The weather can be frustrating at this time of year, especially during the wet winter we are experiencing in south west France. My garden, which is largely heavy clay, and exposed to the wind at the top of the coteaux near the river Dordogne, is completely sodden at the moment after some 2 months of rain.
If we have a rare sunny day,or a clear period between showers, it is tempting to rush out and start doing something -anything- in the garden. However it’s important not to walk on or try and work the soil while it is really wet, as this damages the soil structure, and especially if it is clay soil, it will become really compacted.
Now that the worst of the frosts and snow are probably past, it is a good time to prune roses and hydrangeas and tidy up herbaceous plants.
In my garden, I have several large shrub roses growing against the post and wire fence adjoining the small wood behind my garden. They were already here when I bought the house, and are quite large and spreading. I keep them fairly large to contend with all the vegetation coming through the fence and concentrate on pruning out dead or diseased wood and tying them in.
In my front garden,which is more formal than the rest of the garden, I have planted a mixture of David Austin English roses, and old varieties of single and repeat flowering shrub roses, in shades of deep red, purple, pink and white, separated by lavender bushes.
The single flowering roses require minimal pruning, by up to a third of their size, as well as cutting out dead and diseased and very spindly growth. Prune with a diagonal cut just above a bud.
The English roses and repeat-flowering shrub roses can be pruned by one third to two thirds, again also cutting out dead, diseased and spindly growth.
With all these roses, I am aiming for a good shape with a fairly even height over the bush. After pruning, I apply rose fertiliser, watered in if it doesn’t rain, and mulch around the plants, not touching the stem. This year I am mulching with bonfire ash as I have a lot of it and it is high on potash and good for flowering and fruiting plants. You can also use garden compost or manure.
Hydrangeas and herbaceous plants
I have several hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) in my garden, 7 pink hydrangeas in the bed around the terrace at the back, and one white hydrangea in a half wine barrel. As hydrangeas need a moist soil, I was surprised to find that they do very well, but I do have to water them in periods of drought, and I also mulch them with ashes from my woodburner.
They are easy to prune, having left the old flowerheads on over the winter to protect the buds from frost. Just prune down to the new fat flower bud at the top of each stem, and prune out any very thin or dead stems at ground level.
You canalso clear the dead growth above herbaceous plants and put on the compost heap.