Gardener’s Blog – December 2015

Christmas might be round the corner, but for Chris, Wayne and their team of gardeners, keeping the gardens and glasshouses in tip-top condition continues to be the priority.

First task will be to plant shrubs and deciduous trees until the ground freezes, but they will avoid planting evergreens or conifers. This is because the cold drying winds desiccate these plants and if the soil is frozen they cannot replace vital water.

Revamping the herbaceous borders will be a focus this month because they have become clogged up by bindweed and other rampant plants, despite being weeded four times this year alone. The smaller bed will be emptied completely and left fallow for a year. The team will use a selective weed killer, when necessary, to provide a blank canvas to work on.

To prepare the new herbaceous borders, Chris will ensure that any plants worth saving from the larger border will be dug up, split and potted up in the nursery to get them established.

She has been thinking carefully about the design for the whole area and believes that a rainbow of colours, running from cool whites and blues to fiery reds, oranges and yellows, with a river of silver plants running through the whole scheme, will look stunning.

A scale drawing has been produced by one of the Gardens’ volunteers and the next step is to go through the seed and plant catalogues to choose the plants – always a great job!

Our gardeners and volunteers will continue to collect fallen leaves during December – it’s a job that takes three people at least three hours, three times a week – sometimes more. We estimate that in the past month or so, about 36 trailer loads of leaves have been collected and with each trailer containing three cubic metres, that’s a lot of leaves!

If anyone could donate a leaf collector that we can tow behind our small tractor, it would be most appreciated.

The Japanese Garden Society, a wonderful group of enthusiasts, has been to the Japanese Garden to prune the cloud tree, cut back the Acers, thin out the bamboos, and get the box plants back into shape, so this area is looking in premium shape again.

When the magnificent magnolia has finally shed all its leaves, Chris plans to lay down new gravel chippings and in the Bonsai Yard. If you plan to visit the bonsai area, all the trees now have new labels courtesy of the Friends of the National Bonsai Society, which loans its collection to the Gardens and undertakes all the maintenance.

The Growing Schools Garden is also being carefully weeded and tidied up now so that it matches the new path, while the old area of poorly growing grass has been lovingly redone and is now quite lush.

Also, you will be pleased to see that the Scarecrow Garden is getting some tender loving care; the old pool is being removed and revamped as a small bog garden. All the old overgrown areas have been cut back and tidied up, and vegetable seeds have been purchased in readiness for next year.

An important task for the gardeners at this time of year is to check tree ties to ensure they do not cut into the bark. In the worst cases, bark can grow over and cause a restriction in the movement of water and fluids around the plant. This will eventually become a weak spot in the stem and the top of the tree could fall off.

Over the next month or so, the Gardens’ trees will be surveyed by an independent tree consultant and any work that needs to be done will be arranged by the team of qualified arborists, once we get permission from Birmingham City Council Tree Officer and the Calthorpe Estate.

Gardeners working in the Tropical House will be busy this month pruning the plants that have already flowered. This will encourage flowering wood for next year and the extra sunlight will help heat the glasshouse during the winter.

If you are planning to visit the Gardens this month, it’s a good time to appreciate the unique tree fern (Dicksonia x lathamii) in the Subtropical House. This hybrid was created by Charles Latham, a curator at the Gardens in the 1870s, and this unique specimen cannot be found anywhere else in the world. There will, of course, be a festive display of poinsettia and Christmas flowering hyacinths and lily of the valley to enjoy in the Mediterranean House.

One of Chris’s favourite plants, the Parrotia persica, located by the Study Centre comes into its own this month, with its explosion of reds and oranges. The Hamamelis – witch hazel – will also soon be in flower, providing a burst of bright yellow flowers, while Christmas Box, Sarcococca, will also be in peak form. Its sweet scent is loved and loathed equally by people. Why not let us know your thoughts when you next visit us?