Winter solstice: a new beginning

By Andrew Collyer - Practical Gardening

Published 29/12/2015 | 00:00

Plant of the Week: Cornus 'Midwinter Fire'
Plant of the Week: Cornus 'Midwinter Fire'

Check drainage and drains in the garden

Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire'

The winter solstice happens around December 21 and is, in the northern hemisphere, the shortest day of the year. Couple this with the the fact that the New Year follows closely afterwards and there is no denying that the seasonal and calendar years have turned a corner.

It might not feel like it but it is also an important marker in the gardening year and the gardening mind as we look to winters end rather than to its begining. There is the promise of lighter nights to come. 'Hope springs eternal in the human breast' . Maybe that well known expression should be the gardener's motto as we are a particularly optimistic bunch. This too of course would act as a small pun as the thought of the seasonal 'spring' fills the gardener with eternal hope.

Looking out or walking the garden at the moment may not fill you with eternal hope however, understandably so. You wouldn't imagine we had reached any watershed moment in the gardening year other than from a precipitation perspective. It is extremely wet, dank, dark and not particularly inspiring. It has been extremely warm for the time of year which has mean't both grass and weeds have continued to grow unabated by the absence of winter chill. This has left most gardens looking disheveled and unkempt.

One of the greatest pleasure in gardening to my mind is to lookout on a bright clear January day over a clean sharp winter tidied garden. Spring prepared. This is not the vision I am greeted with at the moment. The lawn is what cows must dream of at night, so lush, rich and green and unfortunately six inches long. I would love to get the mower on it but a ride on at the moment would sink to its axles the ground is so wet.

The flower beds despite being tidied earlier now look forlorn as the last remaining leaves that fell with the torrential rain of late have left them looking neglected. As for the vegetable area I have trained my eye to avert from that area.

But as mentioned this is the new begining so while I can't mow grass or dig veg plots without fear of disappearing into a quadmire I can finish any tidying and pruning works at hand. Many herbaceous plants were late flowering this year and didn't really die down until early December. Plants like Helenium, Rudbeckia and Phlox can be cut back to the ground now.

I had Dahlias flowering well into November and have still seen some in bloom around the country but it really is time to cut these back. I am going to lift mine, although I know of people that never lift dahlias and the appear fine year after year. Rather than the cold its the damp I am more concerned about. That final fall of leaves as need to be cleared as they are very choking now wet. Even if the lawn is too wet to mow keep those edges trim and stop them creeping into your plant beds

Lifting and dividing herbaceous plants can be done although it is best to leave fleshy rooted types like Agapanthus until nearer spring to prevent rot. If the soil is workable moving deciduous trees and shrubs can be done now also. When moving a large established plant prune the top back by a third to reduce the transplanting stress in the spring.

Every day from now to June 21st will be getting longer and longer. It's the new begining for the garden year so get ready to be set and go.

Wexford People

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