NATUREWATCH: With Lynne le Conte

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LYNNE le Conte, South Kesteven District Council’s grounds maintenance co-ordinator, talks us through restoring the garden following the ravishes of winter.

She writes: “At last a few sunny days are starting to lift our spirits and our gardens are starting to recover from the ravishes of the winter.

We’ve had one of the snowiest winters, and then mild for the time of year then cold and frosty which ultimately has wreaked havoc on our plants.

St Peter’s Hill in Grantham was no exception, the hardy spring bedding planted in the autumn vanished under a carpet of snow and then as no-one could see where they were, footfall compressed the snow and finally finished them off.

Bedding plants in other areas and gardens have pulled through and are starting to add that all-important colour.

St Peter’s Hill has been replanted and now shines out with red white and blue primulas.

It’s nice to see lots of other people taking advantage of the sunshine by taking a bit of time out sitting in the sunshine and, I hope, enjoying the flowers. But you know, even two or three brightly coloured primulas in a pot beside your front or back door is a welcoming sight.

The shrubs have also suffered badly this year, many of which mirror the scene in our own gardens and parks. The phormiums have keeled over and appear as dried out leaves in some areas and simply mushy leaves in others.

To tidy things up a bit we are cutting all the obviously dead matter back and where the crowns are still firm and not become soft and hence obviously killed by freezing, doing nothing more but waiting to see what happens.

To have to replace mature shrubs can be very expensive so with a little patience we may be lucky.

The chiosya ‘Sundance’ plants have been hit hard in some areas and have had to be pruned hard back to a healthy bud whilst others have only needed a light trim to remove the brown frosted leaves and the newly exposed golden yellow leaves are a real tonic for the eyes.

Cordylines and yuccas have also taken a real hammering throughout the district even in sheltered spots and it seems very odd seeing stick-like things from barely 1metre to several metres tall sticking out of the ground. Again it’s really a wait and see game, removing the unsightly soggy dead leaves will improve the appearance of these ‘sticks’ and also stop the rot that will soon attack as the weather warms up.

These plants do often shoot again from lower down then cut the rest of the top away above the new growth.

So patience is the key as we move towards better weather.

Don’t write off a plant without doing a few checks. The neck of the root system is worth checking, this is where the plant joins the root. If this is soft the plant will probably be dead or will not regenerate.

The root system should not be brittle or mushy, firm white roots, tubers indicate it may yet burst back into life.

The buds on shrubs should be firm and plump - using a pocket knife carefully scrape back or make a small incision into the branch/stem near the top to see if the shrub is green on the inside, if it is there is a good chance it will recover, if not then try again further down until you find it is; the dead wood above this point can be pruned off.

On the positive side it’s also a good time to be choosing and planting new plants. Choose varieties that can take very cold and severe weather conditions, if you want to reduce the risk of losing these plants next winter, although there are no guarantees.

Just seeing what has survived in the parks and your neighbours gardens are good places to give you some ideas of the ones to go for.