This year, although optimistic that it will be milder, I am determined to take action earlier to protect susceptible plants in the garden against winter damage. The first stop has been my local garden centre to buy some ‘frost fleece’ that can be used to wrap up tender plants that we have growing in the ground, as well as a new heater for my greenhouse and some bubble wrap for any planted containers that are left outside.
One of my favourite tropical looking plants is Melianthus major, with huge grey green leaves that smell like peanut butter – some people call it the ‘Peanut Butter plant’. Although an evergreen perennial in South Africa, its homeland, the lush growth will be cut down by hard frost. Last spring our plant shot back from underground after it had sulked for a while, but this year I am wrapping it in fleece and putting some chopped bracken over the crown for added protection to keep it cosy. Red Hot Pokers are another group of plants from South Africa that do not appreciate our current winter weather, so I will put bracken around the crowns of these as well, although I hope fleece will not be necessary.
Even the hardiest of evergreens may need extra care in winter. I have planted quite a few this autumn, so that Mrs McGregor has more material for her flower arrangements and to decorate the house at Christmas time. When the ground freezes up, they will be unable to take up water and will still be losing moisture through their leaves when the wind blows. This often results in plants dropping their leaves in spring and taking ages to recover as they shoot from the bare wood, only to be hit again with the same problem the following winter. Mindful of our exposed front garden, I am wrapping up the evergreens in fleece, tied securely to stop it blowing away through the winter gales! If our garden was not so exposed, I would settle for keeping the plants well watered in cold windy weather, or putting up a green netting windbreak, which is often enough to stop them suffering brown leaves the following spring.
As well as plants that are in the garden, I am taking more care of my planted containers, which seem to grow in number each year! As many as possible will be squeezed in to our greenhouse, along with the soft wood cuttings of tender perennials that were taken as an ‘insurance policy’ for next year in late summer. These have rooted now and I have potted them up, but will be keeping them warm until next spring!
I have moved containers that have not made it to the greenhouse to a sheltered wall, so that they will not be damaged by cold, drying winds. The Hostas are all below ground now and will stand the coldest weather, but I will wrap evergreens in fleece and also bubble wrap the pots to try and insulate the soil and roots.
I hope that with all these extra precautions we will have a kinder winter and for once my work will not have been necessary!