Outdoor Housekeeping

All herbaceous perennials are well and truly spent now. I usually enjoy cutting back and demolishing the dead stems and branches at this time of year. We all know how therapeutic destruction work can be. Dumping them on the compost heap helps allay my guilty ruthlessness.

However, the freezing conditions of the last two winters has slowed down the grim reaper in me. I now pause and ponder the merits of leaving the bedraggled stems in situ to offer some protection from the freezing conditions that may come. I do so in the hope that I will be proved wrong!

I will do nothing with sunflowers, artichokes, alliums, nigella, achillea, rudbeackias and miscanthus sinensis as the seed heads give an ethereal feel to the winter garden, but also feed the birds!

I have already divided and transplanted hosta’s, geums, brunnera and hellebores. I will leave penstemons alone until March or April. I won’t touch verbena bonariensis, phlox, astrantias, tradescantias, hemerocalis and countless other perennial flowers. As mentioned above, this practice gives the new growth in spring protection from exposure to ice cold airs and freezing ground.

My dahlias are now baked in horticultural sand in the shed. I will wrap the box in fleece later on. I have dug up my last remaining tree fern, Dicksonia antarctica and have popped it in a large pot. The pot will gain feet in the next few weeks to keep it off frozen ground. It will also be wrapped in a layer of fleece. They are too expensive to take any chances.

I am feeding my rhododendrons and camellias regularly now to promote big fat buds for spring.

Colour and scent still prevail…

Euonymus red cascade is stealing the show in one corner of the garden at the moment with its beautiful leaf colour. I planted Euonymous alatus ‘Compactus’ this year in another dreary corner and it is absolutely stunning. It can be planted in shade or semi-shade and does not require pruning.

Cotinus ‘grace’ is also proving to be worthwhile with its dark purple foliage. But will be pruned hard to keep it from taking over.

In the tree department, the foliage of Cornus ‘Eddie’s White’ and the Crab apple Malus are looking amazing. I will be making crab apple jelly for my Mother-in-law soon. But will be saving some of the miniature ruby fruits for Christmas flower arrangements too.

My Narcissus ‘Paper White’, which I forced in the shed in September are in full flower and filling the house with their delicious scent. My Hyacinths are still under cover of darkness in their box in the shed. I will be bringing them in to the house in a few weeks to replace the Paper Whites.

Winter is a mellow time for every gardener and on fine days like the ones we have just had there is nothing nicer than pottering around outside. Wooly socks and a good pair of welly’s are essential. By five o’clock, you can justifiably plonk yourself by a roaring fire with your feet up and your favourite tipple in hand, and no-one can say boo!

Written by

I am passionate about gardening and creating outdoor spaces that are gorgeous, adventurous, productive and fun. I have been advising and designing gardens for many years starting with friends and family as well as developing my own garden design in Cork near Crosshaven. I have been doing this whilst bearing and rearing our four children, who also garden with me and share my interest and passion, especially in the vegetable and fruit garden. I am the Gardening columnist for the Cork Independent free newspaper. I take all my own photographs for my articles on gardening and will also customise cards for clients using photographs taken in their home and garden.

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