Preparing gardens for spring

by James Alexander-Sinclair

The loveliness and gorgeous all-forgiving whiteness has gone and left behind it ... well, a lot of soggy, mucky chaos.

Herbaceous border looking bare after the thawing of snowThe snow has, at least temporarily, left us. It took a long time to go, but now even the grubby snowdrifts lurking in the shelter of cold woods have finally melted, leaving weird bits of stranded debris.

The loveliness and gorgeous all-forgiving whiteness has gone and left behind it … well, a lot of soggy, mucky chaos. Hedges are staggering slightly after supporting all that weight and my flower borders look about as attractive as roadside ditches. I tend to leave my herbaceous plants standing for as long as possible, in order to feed the birds and give the frost something to hold on to, but there comes a time when one has to surrender to weather, nature and decay.

As you can see from the picture above, that moment has, I think, arrived. (Just to inject a note of optimism the second picture, below, is of the same area in May - so all is not lost).

Now is the time start the big chop back in readiness for the spring. Over the next few weeks I will be cutting back pretty much everything, pruning roses and barrowing loads of muck all over the place. For a while everything will be empty and brown but beneath the soil roots will be stretching, bulbs will be shooting, worms will be worming and everything will be getting ready to sprout.

Herbaceous border in MayBut, for those of you looking for an excuse to slightly delay all this hard physical labour, be careful not to wander all over your borders while they are waterlogged - you will only compact the soil and mess up the drainage. But at the moment it may seem that we have got ages to wait but it would be a mistake to become complacent. Spring sneaks up much faster than you think.

And, if you don’t mind me being a bit schoolmasterly for a moment, hard work now will bring you great rewards in a few weeks time.

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Gardeners' World Web User 17/01/2011 at 17:23

Great article. I am sure, mid-January, the thing that keeps us gardeners going is the thought of spring being not too far away so sharing what we are all doing to prepare can only help. In my garden, on the edge of a town in Hertfordshire, I am still coming to terms with the damage of last month's frosts which have had a terrible effect, especially on any evergreen shrubs and perennials. I have a ceanothus which has lost all its leaves, euphorbias which usually look stately at this time of year but which will have to start again from ground level and a magificent 10 foot pittosporum which looks very much the worse for wear. What seems to have come through undamaged - wouldn't you know it - are weeds. They are everywhere and the recent mild spell has given them all the encouragement they need to grow ! So I've been out weeding - it is a relentless task but I found them easier to extract with the soil being that much softer. It also stops them getting a head start on everything else.

Gardeners' World Web User 17/01/2011 at 18:49

Enjoyed this article. The thought of spring is keeping me uplifted. I want to mulch my borders but it's such wet weather at the moment.I can't wait to start some seed sowing annuals in trays next month. it's the anticaption of what you can grow and create for the coming season.

Gardeners' World Web User 17/01/2011 at 19:13

I had a bit of a tidy this weekend, but only picking up the rubbish that had blown into the garden, and had been lurking under the snow which has finally all melted. I did consider starting to cut back the perennials I'd left for the wildlife, but there are only so many I could reach without standing on the waterlogged soil, so decided to leave that for another day. I was heartened to see my first snowdrops in flower :-)

Gardeners' World Web User 17/01/2011 at 19:14

I have just got shot of a cold in time to tackle the debris, and had a nice surprise viz. my monstrous Yucca gloriosas are quite easy to saw branches off at this time of year. I work from the paths so as not to destroy the structure of my soil and throw well=rotted horse manure over the veg.plot but my snowdrops, cyclamen coum ,winter pansies and early primroses are a sight for sore eyes. My red hamamelis is covered in bloom, likewise my yellow one which had a whole branch cut off by the snow but I have stuck it in the ground and who knows I may have to next year. Good news as well as my flowering quince is breaking buds all over, at least six weeks late, so late I thought it was dead. No chance of the brambles dying however so that is my big task this week. I too love to compare photos, James. It's so helpful that the computer dates all the photos or rather the camera does. It was all such a hassle pre-digital and took valuable tine away from gardening. your lilac irises look superb.

Gardeners' World Web User 18/01/2011 at 08:07

It starts with the sad state of the garden as with yours but we can look forward to much better days and give plenty of time to preparing for spring. I like to look forward as the other comments, the pleasant times are just around the corner

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