The irises I discovered in my garden between the country hedge and cut-back conifer have been waiting to be divided since last summer. Now at last the ground is soft enough to lift and replant them and it is no longer raining. The gardening books tell you to cut between the tubers with a spade. In fact I found the pieces came apart quite easily and replanted them, not too deeply, the tubers need to be at ground level, in 5 or 6 different places in the front garden. It will be exciting to see whether they flower this year, and what colour they are.
Pruning fruit trees
The majority of fruit trees in this garden I have planted myself, and they are trained shapes – some U-shaped cordons (apples and pears) and what I hope will be fan shaped apricot, nectarine, 2 cherries, 3 plums and a quince. As fan-shaped trees are very expensive to buy, I bought bare root trees in November 2016 and am training them myself. It’s early days but if it works, as they were only 8-10 euros each it will be a good saving on the 100-150 euros charged for older ready-trained trees.
They are all pruned in the summer, so the only fruit trees for winter pruning are the 2 small apple trees which were already in the garden. Although I had about 20 fruit trees in my garden and allotment in London, I have always found pruning fruit trees a challenge as they never quite look like the illustrations in the books! I tried to concentrate on cutting out dead and crossing growth, and creating an open bowl type shape. Time will tell whether I did it properly!
Last year I had about 20 apples from one tree and none at all from the other. I also had to tie on tiny fleece bags around each small fruit, as the previous year all my tiny apples disappeared overnight. I suspect squirrels- as I have an oak wood behind my house there must be a lot of squirrels, although I have hardly ever seen them. Of course they are red squirrels here, and very shy- most of mine are nearly black, as they are melanistic.
So different from the grey squirrels in my garden in London, which were so fearless they would practically break into the house in search of food!
In front of part of my front garden there is a large pyracantha hedge. It is fearsome to cut; it takes the people who cut it about a day and they are battling the sharpest thorns known to humankind. However the white flowers are very pretty in spring and the red berries in autumn keep the birds fed for weeks. The hedge is so dense that many birds nest in there and at the moment the hedge is alive with their singing- perhaps nest building or establishing territories.
Anything planted less than 3 metres from the hedge seems to do very badly – especially after a dry summer like last year. I have just moved a rose which I planted too close to the hedge. I was also going to move an existing Cotinus coggygria (smoke bush) which has never done very well there, but it seems to have died over the winter. I will look at it again in a couple of weeks, if you scrape the bark there are some green stems, showing life, but it is not producing buds or leaves.
I always get interesting winter visitors in this garden. I have always had a lot of bird feeders and in London I was part of the RSPB London House Sparrow Project which aimed to increase the number of successfully fledged house sparrows by feeding live mealworms during the breeding period. It was interesting having a fridge full of live mealworms, but I grew to recognise ‘chirping males’ (the alpha males of the house sparrow world) and loved to see the fledglings being fed.
Here I have had up to 40 different species of birds in the garden, sometimes just for a few days or weeks. As well as bramblings and siskins this winter, I have had a lot of hawfinches, up to 12 at a time. In the UK they are normally only found in Scotland, but they are more widespread this year. I understand that it has been very cold further north in their usual winter areas in Scandinavia, and they have moved further south in Europe.
Pruning Cornus and other winter stems
Plants which are grown for their winter stem colour need to be hard pruned at the end of winter, so that they produce good coloured new growth. These include Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ (red) and Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’ (yellow) which I have in my garden. The red Cornus in particular has lovely variegated leaves in summer. The yellow Cornus is planted with a yellow evergreen grass, Hakenechloa macra ‘Aureola’ and Mahonia aquifolium which has scented yellow winter flowers.
The hard pruning should start after the first 2 to 3 years, to allow the plants to establish and I have decided to leave mine to their third year. It’s great to have the shining colours standing out against the dark background of the oak wood. Once they are pruned, you can use the stems in decorations.