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Now where did I put that Souwester! (December 2018)

December 14, 2018
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Yes, its been raining a lot, and blowing even more, the latter costly since I am unable to damp down our old coal-fired Aga effectively and, at times, the heat in our kitchen has resembled what I imagine it would have done in the engine room of the Titanic running at full steam ahead, shortly before it hit the iceberg…

More seriously, there has been the inevitable damage in the garden, most notably wall climbers being wrenched from their restraining wires and in one or two cases with their roots almost entirely out of the ground, so there’s quite a lot of pruning back and tying in to be done. Perhaps surprisingly, given that it has not been a cold autumn/early winter, bulb growth seems to be behind usual – no snowdrops are promised for the Christmas table bouquet this year. But still there is the odd rose bloom and fuchsias so far largely unfazed by the weather; even the decidedly half-hardy Cathedral bells (Cobaea scandens) shown in an earlier blog still has quite a few flowers.

In the ‘old days’ I was a reasonably tidy gardener, clearing up the prodigious leaf fall from the borders to make leafmould being a chief preoccupation during the shortening days of late autumn. But why? Surely as an ecologist, I should have allowed ecological sense to prevail over horticultural fashion all along; now I do, only removing leaves from the alpine beds and particularly vulnerable individual plants, allowing them to remain elsewhere as in nature. There is no doubt that the woodland areas have prospered as a result and, as many other have noted before me, it is remarkable how quickly the litter ‘disappears’ in spring through a combination of incorporation by the enhanced population of earthworms and bacterial and fungal decay. In any case, I have few visitors to the garden in winter who might be shocked by my slovenliness and the reduced pain in my knees and back more than compensates for any visual effrontery as far as I am concerned. Of  course, I still make enough leafmould to give reasonable amounts for use on perennial borders and in potting compost.

Grevilleas in midwinter

Grevilleas are long-flowering southern hemisphere shrubs. The ones that I have generally start to flower here in late autumn-early winter. Most suitable for the rock garden is the dwarf G. (Oriosma) ‘Mt Tamboritha’, which I have shown several times before, in one case covered in snow and quite unaffected.

Two much larger species that are very fast growing evergreens that can easily become top heavy if not pruned judiciously after flowering and perhaps staked in windy places, or tied against a wall or stout fence, are G. juniperina f. sulphurea and G. rosmarinifolia ‘Canberra Gem’. They are fairly easy to propagate by softwood cuttings of non-flowering shoots (often difficult to find as the plants smother themselves with flowers!). They require good light and need a well drained soil and just because they are fully hardy here you should perhaps be prepared to protect them from extreme cold in less temperate climes.

Eupatorium ligustrinum (Ageratina ligustrina)

This native of Mexico to Costa Rica is another plant that is still in quite good flower, having commenced in September. It is a medium-sized, slightly tender evergreen shrub in the Asteraceae family which can stand quite a lot of shade and likes moisture retentive soil. Its miniature shaving brushes of disc florets (there are no ray florets) release a sweet but delicate perfume that is easily missed if you are not aware, but is worth returning for when you are. I have not tried to propagate it so can’t comment on that.

Image of John Good John Good

John Good is a retired research forest ecologist with a lifelong interest in all aspects of the observation and cultivation of plants, alpines and woodlanders being of particular appeal. He has lived in North Wales for more than 40 years and he and his wife, Pam, have lived in their current hillside home and garden overlooking the sea for 27. He is an Emeritus Professor of Environmental Forestry at Bangor University and maintains a strong interest in all matters related to land use in general and the balance between agriculture and forestry in particular.

He has been a member of the AGS for more than 50 years and a judge at our shows for half of these, as well as being a member (now friend) of the RHS’ Joint Rock Garden Plant Committee. He has travelled and lectured widely on alpines and written many articles and several books on the subject, the latter leading to his having served as AGS Director of Publications and Assistant Editor of our journal. He has also always been heavily involved in his local North Wales Group.