Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

YOU WILL REAP WHAT YOU SOW; Sharpen Your Secateurs, Rein in Wayward Plants and Fill Those Containers. Spring Will Be Here before You Know It

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

YOU WILL REAP WHAT YOU SOW; Sharpen Your Secateurs, Rein in Wayward Plants and Fill Those Containers. Spring Will Be Here before You Know It

Article excerpt

Byline: Pattie Barron

YOU don't need green fingers to tidy up the garden, just a little determination and a pair of gardening gloves. This is because the first task in hand is to clear paths, lawn and gutters of mushy leaves, then you can get on with a bit of slash and burn.

Sharpen your secateurs and cut down dead, brown stems and foliage... but cut back with care: clipping off the spindly lavender stems will make the plant look better but cutting into the foliage itself could finish it off.

Next, turn your attention to the overgrown climbers: any Clematis montana won't loosen its grip on the drainpipe without your intervention. It's just the right moment, too, to prune sideshoots on wisteria back to a couple of buds to give you masses more flowers. Shorten long, wayward shoots of roses -- save major pruning till early spring -- and while you're at it, you could take some easy hardwood cuttings.

Cut several pencil-thick stems about a foot long and push each one, right way up, into a deep pot of compost. Firm in, water, and one year from now you can prise up the cuttings and plant them out.

You could even indulge in a little creative shrub and tree pruning, lifting the crown of deciduous trees and shrubs by cutting away lower branches to let in light.

Then comes something a bit more creative -- you can plant a few winterflowering hellebores beneath that will love the newly dappled shade. Check on containers that hold bulbs you planted last autumn. Bulbs need a long cold spell to flower in spring but don't need perpetually sodden compost or they are likely to rot. Pull the pots over to the house wall for a little protection and raise them on bricks to make the compost free-draining.

Wrapping up plants now is a bit like belatedly closing the stable door, but any frost-vulnerable plants that have survived our severe winter thus far might not endure much more, so don't push your luck. Buy horticultural fleece tubes that you pull over each plant. It looks strange, but better to have a ghostly apparition on the patio in winter than a dead plant come spring.

What can you bring in to improve the scenery? Treat yourself to one fabulous shrub that is entirely devoted to flowering and perfuming the garden at this time of year. Three of the best are witchhazel Hamamelis x intermedia Aphrodite, which has spicy-scented, marmalade flowers like chenille spiders, fragrant winter honeysuckle Lonicera purpusii and Mahonica media Charity, the architectural evergreen with big, acid-yellow flower sprays that smell of lily-of-the-valley.

Transform a bare wooden fence with the generous spotted bellflowers and pretty evergreen leaves of winterflowering clematis, cirrhosa Freckles. In the borders, you can only plant when ground isn't frozen or sodden, but you can plant containers any old time to bring in bursts of soul-warming colour. …

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