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Colour in winter
Beaten by the snow, GINA PARKINSON goes for a local walk instead and then returns to see what can be done.
WE SHOULD have been away walking last weekend, but postponed the visit. The snow plough had been out to clear the lanes, our hosts informed us, but more snow and ice was forecast.
So with work in the garden not being an option, we put on our walking stuff and set out for a city tramp in the snow. It took us past the green, noisy with toboggans streaking down the slopes, their passengers shrieking and whooping.
The green nestles in the small hill left by the terminal moraine that marks the edge of a glacier that retreated and advanced in a much chillier age than we have now.
Past the shops we went and through the local park where more sledging was going on. Then on to the moor, busy with dogs snuffling and sneezing as they followed invisible trails on the snow-covered field. In summer, cows graze here, flicking flies from their flanks and the dogs have to be kept in check, but for the moment they have a free rein.
On the other side of the moor is Knavesmire, again busy with dogs as well as a few hardy joggers. We trudged around the edge of the area to the wood, where snowy paths took us through the trees, branches and stems, carrying a frosting of snow held against leaden skies.
It looked as though it may snow again but it held off as the air got colder and we made our way home. There isn’t much to do in the garden when the snow comes, save shaking the evergreens free of their heavy load.
It good fun to get outside to do this but make sure you have your hood up.
The snow suddenly drops off and will inevitably find its way on to bare skin, especially down the back of the neck.
Conifers can break under the weight of snow. Their spreading, needle-covered branches can hold a decent weight that can eventually cause them to snap.
The activities of garden visitors such cats and birds and other small creatures are hidden to the casual eye, except when the snow comes. Then their invisible paths are revealed as they follow their usual routes around the lawn and paths and into flower beds.
We have a long thin patch of lawn that never seems to grow well, the grass stunted and muddy in wet weather. The line of paw prints in the snow has shown us why. It is the route the local cats take as they skirt our garage and go into my neighbour’s garden.
While smaller evergreens don’t really need to be cleared of snow, I couldn’t help brushing it from a bushy euonymus that grows in one of the beds. It is nothing special, a white and green variety of euonymus fortune gradually being shaped into a low hedge.
In spring and summer it is cheery with bright foliage but when it has been hit by a cold snap the edges of the foliage turn pink. When there is little colour in the garden this delicate shade seems huge and I seek it out each winter when the frost has been.
While the weather remains icy, it is a good time to have a go at sowing alpine seeds. In the wild, these plants produce at the end of summer seeds which remain dormant through winter. However, as spring approaches their germination is triggered by this period of cold followed by rising temperatures.
This can be imitated by putting the seeds in the fridge for a while but whilst it is still cold outside it’s worth making use of the uninviting conditions.
Alpines need very well-drained soil and this goes for their seed too. Use good quality seed compost mixed with an equal amount of horticultural grit, and fill a terracotta pot or pots according to how much is to be sown.
The pots should be almost filled to the top then watered and allowed to drain. Sow a scattering of seed on the surface of the compost and cover with a thin layer of grit.
The pots can to be left outside, but need protection from rain either in a cold frame with the top lifted to allow in the cold but keep off the rain or in a sheltered spot by a wall with a pane of glass secured safely at an angle over them.
Alpine seeds can take a couple of winters to germinate, so leave any apparently empty pots until the second spring before discarding them. Seedlings that appear during a mild winter spell may need to be brought indoors onto a cool windowsill if it is followed by a drop in temperature.
Gardening TV and radio
Sunday: 8am, BBC Radio Humberside, The Great Outdoors. With Blair Jacobs and Doug Stewart.
9am, BBC Radio Leeds, Tim Crowther and Joe Maiden.
9am, BBC Radio York, Mark Forrest. With gardening advice from Nigel Harrison, Martin Fish and Lizzie Tulip.
2pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. A postbag edition with Matt Biggs, Pippa Greenwood and Anne Swithinbank answering horticultural queries sent in by post and email.
Monday: 8.30pm, Wild Things. Chris Myers, Trevor Danes and Sally Eaton explore how wild plants develop defence systems and look at the microscopic battleground in a puddle in this rather frantic but interesting new series.
The six programmes could probably have been condensed into three if the ‘coming up’ and ‘previously’ parts of what are only 30-minute slots were lost. Why is it assumed that the viewer will forget the first half of a programme during the adverts?
Friday: 3pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. Chairman Eric Robson and panellists Bob Flowerdew, Bunny Guinness and Matthew Wilson help gardeners from Stilton in Cambridgeshire.
8.30pm, BBC2, Life in a Cottage Garden with Carol Klein. It’s spring in the garden and there are snowdrops, violets and primrose welcoming the new growing season.
9pm, BBC2, Monty Don’s French Gardens. Monty looks at the stories behind some of France’s historic gardens in this new three part series. This week he visits a walled garden designed for the mistress of a king and a modern day chateau garden that came close to bankrupting its owner.