Gardening on Ice

Well it’s been a few months since the last post and as with most northern temperate gardens around this time of year, there hasn’t been much going on.

A long period of wet weather ended recently and the garden has had some time to dry out. That break in the weather has finally given me a chance to venture out into the cold to see what the garden’s been up to.

It turns out the answer is, “not much and quite a lot” at the same time. The wintersweet (Chimonanthus Praecox) has been establishing well over the last several years and each winter, it flowers more and and more, making each year better than ever. This year is no different, with several bare branches covered in sprays of unusual, pale yellow waxy flowers that – while the don’t look the prettiest – are strongly scented. It has a very sweet fragrance overlaid with spice and cloves. Very unusual and I’m glad to have it in the garden as on warmer still days, the scent wafts on the air and you briefly catch it, take a few wonderful sniffs and then it’s gone.

Walking about elsewhere I suddenly spotted a flash of red in the corner of my eye. Turning and moving closer it’s revealed to be a very early camellia flower. The camellias aren’t expected until mid-late March but there’s a few weeks before where their buds start to colour, which is the sign for, “please take you seats, the show is about to begin”. This lone flower must be “testing the water” or just really enthusiastic. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t seem to have been bothered by the almost daily frosts we’ve had for over a week.

It’s not all been flowers and sweet scents, the wet period with the frosts have not been good the the few terracotta pots that have to fend for themselves outside. While all the large pots are safely tucked away in the shed, and the rest are in the greenhouse, there are some that stay out because they’re just too heavy and while they’re usually OK in the early years, after a while the weathering weakens them and they become vulnerable to frost-shatter. Several pots have met their end this way and we have a recent victim now too.

It’s a shame and I like this pot too. It always happens around the rim first, where the rain can sit, get absorbed into the pot and then the freeze/thaw cycle will result in the cracking and flaking that you see here. I wonder whether covering the rims of these pots in some sort of grease each winter to stop the water from infiltrating would help?

The winter clean-up has started. The large, border that was dug and part-planted last year has already been edged and I’m working outwards from there. I do love a good garden border edge, especially in the winter as there’s something about the clean lines and the bare border soil, knowing that it will only be a few months before the whole lot starts to disappear under a mass of barely-controlled greenery.

The clearing back also reveals the multi-stems of woody shrubs and they all have their own character. I normally under-plant the bases with herbaceous perennials and cutting them back feels like giving the border a good airing. It’s interesting to see the shapes the shrubs have grown into and see how their main trunks just get thicker every year.

The clearing back also includes cutting the old, weather-beaten fronds of the ferns back to the knuckle, and goodness me don’t we have a lot of ferns. I’ve long lost count and it’s a job that takes a long time to get round them all. The limiting factor been the patience it takes to cut back one fern after another, after another ad nauseam. In return we get the joy and fascination of watching these knuckles suddenly unfurl as though they were spring loaded, producing a fresh set of fern leaves for the new season.

Garden work at the moment is patchy, tentative and a little slow. It can only be done when the garden isn’t sodden, during daylight hours (which are still somewhat short) and when the ground isn’t frozen. All these conditions will eventually improve as we head towards Spring, but it feels very satisfying to start the work now as it’s so obvious to see which areas have been “done” and which need work. It will also take me until spring to get around the whole garden, by which time a whole new set of garden jobs will be available.

6 Comments


  1. Oh my, your winter clean-up looks like the clean-up that I hope to get started on in April! I am swooning at how green your grass looks. (It probably doesn’t look green to you, but my world is still wintry white.)

    Reply

    1. Hello Jean, well we’ve had some pretty bad weather in the mean time so clean-up has been paused. The plants don’t seem to have stopped growing though and as usual, things are running away from me again.

      Reply

  2. The camellia is quite lovely! Mine have been blooming for a while. The Camellia japonicas give a show for all to see from December to April! I have a Camellia sasanqua that starts in autumn. They are sturdy plants aren’t they? Your edging looks great!

    Reply

    1. Thanks, Jayne, some of the shrubs are fully out now and they’re just dripping in large flowers. Camellias are really “good doers” where they establish well, just a little nip-tuck pruning, occasional feed and that’s it for the year. Thanks about the edging, I love having a riot of plants behind a well-defined, nice, sharp line!

      Reply

  3. Hello Sunil, have you given up on the blog? It’s ages since you posted anything. Your blog cheers me up and is full of positive energy. Plus of course your garden is wonderful and I’ve really enjoyed following your progress.

    Reply

    1. Hello Wendy, no I haven’t given up on it, I know it’s been a while since I last wrote anything and it’s heartening to read that it cheers you up. You’ve inspired me to pull my finger out and write an update of what’s been going on and why I’ve been “away” from blog writing over these last couple of months.

      Reply

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