I

The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire) - - YOURHOME -

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

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