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GARDENING - THE WINTER GARDEN he big question this winter is what will survive the prolonged cold weather. Even when the snow and ice is gone plants will suffer from sitting in the cold, wet earth. My greenhouse has suffered from temperatures of -6 for several nights and I know I will have lost some of my half hardy plants. On the bright side those plants which survive are truly hardy and I can make more use of these in future planting schemes and I will have places to try new plants. Winter visits. I have made use of coloured stems of cornus (dogwood) and willow for many years to brighten up the winter garden and add colour to the range of evergreens and conifers and the winter brown of grasses, these have been lovely and cheerful in December and January. However the brightest stem colour is the rich pinky red of Acer Phoenix which is in a prominent place in the border in my front garden. This can be seen from the house and also from the road. In the summer it is an unremarkable small tree, in the autumn the leaves are a pleasant yellow, but from December to March the trunk and branches are glowing with bright colour. This tree was bought a few years ago from Bluebell Arboretum and nursery in Derbyshire which has a wide collection of trees growing in 9 acres of garden. The arboretum was established in 1992 and features a wide range of unusual trees. Most arboretums are very old with huge trees and It is very helpful to see the size of trees planted 18 years ago; it is long enough to see the true shape and form and know that you can achieve this with patience in 15-20 years. Many people come to seek the advice of the owner, Robert Vernon, and this is a lovely place to visit on an autumn or winter day. For anyone planning trips out the newest winter garden is at Dunham Massey near Altrincham in Cheshire. This is a 7 acre garden open daily and extensively planted last year with trees, shrubs and bulbs to provide interest from December through to April. This could be combined with a visit to nearby Tatton Park whose gardens are worth a visit at any time of the year. Hollies I have several gold variegated hollies in my garden and I have used them extensively this Christmas for decorating the house. Backed by evergreen leaves (prunus or laurel) or conifer branches and studded with branches of berries

from cotoneaster or my crab apple, Malus Profusion, I have hung bunches tied with ribbon from the stairs and propped them over curtain poles, mirrors and light fittings. Now Christmas is over and they are nicely dried out they provide excellent kindling for the fire. I have also used the same holly with red cornus stems and a few fresh or artificial flowers to fill my vases this winter, they last for ages. Holly is the ultimate low maintenance/high value shrub. Buy small plants quite cheaply and choose gold or silver variegation, with or without prickles (without is much more user friendly and nicer to weed under but feels like cheating!). Remember it will eventually get big so allow enough room. Interesting Reading My bedside reading over the last months has been supplemented by the magazine from the Hardy Plant Society from last autumn which I keep dipping into and rereading. It has 80 pages of very interesting articles written by the members about plants they have grown and gardens they have worked in over many years. The articles range from seeing lilies in the wild in America; using half hardy plants while a new border fills out plus some of the very best perennials by Derry Watkins, a passionate nurserywoman; no trouble plants for gardeners who want or need to cut down on labour intensive gardening but still want a beautiful garden, lots of interesting ideas from years of observation and practical experience; and advice on which ‘groundcover plants’ end up as uncontrollable thugs. Plus gardens from the Outer Hebrides, moving from Lincolnshire to France and creating a gold medal display for Chelsea Flower Show. More solid information than a whole year of gardening magazines and an excellent website.

Hillam News Feb March 2010  
Hillam News Feb March 2010