Gardening with SHIRLEY LANIGAN - Saint Patrick’s Day

Saint Patrick’s Day has always had significance in the gardener’s calendar. For year-round workers, it is like most dates, a marker for when certain jobs should be done. St Patrick’s Day is historically known as rose pruning time. For not-quite-so-committed gardeners, it has traditionally been the date on which they looked out the window and decided that the time had come for getting stuck in to Do A Bit in the garden.

Saint Patrick’s Day has always had significance in the gardener’s calendar. For year-round workers, it is like most dates, a marker for when certain jobs should be done. St Patrick’s Day is historically known as rose pruning time. For not-quite-so-committed gardeners, it has traditionally been the date on which they looked out the window and decided that the time had come for getting stuck in to Do A Bit in the garden.

It helps that the saint’s day comes with a bank holiday long weekend at just the time that growth is hotting up out there. Even the occasional gardener will have noticed that there are a lot of plants forging ahead and that it might be a good idea to try to catch up with them so that garden can look its best over the next few months.

So between one thing and another, there will be a lot of activity in the nation’s front and back gardens this weekend.

With reference to the experienced gardeners and the annual rose pruning foray, we know these days that the rules followed for decades if not centuries, were not always absolutely necessary. Trials have proved that roses respond just as well to February, November and December pruning as they do to a cut made mid-March. They also respond to a clean chop of the whole plant to knee-height as they do to the old fashioned method of carefully choosing where to cut each individual stem. This is just as well because the fear that pruning roses the old fashioned way put into even experienced gardeners has always been a bit crazy. For a start, it was very bad for the confidence to think that one rash cut could lead to a ruined plant. Finding out that the shrub would not succumb and keel over as a result as a bad pruning job took away a lot of fear.

Gardening is not something to be afraid of. I think that the vey intricate rules were probably made up by professional gardeners, in an attempt to guard their fiefdoms from interfering employers with a desire to make themselves useful. Years of being passed down gave these rules the patina and authority of age and made people believe that because the advice was old it must be correct. And sometimes it was. But a mistake delivered with authority by someone who generally knows what they are about can quickly take on the mantle of a truth universally acknowledged. We do well when we find out that the easier way is also effective.

Apart from attacking the roses, there are a great number of jobs that can be seen to this weekend.

For a start, take a look at the tree ties on any young trees you have. (This also applies to young trees outside your gate in the communal green space near your house. They are often forgotten) If the ties get too tight, they will eat into the swelling trunks, eventually causing trouble for the tree. You might find they need to be replaced by the next size up. While you are dealing with young trees, use a hoe to clear weeds from around the base of the trunk.

Next, take a look at any branches that might have become damaged over the winter. Cleanly cut them out so that they can cause no damage. And while working on these trees, prune out any crossing or rubbing, spindly weak growth too.

As always, there will be weeding to be done, especially if you have not been working over the winter. So take the hoe for an extensive walk around the garden, taking out young and not so young annual weeds as you do. It will be necessary to use a fork and dig out the roots of perennial weeds and scutch grass. Be careful not to damage emerging bulbs.

On the subject of young bulbs, if you did as many of us do and planted some bulbs in pots last autumn, you can now see where there are blank spots in the ground and use these pot-grown bulbs to fill in those spaces. This is done either by sinking the whole pot into the ground and scooping soil back around the top of the pot so that the bulbs look as though they are growing in the soil. Or, dig a hole. Water the bulbs in the pots and then carefully turn them out into your hand and gently lower them directly into the ground. I like this option better as it means you can then forget about the bulbs. They will live on for years, hopefully multiplying as they do.

One last job: Haul out the mower and start it up. If it needs servicing you should get it to the mower man now before the grass starts growing at full speed when you will not appreciate being without it for up to a week.