January Gardeners’ Blog

Happy New Year to you all, we are all looking forward to the next twelve months in the Gardens!
The first thing that has to be done is the removal of the Magic Lantern Display, whose illuminated features were scattered all over the Gardens. We hope you all managed to view and enjoy the display, the Gardens were really magical.

January is a month of “groundwork” in every garden. Our gardeners will be aerating the grass areas that have been compacted during the winter events, and also turning over the trodden soil in the beds to help alleviate compactions, which is bad news for root growth. Once the compacted soil has been turned over, our homemade compost will be spread. This will improve the soil structure, hopefully encouraging worms and improve drainage.

Tree ties will be checked for space for the next year’s growth, tree labels will be loosened again to give growing space.  If the tree is thriving, any tree stakes will be removed, allowing the tree to form its own anchoring roots and encouraging it to stand by itself.  Tree stakes left supporting trees for too long can stop trees developing correctly, they become dependent on the stakes and never develop a basal flare which helps them to sway in the wind, not stand rigid.

All winter protection will be examined and made good if necessary.  Last year, the “Beasts from the East” caused some damage to our conifers (because of the combination of strong winds and snow loads on the branches). The golden conifer to the rear of the Lawn Aviary has lost two large lower boughs and various other conifers have opened up as the weight of the snow has brought the branches down.  If you are quick and knock the snow off, the branches will sometimes bounce back, no harm done.  But, sometimes the branches stay bent.  Snow on shrub beds can be a good thing though as it can act as an insulator, protecting some plants – especially alpines and bulbs.

The groundwork is also carried out “behind the scenes”. January is a great month for investing some precious time in the potting shed. Our gardeners take advantage of the wet days for going through the plant collections of the Gardens, and update the labelling, recording and interpretation systems. Many hours can also been spent in ordering the right plants from the catalogue and reading books to get inspiration for the next planting schemes to use in the Gardens.

If you come to the Gardens, watch out for flowering shrubs, at this time of the year many are scenting the air, especially on still, sunny days.  Many of our Viburnum, Lonicera, Daphne and Hamamelis species are in full glory now. It is not a coincidence that many are planted by paths so you can see (and sniff) them easily.

This has been a mild winter so far, so many herbaceous plants are coming back quite early. Snowdrops, early daffodils and winter aconites are showing growth, and it is not too late to cut the leaves off your hellebores before the flowers are hidden by them.

In the Tropical and Subtropical Houses, the annual winter tree canopy pruning has been finished in good time. This is a very important task to be carried out for our gardeners, since spring arrives earlier under glass and the tender species will put up a lot of growth in a very short time. We need to keep them in a controllable size!

Another area to check very carefully is our Bonsai Yard. Our loaned and beloved bonsai trees are very sensitive plants, and suffer (sometime irremediably) by the combination of wet and frosty cold. If it freezes for more than three nights, we have to take the bonsai indoors, or at least protect them very thoroughly with some horticultural fleece. Last year we had to bring them in three times: let’s hope for a milder January this year!