GINA PARKINSON finds herself busy creating a leaf bin on a sunny morning, and also finds time to praise Mahonia, a useful plant that doesn’t deserve its reputation as boring.

THE lovely weather we had last weekend encouraged gardeners outside and I could hear the sound of hammering and sawing as people began to get their gardens in order for the coming horticultural year.

A mild day in February is so welcome and even though the time is short, the realisation that spring is peeping from just around the corner lifts our spirits.

My neighbour is also a keen gardener and while having the proverbial chat over the garden fence a few days ago, I noticed a large roll of chicken wire resting in the middle of her front garden. Inquiring as to her plans for it, I was told it was destined for the tip, so I offered to find a home for it instead.

I needed a new leaf bin and this was the perfect opportunity to get the job done. The fine weather on Sunday beckoned me out and the new bin was built. These are simple to make, just four posts are required to attach the chicken wire to together with a thick pair of gloves and some sharp wire cutters.

I make mine with three sides, leaving the front open for ease of filling and emptying, although I know some gardeners prefer all four sides to be wired.

Then the old bin was emptied into the new, a good opportunity to mix the foliage up a bit. There were scores of worms at the bottom of the pile where the leaves are beginning to break down. They don’t mind being disturbed and soon make their way back into the dark depths. The pile is complete now and is covered in carpet under which the worms can do their work.

One job makes another in the garden and the emptied leaf bin left space to move a pile of compost. This is a good way of aerating and mixing up the pile to get it breaking down more efficiently.

So the compost was up ended into the new space and like the leaves covered with carpet. Now a new one will be started and the process begins again.

A sunny February day brings the scent of early flowers into the garden. Winter honeysuckle has been blooming for weeks now and it is joined by the brighter yellow flowers of mahonia. This spiky-leafed shrub is a dramatic addition to the garden, its evergreen leaves and rough brown stems giving year-round interest. In late autumn and winter and early spring, long racemes of small golden blooms open, adding to the attraction of this shrub.

Mahonia isn’t an unusual specimen and it is seen in public gardens and car park verges, as well as in private gardens. Like the mophead hydrangeas, it is perhaps overused and therefore sometimes considered boring, but it will thrive in most situations and once established requires little attention. It is especially good in shady sites where the glossy leaves and winter flowers shine out.

The low-growing mahonia aquifolium is good for using as ground cover on shaded sloping banks, where the suckering stems hold wayward soil in place.

This suckering spread can be less useful in garden situations, so it is best to choose a less invasive member of the family, such as mahonia japonica. This is an erect shrub growing two metres or more tall.

Mahonia media Charity is also worth growing, especially as a specimen plant where its large clusters of flowers can be shown off.

Mahonia is easy to look after and needs little attention.

Unwanted stems can be removed in April, take out the oldest if necessary.

Although evergreen, foliage may drop after a severe frost. This will be replaced by new growth once the weather improves.


Open gardens...

Sunday, February 22.

In aid of the National Gardens Scheme

Devonshire Mill, Canal Lane, Pocklington YO42 1NN. Lovely organic garden featuring double snowdrops in the grounds surrounding a 200-year-old Grade II listed watermill (this is not open). The garden includes productive vegetable areas, woodland, hens, herbaceous borders and a mill stream. Open 11am to 4.30pm, admission £3.

Wednesday, February 25

Austwick Hall, Town Head Lane, Austwick, near Settle LA2 8BS. A bit of a journey from our area, but Snowdrop enthusiasts may like to visit this Dales garden nestling in steeply wooded hillside. There are drifts of common single and double snowdrops, together with more than 50 other varieties along a trail that includes sculptures. The paths can be slippery and sensible footwear is advised. Open noon to 4pm, admission £4.


Gardening TV and radio


6am, BBC2, The A to Z of Gardening. Carol Kirkwood looks at the letter R.

6.15am, BBC2, Great British Garden Revival. Lavender is in the spotlight this week.

7.15am, BBC2, Glorious Gardens from Above. Christine Walkden views Hampshire from her hot air balloon.

8am, BBC Radio Humberside, The Great Outdoors. With Blair Jacobs and Doug Stewart.

9am, BBC Radio York, Julia Lewis. Out and about in the gardens and countryside of North Yorkshire.

9am, BBC Radio Leeds, Tim Crowther and Joe Maiden.

2pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. From Galleywood in Essex.


3pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. Eric Robson and his panel of experts are in Lancashire where Anne Swithinbank, Bunny Guinness and Bob Flowerdew answer questions from an audience in Preston.