THERE are still plenty of jobs to do in this most mellow of seasons
As every gardener is only too aware, the days are getting shorter. As light and heat become ever scarcer, there’s a temptation to pack away the tools in the garden shed and hunker down till spring. But do that and you’ll be missing out on the chance to get ahead for next year, and also to enjoy the many seasonal highlights of autumn and winter in the garden.
Robert Grant is head of Gardens & Designed Landscapes at the National Trust for Scotland (NTS). He says that far from winding down, gardeners should be getting busy. “Over the winter months is when gardeners do most of their work making changes and improvements,” he says. “There’s autumn leaf collection (compost or bag up and leave over winter to rot down; do not bin); cut back tall herbaceous perennials to prevent wind rock but leave full cutting back until February so the birds can enjoy seed heads and insects the old stems; and in October note plants that you feel are in the wrong place – label and plan changes for moving next spring.” He also says that it’s time to give lawns a final cut on dry sunny days and collect clippings for composting. To give your lawn a head start for next year you can scarify small lawns with a wire-tined rake or larger ones with a powered scarifier to remove moss and thatch to improve aeration and drainage.
Motivation can be a problem but Duncan Cuthill of the Dobbies Edinburgh Plant Team says that we often seem to get dryer days at this time of year and if you can grab an hour or two in the garden then it’s a great way to enjoy some fresh air. “Some people see gardening as work but I definitely see it as relaxation,” he says. “It’s a good time to focus on pruning – I prune out dead, diseased or damaged wood from shrubs and shape plants for next year. It’s also a good time to get spring bulbs planted.” With such a huge range of bulbs on offer it can be a good idea to draw up a planting plan. Ideally this will include a mixture of colours and varieties, and plants of different heights and flowering times to create real interest. According to Dobbies it is best to group colours and sorts so that one part of your garden is in full bloom, rather than a few single bulbs dotted around.
While there are lots of jobs to be done with spring in mind, there is also the potential for scent, colour and striking features in the garden during the colder months. David Knott, Curator of the Living Collection at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) says: “Features of your garden can still look good from late October to December. Evergreens, berries and bark all come into their own at this time of year as the sun gets lower in the sky and highlights them more fully.” He says that cotoneasters and hollies, in particular, look good, especially if there is a touch of frost to contrast the berries and foliage and adds that the most striking feature of many trees in winter is the bark: “As can be seen at RBGE, the paperbark maple from China looks particularly good as do many of the other snake-bark maples. Birches also stand out in the distance.”
The ability of autumn-flowering plants to put on a good show is highlighted by Robert Grant of NTS who suggests Michaelmas daisies (Aster novi-belgii), Red-hot pokers (Knifophia spp), colchicums (sometimes called naked ladies or autumn crocus) and Cyclamen hederifolium to add colour at this time of year. He also points out that spring flowering Viburnum x bodnantense has been flowering more regularly in autumn in recent years, possibly because of a change in weather patterns. Berrying plants are another good choice for livening up the garden and Duncan Cuthill at Dobbies’ star plant is pyracantha, also known as fire thorn, which has vividly coloured berries in either yellow, red or orange. “The birds will eat the pyracantha berries eventually,” he says, “although they seem to leave the yellow ones till last.” His other plant recommendation is heathers, saying “they come in a huge range of colours from white to pinky reds and they are low-growing and easily maintained.”
One of the best ways to get inspiration on how to add more interest to your garden over winter is to visit other gardens. Robert Grant recommends a trip to see the heather gardens at Threave and Geilston; or to see the potential of autumn tree colour you could try Crathes, Crarae and Inverewe gardens, and to witness a bright range of autumn fruits and berries, Fyvie Castle is the place to go. Scotland’s botanic gardens have something of interest all year round and David Knott says that at RBGE there is the added advantage of the glasshouses. “Here, visitors can escape the rigours of the Scottish climate and experience the different climatic zones from the steamy tropics through to arid areas in one afternoon,” he says. “While the glass range is well worth a visit at any time of the year, it is even more of a treat during the winter. The array of flowering plants and diversity of foliage is breath-taking, whatever month you decide to visit.”
Duncan Cuthill also points out that botanic and other gardens that are open to the public are often quieter at this time of year, so you’re more likely to be able to grab some time with the people who work there to ask for their advice. He makes the important point that as well as visiting gardens and working hard on your own plot, sometimes just pausing to soak it all up can be a great tonic. “I have a patio and tend to sit out on it in the evenings, even though it’s colder and I need to wear a jacket,” he says. “The birds are busy, the squirrels are busy and you can just sit back and soak up all that’s going on. I get a great deal of pleasure from watching the garden.” So if you’re looking for a winter refuge that’ll delight the senses, the garden is the place to be
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 26 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: South