am constantly reminded that new people are taking an interest in gardening, every week, for a host of different reasons – new house, new garden, more spare time, economics or simply a sudden realisation that it is a worthwhile and satisfying thing to do.
There is further evidence of this when you think of the numbers of people volunteering to help community projects. In that respect, the two communities which most influence my daily life are Oldmeldrum and Inverurie, and didn’t they both do well in the recent Scotland in Bloom competitions, with Meldrum receiving two awards, one as a prizewinning newcomer to the competition.
Hours of dedication are put in every year by volunteers without any remuneration but with our grateful thanks for making our public places a joy to behold. I have watched tourists stop, park the car and then get out the cameras, so it is good for tourism too. This despite all manner of rules and regulations from councils who seem to take a perverse delight in thinking up new ones. Health and safety and all that – a guilty conscience more like.
Why do these good folks volunteer? For a variety of reasons. Some of which might surprise you until you think about it, a good example being loneliness. Just being with other people, finishing with a cup of tea in the local cafe, helps to overcome the problem. Human contact is part of the substance of living, and gardening is a terrific vehicle for the job.
It is one of the great success stories of allotments, too. I remember one of the visits I made to the new allotments at Mintlaw. Two guys came over to speak, strangers to one another, but they discovered after about 10 minutes’ chat that they lived at opposite ends of the same street.
On another allotment nearby were a couple with their two children, primary school age, setting up their first ever plot. Before the day was out they were chatting with an older guy on the next plot, perhaps seeking a bit of advice on local growing conditions. That would be good news story number one. Good news story number two would be the children beginning to get their hands dirty as each one had been allotted their own patch to grow their own choice of plants, and goodnews story number three – young and old mixing, enjoying the same activities in the same space.
Coming down from the pulpit now, as shorter days and poorer weather are about to slow down the gardening activities, one or two newcomers to the job have stopped to ask “when should I be . . . ?” types of questions. “My hostas are turning brown” or “these pink flowered things, about a metre high, are beginning to look gye scraggy, can I chop them down?” They could be phloxes, asters or the astrantias I mentioned a week or two ago. No matter, they are all classified as hardy herbaceous perennials.
For a start, hostas are perfectly hardy, the aboveground foliage gradually dying off, just like the leaves on deciduous trees, to be picked up and composted. The Hosta root system will simply lie dormant over the winter. Ah! but will that root system stand our winter weather, wetting and drying, freezing and thawing, left bare or covered with snow for a week or three? The answer is yes, it is a hardy perennial. That said, if the negative conditions were to last a lengthy period they might suffer.
That could happen half way up a Grampian but it is less likely on lower sheltered ground. Successful gardening is all about learning and observing. If in doubt, hosta roots and others like them should be protected with a 10cm mulch of wellrotted compost or similar.
The stems of other hardy herbaceous perennials can be cut back to 10-15cm from the ground and mostly they will be quite tolerant of our weather. Some might also benefit from mulching.
Still in tidying up mode, some of our shrubs need to be cut back quite soon to prevent “wind rock” during the coming months. The most obvious and probably best known are the buddleias, the Butterfly Bush.
When all the leaves are off the trees, deciduous hedges and other shrubs, tall one-year-old shoots are quite exposed. As the bushes sway vigorously back and forward, strong winds will make the bush start rocking which will loosen the roots, and before you know it, the whole thing keels over. We have a buddleia and two Sambucus in this category which are for the chop shortly, taking these tall annual stems down to about 1.5m high.
Before growth starts in the spring, they will be reduced even further to about one metre.
Why not take them to that height now? Good question. During the winter weather, these fairly soft stems, which have not yet become lignified (woody), may die back a bit. If you prune them down too far at this time, the dieback just might kill the bush. I’ve never actually seen that happen but let’s say that pruning in two stages, autumn and then again in spring, is a precaution.
RIOT OF COLOUR: People volunteer to put their time into brightening up public spaces for many reasons but one is simple loneliness and the chance to get out and about
Phloxes are hardy perennials and will take almost anything winter throws at them
Buddleias need pruning now and again before spring