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The February Garden 2023

The February Garden 2023

Fabulous February at last!- no, you are quite right it isn’t but at least it gets us nearer to March and the real start of the growing season to come. However, that doesn’t mean that there are no garden delights to keep our spirits up as we eagerly anticipate the arrival of spring and as always there are still some jobs to be done on the better weather days.

In the February 2021 blog I looked at some of my February favourites in some detail – if you remember there was little else to do at the time! These included the wonderful winter shrubs, Witch Hazel (Hamamelis) and Japanese Quince (Chaenomeles) and two very useful early flowering perennials, Hellebores and Pulmonarias. Have a look at it in the blog archives if you want to know more about these late winter/early spring bringers of joy.

In February 2022 the blog came from the ‘sleeping giant’ of the garden at Aberglasney and highlighted early flowering shrubs such as Hamamelis, Daphne, Sarcococca, Camelia, Japanese Azalea and Viburnum tinus as well as some useful evergreen shrubs- Pittosporum, Nandina, Leucothoe and Bergenia. These were all enhanced by the early flowering bulbs, Galanthus and Narcissus, as well as by the fantastic collection of Hellebores that Aberglasney has built up over the years.

Just two of the many splendid Hellebores found throughout the Aberglasney gardens.

 Last month I introduced the idea of planting more bee friendly plants, mostly to give our vital pollinators a helping hand but also, of course, to make our gardens richer in plants and insects and therefore more attractive and interesting for us. The main suggestion for February from the RHS article I referred to is Salix caprea, the Goat or Pussy Willow. This is a top bee attraction in February as at some time in the month the whole tree will literally be buzzing with bees and other insects. Salix caprea is a native deciduous tree which can reach 30ft (10m) in height and has broader leaves than most willows. Come late winter the furry catkins appear that not only contain nectar but also abundant and accessible pollen, turning the male catkins from silvery-grey to bright yellow. I have to accept that it is perhaps not the most attractive tree for the rest of the year and that few gardeners unless they have plenty of space choose to plant one in their gardens. I imagine those that do exist in gardens have arrived, as I am sure ours has, as a self-sown seedling from a nearby hedgerow. However, this does not stop us from admiring those trees that are still to be found in the wild or from adding Goat Willow to any mixed hedge planting scheme.

 The other ‘bee’ plants on the February list are spring-flowering crocus, both species and cultivars, which are great for naturalising in grassy areas, as are the snowdrops, Galanthus, which I highlighted last month. Erica x darleyensis  is also recommended as another heather which can be grown on both neutral and acidic soils. Finally a second tree also made the list, one which gardeners do welcome into their gardens. This is the Cherry Plum, Prunus cerasifera which is a lovely, early flowering tree for a sunny spot. The species tree is a rounded, deciduous tree with ovate, dark green leaves and bowl-shaped white flowers borne on the bare shoots in late winter and early spring. These are sometimes followed by spherical, plum-like, edible, red or yellow fruits. However, I have to say it is its cultivars that are more commonly found in gardens as they are highly prized for their purple leaves and are known unsurprisingly as Purple-leaved Plums. Prunus cerasifera ‘Nigra’ has dark purple leaves, red when young and pink flowers. P. ‘Pissardii’ has dark red-purple leaves and pale pink flowers that fade to white and P. ‘Thundercloud’ has pink flowers and dark purple foliage.

 With just some of these plants in your gardens our insect friends will find plenty of pollinating work to do and perhaps will even encourage you to get out into the February garden at some stage to get on with your work! Here in our west Wales plot Teresa and I will be finishing off the winter pruning of the mixed hedge which separates us from the church graveyard so that it is completed before the birds start to look for nesting sites. I know for some the proximity of a graveyard to the house and garden might cause some concern but we are happy to share our space with former residents and all the wildflowers, insects, birds and animals that have made the graveyard their home. Apart from that we have always been keen to live near the ‘dead centre’ of the village! With the birds in mind we will also be cleaning out the nesting boxes ready for the new breeding season. Last year I had some spare timber from an area of old decking which we had lifted and from this I made a couple of new boxes. The first was a sparrow ‘hotel’ with three separate nesting compartments within the same box as house sparrows are very happy to nest close together. Within days of it going up it was being carefully inspected and two of the compartments were eventually used to raise several broods. I also built a swift box as we were concerned that some roof work on the local chapel would prevent the swifts which scream around the village in summer from finding their old nest sites. Fortunately we were worrying unnecessarily as the swifts duly returned to the chapel to nest there for another year. This was actually just as well because yet another pair of house sparrows occupied our swift box almost as soon as it was put up and raise at least one brood of their own!


Other February jobs for us include pruning Clematis which we always try to do before starting on the roses in March. For some gardeners pruning Clematis can be rather challenging as the plants fall into three main groups all of which need slightly different pruning methods. For this reason in the February 2021 blog I discussed this in some detail and it is certainly worth referring to if you are unsure or simply need a reminder. Basically though in February it is the group 2 and group 3 plants which need to be pruned. If you still have the labels for the plants they will say which group they are but you can also work it out based on their flowering times.  Deciduous Clematis that flower in late spring/early summer ie. before June and have quite large flowers will be in group 2 and need pruning back to a pair of strong buds around 3ft (1m) from the ground. Plants which flower in the summer and autumn ie. after June are in group 3 and need pruning a bit harder than the group 2’s, back to pairs of strong buds 6-12” (15-30cms) above ground level. I know that this sounds a bit drastic but remember, like roses, these plants flower on the current season’s growth which because they flower late has plenty of time to develop.


Finally for our February jobs we will be preparing to start seed sowing and planting in March by getting all the pots and seed trays ready and preparing the vegetable beds. We won’t be tempted to start sowing outside except for our early broad beans (we grow a dwarf variety ‘The Sutton’) but inside will start to get some sowings underway. Preparing the vegetable beds involves cutting down and incorporating the green manures sown in the autumn and top dressing with our own compost and any spent compost from last year’s vegetable pots and growbags. This will either be left on the surface for the worms to do their work or lightly ‘tickled’ into the top few inches with a fork. We prefer to use a fork rather than a spade for two reasons- one, it is a lot easier on the back and two, it leaves our worms in one piece!

That’s all for this month but I will be back in March with the first of the spring blogs and some more of my ‘Plants of the Month’. We also plan to re-start the monthly talks at the Old Railway Line and the first of this year’s talks will be at 9-30am on Saturday, March 4th at the top end of the restaurant, details of which will appear on the website nearer the time. Talks are free and I promise not to keep you too long! Until then keep well and keep gardening.


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