Gardeners’ Blog – January 2016

Happy New Year, everyone!

Now January is here, Chris, Wayne and their team of gardeners are gearing up for another very busy year at the Gardens.

They’ve had a very stormy time of late after three trees blew down in the Woodland Walk and landed in the Fern Garden. The trees haven’t gone to waste, though, because the team cut up the trunks and shredded the branches to form mulch, which has been spread on the paths.

Because the trees were pulled out, the roots damaged the banks, so the trunks are being used to shore up the exposed soil.

Chris has decided not to plant trees too closely any more, echoing the sentiments of JC Loudon (the Gardens’ designer), who favoured planting trees so that their individual beauty and value to the landscape could be appreciated.

The Rock Garden pool has been causing the gardening team problems over the last few months because the overflow is blocked and will not clear, despite the pool being emptied every fourth day or so. This month, a new overflow is being installed to see if it eases the problem. Fingers’ crossed.

Funding has been secured for a further phase of the Children’s Discovery Garden and Chris is drawing up plans for the new areas, which will also include new drainage as some parts have become waterlogged.

The amount of actual gardening that the team does in January is fairly low key because there is too much water and the soil is too cold. It’s important not to walk on soggy soil because it loses its valuable air spaces.

If there are more than three days of freezing weather and the root balls of the bonsai freeze, these delicate trees have to be moved to the nursery to thaw out.

Frozen soil means the trees cannot take in water, so conifers will still lose water through transpiration, which means they become dry – this puts the plants under severe stress.

So it’s likely the team will be doing plenty of heavy lifting, which helps to take off the pounds put on over Christmas!

The grapevine in the Roman Historic Garden will be pruned this month before the sap rises, otherwise the vine can bleed to death. The same goes for birch trees – any work on them should be done in January because they also bleed; sap can pour out like from a tap (although the sap can be used to make birch beer, which is good).

Other main tasks for this month are tidying up areas that are usually unseen by visitors, such as the nursery yard and the tool sheds.

Wayne will be working hard in the Tropical House this month, doing the annual pruning of the canopy in the Tropical House. Removing the growth produced during last summer gives the plants as much light as possible to thrive; it encourages new flowering growth; gives visitors more space to walk around; and also helps with heating bills because the sun warms the glasshouse by solar gain.

Wayne will also be finalising the interpretation for the plant evolution trail in The Subtropical House. This will enable visitors to learn about all aspects of plant evolution over the past 1.6 billion years. It will include information on topics such as how plants have helped to change the Earth’s atmosphere, enabling all life to flourish, as well as explain the differences between plants from primitive to highly evolved.

Chris says that the beautiful snowdrops will be thriving in January, although they were already popping up in December. There have also been some early flowers on the our Prunus ‘Accolade’ on the Main Lawn, which is very unusual for January – let’s hope it does not get too cold to kill them off.

January is the perfect time to visit the glasshouses – it really helps to banish the January blues! The Beaumontia grandiflora – a large evergreen climber with huge white, trumpet-like flowers about 15cm in diameter – is in flower in the Subtropical House and looks amazing. Be sure to look up, though, because the flowers are quite high up where the plant gets the most of the winter sun. Another wonderful plant to look at now in the Subtropical House is the Bird of Paradise, with its bright orange and blue, bird-like flowers brighten up the dullest of winter days.