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March 2011

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Winter damage, trimming escallonia and wind-thrown trees

The drastic cold spell of weather during the early part of the winter took its toll on the garden - not surprisingly. This time the Galway temperatures went to - 15° Celsius, with day-time temperatures not rising above - 7° Celsius at midday, a record low for here. Many of the marginally hardy plants that had managed to survive last year's temperatures of - 12° Celsius just could not cope, such as the astelias from the Chatham Islands and even the tougher phormiums. Last spring I replaced my losses in most cases with hardy plants, and I shall do the same again this year, as we may be going to have a series of severe winters. Where has the beneficial effect of the Gulf Stream gone? A few plants that I replaced last year succumbed to frost once more, such as lophomyrtus , phormiums with pink colouring, and Escallonia ‘Gold Brian'.

Notebook West

Ironically, the escallonia hedge, the variety ‘C.F.Ball', that screens a small section of the wire netting surrounding the herb garden - the old tennis court area - has survived and I would have been delighted if it had not. This section is now twelve feet high and causes me more trouble to maintain every year, as I foolishly let it get out of hand and it is about ten feet wide across the top. Wasps built a nest in it during two separate summers, making it impossible to trim while they were active, and I am now paying the penalty.

Last year I could not reach across with the hedgetrimmer to cut the top , so I resorted to putting a plank on top and standing , somewhat precariously, on this plank to finish trimming. I was going round the garden with a friend from Dublin and mentioned this. His suggestion was that I should remove the whole hedge section, as well as the wire netting. I rejected this idea as it might open up the herb garden to northerly winds. However, as soon as he left I began to have second thoughts. Maybe it would be worth the risk. If the escallonia had had the decency to die during the cold spell, I would not have to make the difficult decision now, and the task would be easier.

Three large old trees fell last autumn. Honey fungus and flooding that caused death of the roots were contributory factors, but also their fall was due to the amount of ivy that I had allowed to grow through their branches, making them more vulnerable to wind-throw during storms. This month I intend to cut back ivy off as many trees as possible.

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