11:43am Saturday 14th January 2012
By Gina Parkinson
GINA PARKINSON is cheered by the hellebores that are beginning to open.
THE January clear-up is revealing how quickly the garden is coming to life. Although the start of the year is all short days, cold weather, post-Christmas lassitude and a long wait until pay day, the first couple of months are, for gardeners, an optimistic time.
Bulbs begin to pop through the soil, the first of the early flowers open and our heads fill with plans for our plots.
In our garden, the hellebores are beginning to open, the first being Hellebrous foetidus. What a ‘good doer’ this is with evergreen leaves and stems of pale green flowers in January and February.
The deeply cut leaves remain attractive for most of the year. The oldest can be cut away from the plant as they become tatty, but by then there are usually one or two fresh ones hiding beneath and ready to grow up to fill the space.
Flower stems begin to form in late autumn or early winter and by Christmas the buds are greening up, providing a nice contrast to the leaves. Then suddenly they are in flower, a very welcome sight in mid- January when most other plants are still dormant.
While Helleborus foetidus is well on with its growth, a near relative, Helleborus orientalis, sometimes labelled Helleborus x hybridus, is only just beginning to show above the ground.
Like its relation, this hellebore is also evergreen, its dark leathery leaves surviving heat and cold, clumping up over the summer when the flowers have faded.
As soon as I spot the flower shoots emerging in January, I cut back all the leaves as they can be prone to damage by leaf spot or botrytis.
A severe attack will see it spread to the flowers and eventually to the new leaves, spoiling the appearance of the plant and weakening its growth.
There is a thought that this annual removal of the foliage weakens the growth of the plant, but I haven’t found this to be so. The leaves are in place for a good nine months, which should be plenty of time to feed the roots and support the development of the following year’s crop of flowers.
While attending to the hellebores, it is also a good time to put down a thick mulch of garden compost or spent mushroom compost.
This is generally an undemanding family of plants needing little feeding, but they seem to appreciate mulching at the beginning of the year.
THE garlic we planted in the vegetable garden last October is starting to come through, pointed green shoots slowly beginning to form orderly lines across the area. The dry spring last year gave us a poor crop, so this time we prepared the soil with plenty of compost and planted the cloves slightly deeper than usual. In a clear spell, it is a good time to start digging over the vegetable garden, preparing the soil for the work it will soon be doing. Like the rest of the garden weeds will abound so they can be removed before the soil is turned over.
Our soil is very sandy so at any opportunity I add barrowloads of garden compost in an effort to give it substance, but if yours is heavy with clay you may want to miss the digging for a while, since it is almost impossible when the earth is wet. However this doesn’t let you off the weeding.
DESPITE the earliness of the year, weeds will already be growing away, taking advantage of the gaps in the vegetable and flower beds and nice warm conditions under a blanket of autumn leaves.
It is a good time to get rid of them before they start to flower and spread themselves about.
They will be easy to pull up from the damp winter soil, as long as there hasn’t been a frost, and the relative bareness of the beds makes it easier to get to them.
8am, BBC Radio Humberside, The Great Outdoors. Presented by Blair Jacobs and Doug Stewart.
9am, BBC Radio Leeds, Tim Crowther and Joe Maiden.
2pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. Chairman Eric Robson together with panellists Bob Flowerdew, Anne Swithinbank and Matthew Wilson in Birmingham. The gardening weather forecast is at 2.40pm. (Repeated from Friday).
3pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. Bunny Guinness, Christine Walkden and Matthew Wilson are in Lincolnshire where they advise members of the Springfields Horticultural Society. Eric Robson is in the chair and the gardening weather forecast is at 3.40pm. (Repeated on Sunday at 2pm).
Saturday, January 21
7am, BBC Radio York, Julia Booth. Julia and her plant expert Nigel Harrison hold their weekly plant surgery.
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