How have our garden plants handled the recent record-breaking weather extremes that climate change has inflicted on us? We expect “changeable weather” in Scotland but the switch from an unusually warm November to a ferociously cold spell in December and then to soaking rain was breathtaking. And we wait with bated breath to see how the rest of the winter pans out. So what’s in store for our gardens?
We won’t know which are the winning and which are the losing plants yet, but nothing is more stressful than the weather extremes they’re enduring just now. Many sub-tropical plants can tolerate surprisingly cold, dry conditions but cold, water-logged ground is the killer.
When I bravely walk round the garden, I’m comforted when I see my tough old hellebores taking whatever the winter seems to throw at them. This often applies to natives and long-established species like hellebores and lungworts.
But even more recently arrived neophytes may succeed, so all we can do is observe them. Grow more winners and chuck the strugglers. Writing in Botany Scotland, John Grace from Edinburgh described how some colonising neophytes were coping in roadside verges at the beginning of this year. Although he’s mainly interested in wild not garden plants, some of those he identified were garden escapes or had garden relatives.
He saw some small pampas grass, Cortaderia richardii, plants bravely struggling in the roadside. These New Zealand natives had been first identified in Dorset in 1980 and 40 years later have become well-established specimen plants for our gardens.
Although the small plants he saw were only just hanging on, their garden compatriots don’t seem to have problems.
Our late winter bulbs can obviously handle the Scottish weather, but even they appreciate a sheltered spot.
The snowdrops close to our house and sheltered beneath an old elm at the bottom of the garden are all flowering as I write.
But those in more exposed places are only just poking through.
Location is also helping less robust parcel, or leaf celery, in the slightly warmer herb garden, while sage and parsley are thriving beneath some espalier apples. Those further away from this protective umbrella are struggling badly.
In two or three months time you may still think some perennials are dead because there is no sign of new growth, but don’t panic prematurely.
Well established plants have strong root systems and may simply take longer to get going. Unlike last year when my large globe artichokes had green leaves throughout the winter, they now look completely dead. But with deep tap roots they may throw out buds from deeper down.
Restrict yourself to removing any decaying leaves but leave dry twiggy vegetation to provide some shelter for the crown.
Any pruning should only be done during dry, but not frosty weather.
Plant of the week
Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis. Their delicate white flowers pushing up through the ground are the best antidote to dark January days. Best grown in large clumps in grass under trees, they increase and spread over the years to make a big impact. After flowering divide or move clumps if you need to.