Charterhouse Head Gardener Kate Robinson reflects on priorities and pleasures in the winter months…
People often ask me what there is to do as a gardener in winter and assume it is a quiet month for us, but I have to say I have never found that to be the case. Winter for a gardener is all about preparing for the year ahead. The more groundwork you can get done now the easier things will be later on. So now that Christmas is behind us my focus is on preparing for the spring. It is time to start tidying up the last of the leaves, cutting back the old perennials and putting mulch down on the beds.
All our garden waste has been slowly turning into compost and leaf mould over the last year and we can mix the two together to make a lovely homemade mulch. This can then be can spread like a thick blanket over the borders to suppress some of the weeds and add drainage and nutrients for the plants. Putting down the mulch frees up some of the compost bins ready for this year’s new prunings and also gives us a chance to move and turn the other bins that are not quite ready, this speeds up the composting process and also keeps us warm on the chilliest of days.
January and February are the months to prune roses, fruit trees and the wisteria, making sure they all have a good shape and structure and all the climbers are securely tied in ready for their growth to start in a few months time. People can be apprehensive about pruning but if done properly it will enhance the plants, increasing flowering and making sure there is good air flow through and around the plants which can reduce the spread of disease. The first things to remove are the three D’s -Dead, Diseased and Dying, and also any stems that cross and rub together, then it is a case of pruning for shape without removing the flower buds. This is especially important for Wisteria and hard fruit such as apples and pears but as a general rule the buds will be fatter and more prominent. I was once told that when pruning roses you should imagine a butterfly flying though the stems without catching its wings on the thorns which always makes me smile when I’m doing it.
There are a few indoor jobs to do when the weather turns particularly nasty. We must clean and tidy the greenhouse and all the seed trays and pots will need a good wash. This could look like gardeners just being fussy about tidy spaces (and hiding in a nice warm greenhouse) but it is actually a very good idea as there is nothing worse than sowing a batch of seeds in the spring only for them to get killed of by a fungus or diseases that was spread from a dirty seed tray.
Of course the best winter job is getting the seed catalogues and deciding what new and exciting things we want to grow this year; some lime green Zinnias or a new type of Antirrhinum in coral pink and definitely some sweet peas but which colour…. Oh the possibilities of a new year.