This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the conception of our garden in its present form. When we no longer needed a football pitch for the children we asked a garden designer to give us plans for a landscaped rear garden. The result frightened us with the scale of his ideas, because we were planning to do all the work ourselves, but we could see the possibilities ( perhaps I should say ‘capabilities’) and we accepted the plan …
Over the next four or five years we transformed the garden and my life as a gardener was transformed too as I learned a lot about ornamental gardening. Until then I had been primarily a vegetable gardener. Another thing I learned was one way of dealing with bindweed. We had an area of soft fruit but it had become overrun with bindweed and the designer said that the only thing to do was to have fruit somewhere else and then dig the whole patch thoroughly before using it for vegetables, taking care to remove every bit of bindweed root that you can find because even the smallest piece will regrow. This worked well and I built a new fruit cage elsewhere. Now, twenty-five years later the raspberries are no longer productive, the wood in the frame has rotted and, as before, the bindweed has taken over. Once again I am turning things round with just a few raspberries and other soft fruit growing in the vegetable patch and the fruit cage area split between vegetables and flowers, divided by a new length of rustic trellis.
Over the years the autumn fruiting raspberries I started in the fruit cage have taken themselves outside to the adjacent flower border. I shall dig them all up and transplant them so that they are in one patch. They don’t need staking, as summer fruiting raspberries do, and another advantage over the summer variety is that I can cut the canes down to ground level now and they will regrow to produce fruit this autumn. Autumn raspberries need this annual pruning in February even when they are staying in the same place. February is generally a good time for pruning apples and pears, especially in a year like this when frequent frosts have held back new growth. Avoid pruning in a period of really low temperatures. Remove dead, damaged and diseased wood and cut back last year’s new tip growth to encourage fruiting on the old stems. Keep the centre of apple and pear trees fairly open by occasionally taking out a larger branch. There is no need to ‘paint’ over cut branches.
Hellebores should be flowering in February and it is good practice to cut out last year’s foliage just before, or as, they flower so that the flowers are seen to best advantage and fresh new foliage will replace the old leaves that, by now, may be rather tatty.
Provided the soil isn’t too wet to tread on, this is the time to tidy up ornamental borders. Cut down dead stems to ground level, clear up dead foliage lying on the ground, remove any early weeds and lightly fork over bare soil. Where the border abuts lawn you can start sharpening up the grass edge with long-handled shears and a half-moon edging tool. This makes a huge difference to the look of a border and you need to keep doing it occasionally throughout the year.
The soil in the vegetable area is likely to be too cold and wet to do any direct sowing outside but you can help to speed things up by spreading horticultural fleece over the soil. You can also start some sowing under glass if you have got heating; otherwise it is best to wait until March. A lot of vegetables are best started off in pots or seed trays under glass rather than being sown directly into the soil, especially in the earlier part of the year. This doesn’t work with root vegetables like parsnip and carrot which do need to be sown directly in the soil.
I hope you have got some snowdrops in your garden but, whether you have or not, nothing beats the sort of display you can see in a major garden open to the public. Google is a source of a lot of information and splendid opportunities are not too far away at Anglesey Abbey (late January to 26 February) and Chippenham Park near Newmarket 11th February to 3rd March.