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April 2012

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Potting up new plants, hostas and gunnera

Our exceptionally mild winter has proved beneficial in numerous ways. Many shrubs and trees that were damaged badly by last year's freezing temperatures have now an excellent chance of making a good recovery and they would not have coped with another prolonged cold spell. Because November and January were unusually mild it was possible to clean up the garden thoroughly much sooner than usual. Often I leave the potting up of layered and suckering shrubs until March and the division of the bulk of the herbaceous plants to April.  


However, this year, thanks to good weather, I divided and potted up as I cleaned each section. This meant that far fewer plants were tossed on the compost heap and I have a record number of plants for sale for the charity Open Days next month. Carpets of Phlomis russeliana and Geranium endressii were encroaching on paths. Plume poppy, Macleaya cordata, was popping up in unexpected places and Peruvian lilies were hopelessly overcrowded and needed dividing.

These are now safely potted up and growing strongly, as are the plants of the suckering shrubs such as Neillia thibetica, Physocarpus ‘Diabolo', Kerria japonica, Stephanandra incisa , and Cornus ‘Mid-winter Fire'. This means that I am not under as much pressure as usual and that I have more time to tackle the division of plants that prefer to be left till spring, such as the grass family and hostas.

Hostas are some of my favourite plants and I have over seventy varieties. They have sculptural leaves that look good both in the garden and in flower arrangements. They thrive in my damp shaded conditions and, because of my garden pools, I have an army of frogs to help with slug control. I divide and pot up 120 plants each year and find it easiest at the end of March or the beginning of April.

I was surprised that both Myosotidium hortensia , the beautiful giant Chatham Island forget-me-not, and the gunneras all survived -17° Celsius in winter 2010/11. Gunnera manicata comes from Brazil and produces giant rhubarb-like leaves up to two metres wide on prickly stems of about two and half metres tall when growing in damp acid soil. It is certainly a dramatic plant, but unfortunately does not seem to know when to stop and time is wasted hacking it back at intervals during the summer to keep paths clear.

Last year their leaves were much smaller due to root damage in winter, and they were not so eye-catching, but they survived. This is the best month to control their growth. They produce large conical leaf buds in spring, like giant noses, and these can be easily sliced off now if they are pointing in the direction of paths or precious plants. By contrast of size, Gunnera magellanica from the Falkland Islands, is only 10 to 15cm and also thrives here.



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