A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: 12 January 2018 by John Richards
Northumberland Diary. Entry 352.
Bloody January again!
Risking censure for bad language (I have heard worse!), I plead that I am merely quoting (and not for the first time) the blessed Michael Flanders. His metereological tour of the months, in song, accompanied by the saintly Quaker pacifist Donald Swann, is still one of the funniest things I know, albeit six decades old. On mature reflection, most of the funniest things I know are of a similar vintage: it must show my age. Anyway, yes, not one of the better Januaries, but then, are any? We are at least having a proper winter up here, continuously cold without being really damagingly so, no real mild spells, most things still fully dormant. Most of the snowdrops are through the ground, and a few (Straffan, James Backhouse, a couple of early clones of Sandersii) are starting to flower, but apart from reliable winter shrubs such as Garrya and Hamamelis there is little to report.
One project I have got on with is some serious labelling of the snowdrops as they come up. Up to now I have mostly used conventional plastic labels and pencil, but blackbirds pull them up and the pencil fades. Instead, I have invested in 100 white plastic horizontal labels (£5.50 delivered via the internet) and indelible black pens. So far I have planted more than 50, and expect to do more as plants reveal their true identity. There has been some reference to tombstones and graveyards, but I am growing deaf, selectively at least.
The ground was frozen hard for a number of days each side of the New Year, but the continous frost has relented to the point that I was able to finish the new bed which was illustrated in the last episode. Having thoroughly dug the ground and left it for the frost to break up the subsoil over a couple of weeks, I then barrowed in, in this order, six loads of stacked rotted turf, ten loads of garden compost, and eight loads of leaf mould. This cleaned out a compost bin, and used nearly all last years leaf mould. Before planting the bed looked like this (before filling, which you have seen, and after, two aspects).
Nothing much more boring than pictures of bare soil! It gets no better from now on, so you can stop reading now if you want!
I have since moved in three well-established shrubs, eight small rhododendrons, ten snowdrops, and a partridge...., not thats wrong, but still most of the area awaits planting over the coming season.
Off with its head!
The corner of the garden by the shed and compost heaps has been dominated by a silver birch. Shortly after arrival we felled a large sycamore, and the birch was spotted as a small seedling soon after. We decided to give it a chance, and it rapidly developed into a lovely tree, showing good bark colour after only about five years. It hid the view of neighbouring houses, at least in the summer, and was generally a good thing, except that like all burches it shed a multitude of twigs in the winter.
What changed, is that Sheila decided to develop the patch between the birch and the compost heaps (previously used rather unsuccessfully for veg., and more successfully for sweet peas) as a grass garden. This has been a success, but it soon became clear that if this area was to reach its full potential, the birch had to go. Easy come, easy go we reasoned. We had granted the birch its life (unlike the dozens of birch seedlings I pull up every year), and now decided that it had had its day (yes, I am a sentimental gardener).
Here is the birch after breakfast this morning, and a second photo during a snowy spell two weeks ago.
So, in comes Barry (Acomb Tree Surgery), the lad who cuts our beech hedge and does any tree work I can't manage (increasingly, most of it), and in a couple of hours it was as if it had never been. He also dealt with a really horrid fastigiate double-flowered almond that we inherited and have never liked ever since (not our thing at all!!). Here is the birch half-down and the final effect.
Every cloud has a silver platitude of course, in this case logs which after a couple of months curing will be a welcome contribution to household heating (ironically we had just purchased a load of logs from Barry!).
These were not big trees of course and Barry was here (by himself) for only three hours. However, I was so impressed with the price he quoted that I felt he deserved more. And if there is a moral, I suppose that there is, if we are lucky, no close season in the garden.
I am sure I have used this heading before, probably several times! In my last contribution I said that I had identified two main winter tasks. The other one was to re-topdress the long raised bed with golden grit, the better to show off the inhabitants. I researched golden gravel at several of our sundrymen, and found to my horror that a dumpy bag comes in (delivered, with VAT) at more than £120, not dissimilar to the price Barry quoted for the trees!. Also, the 10 mm gravel which is the smallest grade they deal in, is really too coarse for my purposes. In the end I bought 10 bags of 'Golden Alpine Grit' from our local Garden Supplier, which came to less than one-third of that.
I have not yet finished applying this, but to finish with, here are a couple of shots showing the transforming effect that the golden topdressing has. I should emphasise that when it weathers after a couple of months, the colour tones down well and shows the plants off even better.