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Gardening with Anne McKeon

I am not a lover of the cold weather believe me, and I often dream of warmer climes, but dreaming is all it can be for the moment, so I strongly suggest that you invest in a pair of thermals and brave the winter elements in the garden with me.

The winter garden can be a very peaceful place. No lawn mowing, no hedge cutting, no weeding, but some less physical work nonetheless. It is worth noting that a garden designed to look good in winter can also look quite well over the full year.

As a rule the colder the weather, the better the leaf colour at this time of year. Plants that may have insignificant spring/summer leaves and flowers may have spectacular winter branch-work and barks. A good example of these would be Cornus species, Betula species, Salix species, and so on. A mix in the beds of winter buds, coloured barks, and winter flowers can be very appealing.

I have noticed that birds are returning to our gardens in great numbers over the past couple of years. I wonder if this is because gardeners are tending to use more organic methods of pest and weed control rather than previously favoured chemical methods. Whatever the reason, it is good to see and hear the birds in all their glory. Be sure to include a bird table in your winter garden as feeding the birds in harsh weather will help their survival, not to mention the pleasure to be gained from watching the birds as they congregate at meal times outside your windows. They may even have a short bath after eating, all enjoyable viewing and much cheaper than a TV licence! Birds are attracted to berrying plants so bear this in mind when planting your shrub beds and wooded areas.

Bare-rooted plants (ie, plants with exposed root systems, without pots ) can be planted from now until late March. The most popular bare-rooted plants would probably be roses and trees. Also consider planting some hedging in order to create sheltered rooms within your garden. Most of us need to provide shelter around our sites and note that just because you cannot see the sea does not mean that the sea cannot see you! A hedge that I have found to be very effective over the past few years is the green form of Eleagnus, Eleagnus x ebbingeii. Another worthwhile hedge is Escallonia Donard Seedling. Space these at two feet apart. Hedging may get a little rattled over the winter but it will generally recover quite well. None of us looks good all year round, do we? We all have our off times and so it is with our hedges!

I’ll leave you for now so that you can head into town to buy some thermal underwear! You’ll need it for the gardening season ahead.

Happy gardening!

Anne.

Garden checklist

• Plant trees and shrubs. Erect a windbreaker in exposed locations.

• Pull away dead leaves and debris from around rockery plants.

• Check all garden tools. Wipe tools dry before putting them away. Sharpen shears and secateurs. Service lawn mowers, strimmers, etc.

• Create a compost bin. Include fallen leaves in this.

• Dig soil during mild weather.

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