Gardener's ramblings: February

A view across a frosty lawn, a lake and behind sits a semi-circular temple with busts of famous people at Stowe
Published : 07 Feb 2018

Stowe's gardener, Anna Tolfree, takes a moment to reflect on her work throughout 2017 and the year ahead in February's edition of Gardener's ramblings.

January and February are hard months.  The excitement of Christmas is over and you’re left with dark, wet and windy days that don’t feel like they’re ever going to end. Motivating yourself to get outside in the garden in this kind of weather is difficult, I know because I’m exactly the same. 

Taking a moment

On the days that I can’t bring myself to go out in the garden (and there are a few!) I use the time to reflect on the previous year. What went really well?  But the most important question…What went badly?  I am no different from any other gardener; I start the year full of hope and promise for the year ahead with lots of new ideas.  

Making a mental note

There were good points last year which I shall celebrate but there were also bad points. It’s the bad points that I focus on the most so I can learn and improve. All of us need to make these mistakes to learn and improve as gardeners. It may be that you fell in love with a plant and wanted it in your own garden at home not remembering the golden rule ‘right plant, right place’. It flourishes for a short period but because it’s not suited to the right situation in your garden it may not last. Sometimes if caught soon enough they can be moved to a better situation within the garden or into a pot and can once again start to flourish.

Photographic memories

It can also be a newly planted bed that you have designed yourself and it has grown over the spring and summer months but doesn’t look quite right and needs a tweak.

" I always think it’s a good idea to take pictures of the garden at different times of the year so you can remember what it was looking like when you’re trying to re-design your garden and see what was wrong with the planting or design of it."

It may be that only a few plants within the bed need to be moved as they’re too tall for the front of the border and can be moved further back and another moved forward that can take its place. It could be that the colours clash too much for you and you may need to add more neutral coloured plants in between to break up the brighter colours. That’s the great thing about gardening it can easily be rectified if it hasn’t worked in your garden and you learn from it.  

Occasionally it’s necessary to heavily prune back mature trees and shrubs when they become too big. Whilst some shrubs and trees don’t mind or even (dare I say it) enjoy it, others do not and unfortunately will show little or no growth at all. If the latter has occurred I try and see it as a new planting opportunity. You can of course replace the shrub or tree with the same one that has died and it will grow away quite happily if given a good feed in the soil around it. Or you can be daring and try something that is completely different that will suit the same situation. In doing this it can completely change the look of the bed and give it a whole new lease of life.  

Looking ahead

For me last year the bad points were the excessive watering that I was doing within a new area that had been planted. It was so dry over the summer that I was constantly watering. Most plants made it through but some did not so I will have a few gaps for new planting myself so at least I can look forward to maybe changing a few of them and hope they will do better this year.  

Anna and Darren have been doing some tree maintenance after the recent storm by the Sleeping Wood.
Two gardeners of Stowe, Anna Tolfree and Darren Minney sit on a tree with chainsaws after a recent storm blew down soe trees

After the strong winds we had recently at Stowe I lost a large mature Beech on the edge of Sleeping Wood. I was devastated, truly. It was probably in the region of 200-250 years old so was one of our veteran trees and it had such character. It has left a large gaping hole on the edge of the Sleeping Wood and I’ll miss it. I must see this as a new planting opportunity in its own right. I can add an understorey of shrubs around where it used to stand as well as add a few more trees...maybe Lime…that will once again fill this area with a beautiful filtered sunlight when they grow as tall as the beech once was…

Happy Gardening