New year starts with fair­weather friends mak­ing early ap­pear­ance

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - GARDENING -

We spent the Christ­mas sea­son trav­el­ling in Morocco, en­joy­ing win­ter sun­shine while wan­der­ing through de­light­ful Is­lamic court­yard gar­dens. To cut down on lug­gage, we de­cided to leave our coats be­hind. It was a sur­prise to step off the plane back home wear­ing just T-shirts, dread­ing the late De­cem­ber weather, only to find that the tem­per­a­ture was mild, sim­i­lar to the souks of Fez.

The first few days of 2019 saw me ven­tur­ing into the gar­den for the be­gin­ning of my gardening year. As I started pot­ter­ing about, my ex­cite­ment lev­els rose as I remembered last year’s suc­cesses and my plans for the com­ing year started to form.

I be­gan with the most ob­vi­ous jobs; clear­ing the de­cay­ing leaves from the beds and pick­ing up the small branches which had tum­bled from the grove of birch trees at the front of the house.

As I did this, I be­gan to no­tice the green shoots of early bulbs start­ing to push through. This is al­ways a thrilling mo­ment as you wit­ness the be­gin­nings of a growth cy­cle that will take you through to next au­tumn.

It’s not just the bulbs, how­ever, that are BUD­DING STARS: grow­ing at the mo­ment. There are plenty of weeds emerg­ing as well, en­cour­aged by the milder tem­per­a­tures. Ev­ery year a dif­fer­ent weed species dom­i­nates my gar­den, and it looks like petty spurge (Euphor­bia pe­plus) is tak­ing that ti­tle al­ready. It’s easy enough to pull out, but it’s best to wear gloves be­cause, like other mem­bers of the Euphor­bia fam­ily, the stems con­tain a burn­ing milky sap.

There are lots of un­wanted grass seedlings in the bor­ders as well, and as much as I’d like to dec­i­mate them quickly with a hoe, I don’t want to dam­age emerg­ing tips of bulbs, so this has to be done by hand. It’s a job I’ll have to re­turn to over the com­ing weeks.

Of course, tem­per­a­tures could and prob­a­bly will plum­met dur­ing Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary, so if you haven’t wrapped up ten­der spec­i­mens, now would be the time to do so.

My tree ferns are sev­eral feet in height, which gives them some pro­tec­tion as the grow­ing point is well off the ground, but I will put some straw or fleece in the crown to make sure the new fronds are not killed off by sus­tained low tem­per­a­tures or snow.

My Mi­mosa tree (Aca­cia deal­bata) is cov­ered with masses of yel­low buds, which I look for­ward to see­ing open over the next month. I’ve seen pic­tures of some of these in milder parts of the is­land al­ready in full bloom. The very good sum­mer of 2018 will have boosted flower bud de­vel­op­ment in shrubs and trees, so fin­gers crossed they make it through to flow­er­ing and don’t get dec­i­mated by heavy frosts.

I took the op­por­tu­nity while it was dry to start dig­ging over the veg­etable patch in prepa­ra­tion for spring plant­ing. It wasn’t long be­fore I was joined by our res­i­dent robin, hop­ping about in the hope of a few worms com­ing his way. Next job will be to visit the lo­cal sta­bles for some well-rot­ted horse ma­nure, which I will spread in the potato patch and through the mixed bor­ders.

I was de­lighted to see the helle­bores wak­ing up and start­ing to flower. A lit­tle main­te­nance is re­quired now, in­volv­ing cut­ting away last year’s de­cay­ing leaves while tak­ing care not to snip away any new shoots of buds. If you don’t have any, this is a good time to buy them. They will keep go­ing un­til April or even May — it’s hard to think of an­other plant that gives such good flow­er­ing value.

With such mild weather it’s easy to for­get that we can ex­pe­ri­ence cold weather, in­clud­ing frost and snows, right through to May, so the warm air and mild tem­per­a­tures of the mo­ment shouldn’t fool us into think­ing that the worst of the win­ter weather is over.

So, while the weather per­mits, get your­self out­doors and en­joy the re­ju­ve­nat­ing pow­ers of na­ture.

Mi­mosa (Aca­cia deal­bata) and helle­bores can al­ready be seen in our gar­dens

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