Saturday, 3 November 2012

Bark Interest

 Winter Wonderland  

As the autumn colours migrate from the trees to the ground, there is a general feeling that that’s it - garden gone to bed for a while, hedgehogs hibernating, and so will we. However, although we won’t be out there doing the jobs and enjoying the (rare) summer sunshine, the garden is still with us via the windows. This factor tends to be overlooked when we plan our planting schemes but, if we bear it in mind, the daily view needn’t be of sad, empty beds and the soggy remains of herbaceous past glories: a visit to see the winter gardens at places like Dunham Park or Harlow Carr will provide the inspiration to choose plants which can be positioned to lift the spirits when we glance through the winter window.

      Gardening is similar to home handymanning  in that  positioning, and  seeing potential pitfalls, plays a large part. In the case of the latter, I could site numerous catastrophes which could have been avoided with a bit of forethought. For example, I once decided to adjust the carburettor on the car because  the engine  was running unevenly: I set out my whole toolkit on top of the radiator (to take this as an indication that it was a big radiator would be a mistake. It was a small toolkit. In fact, I only had a pair of pliers and a plastic handled screwdriver that I’d backed the car over, so that it was only half a plastic handle), anyway, I left the pliers on the radiator while I adjusted various screws on the carburettor. There were a lot of them and it seemed that most of them didn’t do anything. In fact a tiny one had come out and fallen down a crack in the road, but the engine kept running. Eventually though I found the one which came up with the goods and the engine revved accordingly. This caused a bit of vibration, which was a shame really, because it caused the pliers to fall off the radiator. In itself this wouldn’t have been a problem -the crack in the road wasn’t big enough to accommodate the pliers as well - no, the real problem occurred when they hit the fan during their descent. The fan then flattened its blades while in the process of blasting fifty per cent of my toolkit through the radiator.
Prunus serrula (Holehird Gardens)
Acer griseum (Hyde Hall Gardens)
      Equally, thinking about positioning in the structure of the garden is important: no point in putting winter flowering plants, or trees and shrubs with bark interest, out of the line of view from the window. That may not have the same destructive potential as the pliers, but it negates their usefulness on cold wet days when we won’t stray out there : position them in what looks like a good spot, then nip into the house and observe the effect. One of my old bosses had me spend most of a morning positioning and repositioning a large stone in a rockery, until we got it just right. I could have cheerfully buried him under it at the time, but in retrospect, I recognise that he was following a prime rule of gardening.
Cornus alba 'Sibirica' (dogwood)

The Winter Garden (Harlow Carr Gardens)
      Bark interest can come to the fore in winter. However, if you haven’t got room for trees like Prunus serrula, Betula jacquemontii, or Acer griseum, dogwoods offer a variety of different colours which, together with varieties of willow, can be cut hard back each March to occupy a smaller space while offering equally impressive impact. Add these to various winter flowering plants like Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’, numerous  Hamamellis varieties, Erica carnea selections and Cyclamen coum among snowdrops, and you have a potential winter wonderland.


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