendertz; The RHS Propagating Plants Book; The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben; The Overstory, by Richard Powers; Gardens Illustrated magazine; A History of Plants in 50 Fossils, by Paul Kenrick; Natural Garden Style, by Noel Kingsbury; The Garden Jungle, by Dave Goulson; Wilding, by Isabella Tree; My Garden World, by Monty Don; Derek Jarman’s Garden book. Also mentioned was Meera Sodhal’s vegan cookery book East. (N.B. Audio books are available to borrow free of charge via many libraries now.)

On to the next topic: The New Year Quiz. Now. The thing is. We Friday Groupers are team players and definitely prefer to work in groups! So, without further ado, we’ll move swiftly on to the –

Plant Ident.

The first of the year. We looked at what’s performing in the garden at Garden House right now.

Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata

One of the most beautifully scented shrubs you will find. Expensive, because it’s not the easiest to propagate, but so worth it at this time of year. Evergreen, with gold margins, the glossy, lanceolate leaves provide a lift to winter borders. The small, pale pink flowers emerge from dark magenta buds – and their fragrance is divine. Take a sprig into the house to keep the party going. Can eventually reach 1.5 m x 1.5 m. Full sun or partial shade.

Sarcococca confusa

Another winter-flowering, hardy, evergreen shrub. It will grow in sun but is best in shady conditions, making it an extremely useful addition to a planting scheme list. The lance-shaped leaves are dark green, whilst its small flowers are pure white, and deliciously scented. Long-lasting, shiny black berries follow. Grows easily in most types of soil, to around 1.5 m.

Lavandula x intermedia

The soft silvery-grey leaves of this Lavender stand out on a frosty winter’s morning and shimmer in the early light. Beautiful when snipped and brought into the house as part of a small bouquet, as the leaves are so aromatic. The Intermedia group tend to grow larger than other Lavendula varieties and produce more flower spikes. They bloom later than their colleagues and the flowers last through to late summer

Helleborus argutifolia

Much loved by Bridge, this variety has strikingly architectural foliage and structure. Grows to around 45 cms, it has quite solid, robust stems, and produces bright lime-green flowers. The leaves are a lovely soft blue- green with spiny, serrated edges. Essential in the winter garden, and performs well in a shady border.

Eleagnus x ebbingei ‘Gilt Edge’

Seen everywhere, and therefore probably not appreciated as much as it should be. (It’s been awarded an A.G.M. after all.) An evergreen shrub, whose glossy dark green leaves have golden splashes and margins. In the autumn it produces tiny, almost invisible, silvery-white flowers which have an intoxicating fragrance – followed by small red fruit. It’s hardy, tough and is often used by landscapers in urban locations, like supermarket car parks. Drought resistant, it can be used for screening, as a hedge or trained against a wall.

Iris unguicularis

A striking shot of blue, this winter-flowering iris is a tough cookie, appearing in the coldest months of the year. Evergreen, grass-like leaves contrast with clear blue flowers. The fall petals are marked with white and deep yellow. Known as the Algerian Iris, it is a vigorous, rhizomatous perennial – and is a delight to cut and enjoy in a small vase indoors.

Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’

The deciduous Dogwood comes into its own in the winter months when the small oval leaves fall and its bare stems are lit up by the sun. Planted en masse, the effect can be breathtaking – especially when reflected in nearby pools of water or offset by groups of the white trunks of Betula utilis Jacquemontii and dark evergreens. This variety is especially attractive, and lives up to its cultivar name. Best grown in full sun and moist soil, once it has become established, it should be pruned hard back in March and then mulched.

In our gardens

In small groups, we discussed those plants which are currently giving us pleasure at home. Huge variety, of course, but as an example, one trio came up with: Malus ‘Red Sentinel’; Corylus contorta; Rosmarinus officinalis; Laurus nobilis; Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’; Miscanthus zebrinus; Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’; Trachelospermum jasminoides. In fluent Latin too.

Fun to cut some pieces and arrange individually in small jars, or as one mammoth display.

Jobs for the week (It’s a long list!)

Check for dead, diseased and damaged wood on deciduous shrubs

Cut this out and get rid of it.

Prune Wisteria back to four buds from the main stem

If you want to keep your Wisteria in check and encourage floriferous flowering later in the year, now is the time to prune.

And cut back other vigorous climbers such as Vitis coignetiae to maintain shape and structure

Prune Climbing and Hybrid Tea Roses at the end of the month

Cut back to an outward-facing bud and remove any crossing or diseased branches. They can be cut hard as they are as tough as old boots. Feed them and add a mulch of delicious compost/well-rotted manure. They’ll love it and you will reap the benefits in the summer.

Keep an eye on forced bulbs

You can never have too many

Remove old leaves on Hellebores

This will help to expose the flowers, gives them air and space and helps to prevent blackspot. Leave the fresh new foliage to grow. A good source of Hellebores is the Twelve Nunns Nursery, selling Harvington Hybrids.

Check plants to ensure they are not dying from being left standing in water. This may cause rot to occur and that would be rotten.

Plant fruit trees

And prune Apples and Pears, but never more than by a third.

Force established Rhubarb plants

Excluding light will result in delicious, long, pink stems. So, if you have been given new terracotta Rhubarb forcers for Christmas, now is the time to deploy them. Dead posh, and will arouse deep envy in all and sundry #iwantoneofthose. The downside is: you may have to mount a 24 hour guard to prevent theft. The upside is: rhubarb crumble. And custard.

Sow Sweet Peas

They don’t need light to germinate, so can be covered by a sheet of newspaper to keep warmth in and light out. Germination in 10-12 days.

Sow seeds of plants which require a long season of growth

These will include: Cleome, Iceland Poppies, Cobaea scandens, Antirrhinum, Chillies, Nicotiana. They will need to be sown on heat. Get those electric propagators plugged in and ready for action.

Sow vegetable seeds under glass

Try hardy Broad Beans, Leeks, Spinach, Peas, Swiss Chard

Plant deciduous hedging now

Take hardwood cuttings of shrubs

Deadhead plants in pots

Like Pansies. This will prevent them from going to seed, encourage more flowers and prolong your display

Potatoes can be placed on a windowsill to chit

Clean pots, seed trays and greenhouses

What do you mean, you’ve got other things to do? Get on with it.

Feed the birds

This little lot will cost more than tuppence a bag, but it is one of the most important things you can do for wildlife at this time of year.

A variety of wildlife will be attracted to the feast

But it’s the birds we really want to feed…

Remember to ensure there is also a supply of drinking water for them to access – check it hasn’t frozen over.

Sedum spathulifolium ‘Purpureum’ AGM, looking jewel-like and gorgeously frosted in an alpine sink at Garden House. Proof that it can tolerate the cold.

But it doesn’t like a soggy bottom

Who does?

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