Rushlake Green Village Leaf

Gardening Diary - February . . .


' If Candlemas Day* be fair and bright, winter will have another flight;
.If on Candlemas Day it be shower and rain, winter is gone and will not come again '

The care of a garden affords pleasure,  recreation and satisfaction because it brings the jaded soul into contact with nature in her softest, kindest and most beneficent mood'. So states the introduction to an old Edwardian gardening book. The last two months of ice, snow and barrelling Atlantic depressions may for some of us have modified that view. However there is evidence of new life wherever we look.  The days are appreciably longer and snowdrops, crocus and primrose are cheering the lawn whilst daffodils and other spring bulbs are pushing through.
In one garden I work in seven towering new rooks' nests have appeared in the last week of January whilst the woodpecker has begun tapping out his mating call. So there is some cheer to get us through Lent.

Work on the garden is still at the mercy of the weather, if the mud sticks to your wellies best to stay off and clean the greenhouse or mend a fence.

The following list of activities to be carried out in the garden are meant as suggestions based on some of my activities for the month and are not meant to be read as a dictat to other gardeners. Conditions in no two gardens are ever quite the same, and our available free time varies from person to person. Furthermore, I am sure I am presuming to teach some gardeners how to suck eggs, so to those with experience and expertise I doff my flat cap and wring my hands in apology now.

In the border overgrown perennials can be divided and moved.  Root clumps are prised apart using two forks back to back and small pieces from the ouside with three to six shoots are used for replanting, discard the hard pieces from the centre.

Those plants most likely to need this treatment are lupins,  monarda,  michaelmas daisies, rudbeckias, heleniums, delphiniums, sedum spectabile and autumn joy, lysimachia, border phlox, achillea,  echinops and erigerons. Dig the new area to a spades' depth and put in plenty of old manure or compost with a handful of bone meal. Those perennials that resent disturbance such as knipofia and paeonia can be fed in situ, with a fertiliser high in phosphates and potash but low in nitrogen.

Plant box hedging and planting of forget-me-nots, wallflowers and polyanthus should be finished off as soon as possible. Also plant hollyhocks, seedling lupins, verbenas,  foxgloves,  sweet williams and canterbury bells.
Towards the end of the month is the time to prune back the dogwood and the yellow and red twigged willow. These are grown for the colour of their young stems and are cut back hard each year to encourage strong new growth. Likewise cut back the purple buddleia.

Winter flowering shrubs should be pruned as soon as they finish flowering, The winter jasmine jasminum nudiflorum especially should be pruned after flowering, to prevent it becoming straggly. Train in the growths that have just flowered to cover your wall and cut the rest back to three or four buds so they make good growth for next winters' flowering.
Trim back winter flowering heathers to prevent them becoming straggly. Apple and pear  trees growing in grass may need a feed with a nitrogen based fertiliser,  for those in cultivated land, a potash feed will be sufficient.

The lawn. Probably still looking a bit sorry for itself. Worms are becoming active again under the lawn so always have your besom close at hand for scattering worm casts when reasonably dry. Don't be tempted to get the mower out before March.

I always grow as many cutting flowers as possible amongst my vegetables, I like to see plenty of colour in amongst my turnips. As well as saving money on buying flowers this provides a ready source of placatory offerings to my wife when my misdemeanours and felonies demand contrition. Under cloches we can now sow cornflower, larkspur, godetia, clarkia, calendula and sweet peas.

Whilst we are still in the vegetable garden what else can we sow now?  Onion, carrots, peas, lettuce and radish can be sown under cloches. Round peas, shallots and broad beans can be put in if not done last month. In sheltered spots parsnips, early cabbage and leeks can be sown outside, though I prefer to wait a few more weeks in case another Arctic blast checks germination. Rhubarb clumps can be lifted and divided now as can chives. Mint can be propagated. Uproot the long rooted runners and separate them from the parent plant and plant them on their own. Previously I touched on liming the veg. patch. Liming and pre-season feeding should be kept a month apart so February is the optimum time. A simple pH test will give you the correct dosage. It is well worth carrying out this simple task as 'sweetened' ground really will produce more wholesome plants and higher yields.

A lot of talk of cloches. As we know, a cloche is only a means of speeding along the warming of the soil to aid germination and give the young plant a protected environment during the first few weeks. There are many cost effective methods we can adopt to do this. If the gentleman from the double glazing company kindly left you all your old glass, we can build a rudimentary wooden framework to hold the panes together so as to form a tunnel. Unwanted clear plastic containers can be sawn in two, creating a kind of bell cloche and corrugated plastic roofing can be shaped and held in place with wire hoops. Bear in mind the size your crop is expected to reach before the cloche is taken away as the leaves shouldn't touch the sides.
I find using some kind of protection really does mean less worry about extreme weather and enables us to start seeds off many weeks in advance.

And finally. If your  roses had blackspot last year it is well worth spraying them with the relevant fungicidal treatment. This should be done before the leaves appear, to kill the spores overwintering on the stems and then at fortnightly intervals into June. This could solve the problem for the rest of the summer.

Content supplied by Ross Atabey from Green & Great Gardens your local landscaping and garden specialists. For further advice contact Ross on 07941 315214 01435 812 153 or visit