Gardeners’ Blog – February

Here in the Gardens, we are busy tidying up for the coming growing season. As the hours of daylight increase, so do the list of jobs that the gardeners have to perform!

This month, it’s all about pruning, cutting and stooling…

‘Stooling’ is the process of hard-pruning to encourage sturdy, colourful growth. With this in mind, it’s time for us to stool our Salix that has been growing in the Salix bed (right next to the Growing Schools Garden). We have left them alone for a couple of years to put on some growth and show their true colours, but now is the time to stool them.

We will be busy pruning back to about 600mm off the ground the summer flowering Buddleias, which we may even do again later in the summer to bring the flowers even closer to the ground and create a more compact plant.

The Wisteria on the Pavilion wall will be pruned so that all of the nutrient flowing up the plant will be concentrated in three buds as opposed to the six buds left for the winter.  This should encourage a wonderful display of scented flowers in late spring, which is definitely something to watch out for on your next visit. We will also be checking supports to ensure that they are strong enough to hold growth for the rest of the year.

Ornamental grasses will be cut back and any other herbaceous plants that were left for winter interest.

It’s not advisable to begin cutting back any spring flowering shrubs until they have definitely finished flowering. We will also leave pruning our roses until the chances of frost are over – you never can be too careful, even in February.

During February the glasshouse team will be busy improving the interpretation labels on the educational plants. The labels are a great way of teaching our visitors the importance of plants with fun and interesting facts. Most of these are plants that we use in everyday life for food, shelter, medicine, fuel, clothing, leisure and religious reasons. Plants such as tea, coffee and chocolate, bamboo, cotton and indigo and bananas, oranges and lemons are just a few. In fact, there around 200 in total! 

The citrus in the Mediterranean House will be re-potted into terracotta pots of fresh compost to give them a kick-start at the beginning of the growing season. The compost will consist of ericaceous compost for acid loving plants with plenty of perlite added for drainage. Perlite is obsidian rock heated to 900C when it expands and shatters into white gritty particles. It is added to compost to aid drainage and is much lighter to grit, so is a good choice for larger pots.

If the weather is not too cold and wet our outdoor team shall be carrying on with the soil preparation for grass seeding in the spring.  We will also be applying any remaining mulch that we have on to beds that require it, that is beds that did not perhaps receive any last year.  And, beds that are not receiving any mulch will be lightly worked so that water and air move into the soil easily.  This will have to be done carefully to avoid the myriad bulbs that are just showing.

At the moment we are trying to drain a particularly wet area of the Grass Garden, our very muddy gardeners are hoping for a little dry weather to complete this job so that they can restock the bed with plants we bought in the autumn.  We have decided that in the wettest area we will try and plant some Butomus umbellatus, a pretty rush like marginal plant that will cope with standing in up to 250mm of muddy water.  It has an umbrella like clump of pink, fragrant flowers in late summer, and grows to about 1.5m tall.

What to watch out for at Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Wandering around the Garden this morning I was delighted to see snowdrops in flower that we planted last year, as well as, cyclamen, aconites, daphnes and prunus in flower.  This is in addition to the viburnums and hamamelis that were flowering in January.  Behind the Lawn Aviary we planted some early flowering narcissi Narcissus ‘Tamara’, and they are proving to be early as the stems are now about 150mm tall, far taller than the other narcissi in the beds.

So, come to the Gardens and enjoy a much needed lifting of the spirits as spring is just around the corner. There will also be half term fun from 20-24 February.