3 gifts for your garden, new years resolutions, epiphany, twelfth night, garden planning, gardening lessons

3 Gifts for Your Garden

3 Gifts for Your Garden is not about the presents someone will give to you as a gardener. It’s not even Plews Gardening Gift Vouchers (yes, I got a plug in there). This is about switching the focus from you to your garden and discovering what the result might be – it could surprise you!

This blog is inspired by Twelfth Night, or Epiphany, when the 3 Wise Men gave their gifts in Bethlehem. This weekend of January 5th and 6th being the time for gold, frankincense and myrrh to make their appearance. In Tudor times, it was traditional to give gifts at Twelfth Night, and some people still do, my own family included.

You may be thinking that that’s all fine and dandy, but how are you to know what presents your garden would ask for if it could speak?
Well, it is probably not a new BBQ or whirligig washing line. Nor even those nice terracotta pots that are on offer in the January sales. Those are thinks you might like, but we’re shifting the focus, remember.

3 Gifts for Your Garden #1 Soil

Feed the soil over 2019. Soil in good heart, ie fertile and free draining, is essential for healthy plants. This is true whether you have an alkaline soil or acid soil; clay soil, sandy soil or a silty soil.

If all your gardening is carried out in raised beds or pots, this still applies to you. For example, when did you last change the potting compost?

Achieving a ‘fine tilth’ isn’t necessary for all of your garden borders. That is needed for seed beds and where you’re planting seedlings. But you should aim for the soil to be workable for most of the year. And it should be a rich, nutritious top soil down to the root depth of most of your plants.

soil in a tin, Photo by Camila Jacques on Unsplash, pig slurry research, fertile soil

Soil in a tin, photo by Camila Jacques

This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, so choose one or more that are appropriate for your garden and you. There are more tips if you click the links.

It may not be a quick fix if your soil has been neglected. In which case, choose one small area and work on that first. Feeding the soil is the gift you’re giving your garden, but soil is so important, please do get in touch if you’d like more help specific to your own garden’s needs.

Flower borders, Shrub borders, Vegetable beds

Firstly, check how deep your top soil layer is. You may find it helpful to refer to our article on Soil. A small hole or trench will be fine if your borders are fairly full of plants. This exploration should be carried out in different areas of the garden, as the deepness of the top soil could well vary.

You should also carry out soil testing to find out how acid or alkaline the soil is. This may be similar across the garden or vary hugely. A home soil testing kit or even a pH ‘prong’ will give you an idea.

pH meter, groundsel, gardening lesssons, gardening courses, soil, weeds

Adding organic matter always improves a soil. This may be home grown compost, bought in soil improver or a green manure. This organic matter can be laid on the soil surface as a mulch, sometimes known as a top dressing. Or it can be lightly forked into the top layer of the soil. Both of these methods rely on worms in particular to take the fresh matter down to the root level.

The compost can also be dug in by the method know as double digging. Have a read of our blog on this subject for details of how to carry out this technique.

Which method of incorporation you use will depend on factors such as whether, for example:

  • you have an empty border, with no tree roots
  • you’re practising a ‘no-dig’ method of cultivation
  • you have the physical ability to do lots of digging
Raised beds and Container Gardening

These pose their own problems. The size of container and the type of plants you’re growing will dictate how much soil replenishment is needed.

Annual flowers, with a shallow root system, and bought as potted plants will be more or less self-contained. However, it is good practise to change the potting compost every 2 or 3 years. This prevents the build up of soil borne diseases.

herbs in lead trough, thyme, marjoram, herbs in containers, container growing

Up to a point, top dressing, including removing the top inch or so of soil, will be enough for a few years for ornamental perennials. When they need re-potting in to a larger container is the perfect opportunity for having a change to new soil.

Growing annual vegetables, fruit trees and fruit bushes requires more soil feeding. The plants expound a lot of energy producing those crops for you to harvest which need to be replenished. For example, raised vegetable beds can be sown with a green manure over winter.

3 Gifts for Your Garden #2 Pruning

Well cared for flowering shrubs can make a garden. and its not really that difficult. I see so many unloved shrubs where we have to dig them out and replace with new, losing some of the garden’s maturity in the process. Heartbreaking. Learn when and how to correctly prune the ornamental flowering shrubs. Not forgetting to first check if they should be pruned, of course! Some shrubs only need minimal pruning. Others respond well to regular trimming with secateurs and loppers.

caryopteris clandonensis summer sorbet, gold and green variegated foliage, scented flowers, blue flowers, summer flowering shrub, deciduous

The following are general rules of thumb for flowering shrubs. Some require different treatment to maintain their shape or because they flower in a particular way. I am presuming that you know what species the shrubs in your garden are, even if you don’t know the exact cultivar.

Gardening Lesson Tip: Some gardeners may find it helpful to colour code their shrubs to remind them when they should be pruned.

When?

Early flowering shrubs
The fundamental rule is to prune after flowering

Late flowering shrubs
Tend to be cut back in the late winter / early spring after they have flowered

Why?

Early flowering shrubs, say January – June flowering period – eg forsythia, Philadelphus – flower on the growth they made after flowering the previous year.

Late-flowering shrubs – start from about July – eg caryopteris, buddleia – and produce flowers on the tips of growth they produce in the current year

forsythia, spring flowering shrub, yellow flowers, front garden
How?

Early flowering shrubs
The shoots with old flowers cut back and, in most cases, something old from the base of each sawn out to encourage new shoots at ground level; up to a third of the shoots can be removed.

Late flowering shrubs
These are cut hard back to a low woody framework in March/April, from which they will rapidly regrow. A careful eye should be kept on the weather forecast, as a late or snap frost can cause die back.

For more help with identifying the shrubs in your garden and correct pruning, do check out the other blogs on Plews. You may also like to look at our garden consultancy services and gardening courses.

3 Gifts for Your Garden #3 Boundaries

By which I mean both the external boundaries around your perimeter and internal boundaries between different sections of your garden. Boundaries form a large part of your garden and shouldn’t be a cheap afterthought.

clematis montana'freda' , garden wall, lytes carey manor house, national trust, somerset

Perimeter Boundaries

Perimeter fences and walls provide security both real and visual. They can be attractive in their own right or a support for climbing plants. Firstly, review what you have, front garden and rear garden, and their state of repair. Do you have: –

  • wooden fences,
  • metal fences,
  • wire fences,
  • walls,
  • hedges,
  • fedges,
  • or no boundary on part of your property. Common for some front gardens.

Hopefully, there’s not too much work needed to bring exterior boundaries back to a state you and your garden can be proud of. If you do decide to replace some of them, give it plenty of research. We have some suggestions across the website, but I’d also suggest looking at, for example, our Pinterest boards for some other ideas.

burnt trees, fire damaged garden, pergola, framed hazel hurdle fence panels, slate chippings, before & after pic

Simple fencing is within the scope of a DIY project. But be wary of underestimating the amount of labour and time involved. Keep cheap and cheerful for the internal divisions. When you get estimates for the fencing work, be sure that you give each business the same specification. Otherwise you may find that the cheapest option is exactly that because they’ve used insufficient fence posts.

Where you live may affect your choice of boundary. For example, a conservation area may require all new perimeters to be brick walls as per the original, Edwardian, ones.

Internal Boundaries

This is where you can be serious, quirky, traditional or inventive. Although probably not all at once in a small area or it will look a mess!

Even in small gardens divisions can help make the area seem larger or help to disguise unsightly views. Perhaps your garden ‘feels fat’ after Christmas? It’s a wide plot and all you see is the rear fence. You could perhaps have trellis fencing coming out from one side and grow sweet peas or a clematis on there.

circular fire pit, with cover, trellis fence, stone urn, garden designer, landscaper, garden project, kent

Or maybe you can see the raised beds of your vegetable patch from your sitting room window. You don’t mind, but the comments of visitors on the progress (or otherwise) of your onions gets wearing. Jute netting, supported between hazel poles, will give a cottage garden feel to your burgeoning runner beans. And hide the rest of the plot from visitors!

What about a more formal approach, appropriate for a city courtyard garden? Lead look-alike planters set with black metal trellis panels set into them offer a chic limited colour palette. Placed at right angles to the wall, these can break up a square courtyard.

3 Gifts for Your Garden

I trust I’ve helped you understand how a small shift in focus can help you see your garden in a new way? It may have clarified some of the essential tasks that were niggling at the back of your mind. Or you may be slightly panicking because your garden has an awful lot that needs doing. To which I would suggest, put the kettle on (or find the corkscrew, depending on the time of day!) and sit down. Gardens are never ‘finished’. They change, plants grow, fences rot. Its life.

Rosa bright ideas, bi-coloured flower, pink and white, repeat flowering rose, scented, deciduous shrub

Have a read through some of our other gardening articles below. Work out the priorities from the 3 gifts for your garden list. Plan a course of action. And do please get in touch if you need more information or help.

Lastly, read this to calm down; one of my favourite blogs, The Gardening Year – Quotes and Thoughts from the Garden.

Related Gardening articles you may enjoy from our Award Winning Blog

Six New Year’s Resolutions for Your Garden
Garden Planning – Your New Year’s Resolution for Your Garden
5 Gardening Tips for New Year
Gardening in January – Tasks, Ideas and Flowering Plants
So What Might a Plews Gardening Lesson Be Like?

Marie’s article in Jan 19 edition of Living Quietly Magazine has further ideas for you (links to their website, Readly and Kindle can be found here)