02 Jul 2022

Harnessing the light in your garden

Shirley Lanigan

Hellebore flowers dangle - so if you want to see into their exquisite centres, you need to look up from below

The light that comes into the garden in January and February comes in sideways.

The sun hangs not far above the horizon for much of the day, so when it hits the garden it throws a completely different sort of light on your garden than it does in summer.

This low, soft, horizontal light is the perfect sort of light for the kinds of flowers that are doing their showing off right now.

Most of these are low growing flowers. There are no tall, punchy stands of bloom anywhere to be found at this time of year. It is get down on your knees time if you want to inspect a flower.

Not only do they comport themselves down in the lower reaches, many of those spring flowers also hold themselves upside down, so you do need to get down on hunkers to see them properly.

Hellebore flowers largely dangle, so if you want to see into their exquisite centres, you need to look up under the skirt from below. The same applies to snowdrops.

Miniature irises stand upright and so too do crocuses. They are both very pretty, but both of these can be damaged when there is a strong rain shower. All that rain hammering down on open and delicate flowers is a curse.

I gave up growing crocuses because I just couldn’t put up with the battered mess they seemed to always end up as, here in this garden.

Proof that they were not really suited to the place comes back to me every year, when it is clear that those planted years ago never multiplied up in the way that they should. A few miserable stragglers return each spring, all of them under sheltering trees.

Meanwhile, the upside-down-flowers march on. The rain hops off their backs and they do well.

The side ways light is part of the reason that we can get away with planting early spring flowers under shrubs. During the summer, the sun, being higher in the sky, barely makes itself felt under shrubs.

Now however, it can filter in from the side, as well as pouring down through the denuded branches that have lost last year’s foliage.

It is a treat to see those little flowers, shining away in various spots that, for the rest of the year, are fairly bare.

If you have no such treats in your garden, make a point to buy bulbs later in the year. You could also go to the garden centre now, buy a few pots of sprouting bulbs and plant them where they will look good. Being perennials, they will be there for future years too, multiplying and spreading.

You should still plan on buying even more, later in the year, in inexpensive bulb form, to grow a big beefy winter-into-spring display.

On the subject of bare branches, with many of them being so at the moment, it is a good time to spot where there are dead branches that can be pruned or sawn off.

In most shrubs and trees, there will be dead material. If this is removed properly, the structure of the plant will be improved.

Tree ties will need to be checked to make sure they are not too tight around the trunks. Growth can be surprisingly fast and if a tree tie is too tight it will cut into the bark, hampering the tree’s growth.

A few weeks ago I wrote about applying mulch to beds. Since then we have had a few frozen days. With that in mind, remember that mulch, in the form of bark mulch or compost, acts like a blanket: it holds in heat.

It also holds in cold however. If you apply it to a frozen bed, it will simply insulate the cold, keeping the ground colder for longer than it needs to be. So wait until the ground unfreezes before applying mulch.

If you plan on growing potatoes, buy the seed potatoes now and stand them in a cool bright spot to chit, or sprout. But do not just go to the garden centre and buy what they have unless you actually want to grow those particular varieties.

Do a bit of research. Decide on the varieties you want to grow and hunt them out. There is time and it will be worth it.

So if you like floury spuds, think of those varieties and look for them. If you like a nice waxy salad potato, there are a number of these too. If you do not want to worry about blight, opt for the blight resistant varieties.

The same applies to all varieties of vegetables you might decide to grow. The point of growing vegetables is to grow the things that, in your opinion, taste the best.

There is a lot of work in this business so it might as well be aimed in the direction of the best rewards.

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