Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Garden problems

Life's Stage
On the positive side......
      I used to laugh at the old joke about getting one of those high speed chairlifts - 'they get you upstairs before you forget what you're going for' - now though, I'm giving it serious consideration. I'd have sorted it before, but I keep forgetting.

      Surprisingly, a bad memory can have advantages: I can watch a film I saw a fortnight ago and still be happily surprised at the ending - a library of five films and the same number of books will keep me happy into eternity; equally, it isn't a problem when I'm out walking with my hiking mates, I suspect we tell the same story ad infinitum  and yet all remain happy, supremely unbored and wondrous at the creativity of our companions in continually coming up with new stuff. The problem comes when older persons communicate with younger ones. Watch for the signs - if the young person's eyes begin to roll when he thinks you aren't looking, or if he suddenly drops off, then you are doing what your grandad did to you way back.

      The relevance of my memory came home to me forcibly a couple of nights ago: I'm involved in a play at The Lowry Theatre in Salford and we were rehearsing. I have a speaking part and my lines are 'Keith Scott' - I don't think I'll ever be competing with Kenneth Branner for the role but I suppose even he had to start somewhere. Anyway, one of the female leads (a real actor) is playing the part of a school head at a pupils' reunion and she wrongly addresses my character as 'George'. I correct her, saying 'Keith' but she ignores me and calls me 'George Brown', to which I say 'Scott'. While recognising that the part didn't have quite as much meat as 'Hamlet', I had meticulously researched it and was looking forward to producing a dazzling performance. However, at this point I became aware of the other fifty members of the cast all looking expectantly at me and I froze. The only comment which came to mind was 'er, oh shit!' but this I discarded on the basis that some of the crowd looked as if they came from polite backgrounds. Unfortunately, Scott had disappeared as completely as his namesake at the South Pole.

      I now have 'Keith Scott'  written on the back of my hand.

      And herbaceous plants can disappear overwinter as completely as Keith Scott, the difference being that, given enough chance, they'll probably reappear.The trouble is that a gardener is often keen to get the bed sorted early in the year and so starts hoisting out the weeds which have capitalised on the odd mild spell, This results in the removal of friend as well as foe and for this reason I used to carefully stick plastic labels in during  autumn. These were equally carefully removed by magpies and redistributed in the wrong places. Happily, my conversion to the system of leaving dead herbaceous stems in overwinter (because of the wildlife benefits) has resulted in the easy springtime location of the wanted plants. The magpies have had to turn their attentions to other anti-social habits, like removing the putty from round next-door's windows.

       Talking about anti-social habits, I was flummoxed a couple of days ago when I returned to a path I'd only recently recovered from a covering of dead leaves. It had once again disappeared under further leaves. I re-cleared it, dumping them on the adjacent bed where they would work as a useful mulch and eventually break down to enrich the soil. Then I kept watch from the kitchen window each time I went in . This time guilt went not to magpies, but a blackbird who turned up soon afterwards and, with much head - cocking and what I fancied to be a malicious grin (quite difficult when you've got a beak), proceeded to flip leaves from the adjacent bed, presumably in a search for worms.

      This is what gardening is all about: it's a war against cats who find seed beds ideal for digging and crapping in; pigeons who strip the Amelanchier and Cotoneaster of berries before I can enjoy their glow; squirrels who bury conkers in my lawn when not pinching the bird food and next door's teenager who uses my garden as a repository for his football, smashing plants in the process. Actually, I can think of a more appropriate repository but, as you know, I'm very polite.

      I think I'll take up stamp collecting.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Winter garden interest and plant health

Winter Interest and Healthier Plants

Betula jacquemonti showing off their bark
     It never ceases to amaze me when the snowdrops and daffodils heave their leaves through the frosty ground for their first look round of the year. A friend living further south (Maldon, Essex) was telling me three weeks ago that the primroses were already up and flowering, though they're still laying low in my Manchester garden.

      A recent visit to the Winter Gardens in Dunham Park reminded me that there are plenty of interesting alternatives to flowers at this time of year: the grove of maturing Betula pendula Jacquemontii flashed their amazing bark in an eye-catching display while the flaking, paper-like covering of Acer griseum caught the light from the low winter sun, imbuing the tree with a warm glow. Contrasting interest was to be found in the growth of Corylus avellana 'Contorta' as the stems spiralled their progress in a way guaranteed to make flower arrangers drool. Another shrub, Cornus sanguinea 'Winter Flame' has become popular relatively recently and deservedly so. With its yellow-based stems travelling towards red tips it is easy to see reasoning behind the variety name. To get the full benefit of this growth it is advisable to prune hard back to a stool in March.
Acer griseum
      On a slightly different tack, I was reading recently about research into plants and aspirin. Most people are aware that willows and poplars produce salicins which, broken down in the human digestive system, become salicylic acid, or aspirin. This explains why the traditional cure for a head-ache is to chew a poplar bud. Taking this a step further though, it seems that plants attacked by disease will produce salicylic acid to combat the ailment. This has led to experiments whereby a plant is watered with dissolved aspirin (one and a half tablets per gallon of water with a bit of soft soap to enable it to stick to the leaves). The results seem to indicate that this has the effect of strengthening the plant's immune system and you end up with a more vigorous, healthy specimen. And, even if it isn't more vigorous, it doesn't get head-aches.
Cornus sanguinea 'Winter Flame'