15 February 2023
One of our regular visitors was asking today whether we’ve lost a lot of plants with all the difficult weather we’ve had over the last six or seven months – extreme heat for weeks, drought, then heavy downpours, early and very hard frost (-12 degrees recorded one night a few metres away from the Memorial Gardens).
Well, we’re not sure yet. Fortunately most of the larger shrubs look as if they’ll be fine, they have buds and leaves and we’re hopeful they’ll survive. Several of them had a bad start in life as the management of these gardens changed two or three times shortly after they’d been planted, and their slow growth and wilting during the slightest drought both suggest they weren’t watered thoroughly, or often enough, for the first year or two after planting (a newly-planted shrub will need thorough watering at least monthly, using about a watering can-full of water each time, added slowly to let it sink in and get right down below the plant’s roots).
But we risked the weather last year by planting several salvias, which are notoriously sensitive to hard frosts, and we also put a lot of penstemons in, which also don’t really like prolonged wet, cold weather. It’ll be a couple of months yet before we know if they’ve survived well enough.
Those particular plants were grown from cuttings, and we have a few cuttings that have – so far – survived this winter, so hopefully we could grow them on and just replace the plants. The Met Office says that there are increasing signs of a really cold spell in mid-March, like the Beast from the East a few years ago, so we’ll wait a few weeks more, rather than planting them out now.
For the same reason, it’s far too early to cut back all the dead stems and seed heads that have been protecting new growth, and also providing shelter for beetles and other insects. We’re very aware that in order to have a lot of birds around, we need plenty of insects! But some of the plants looked very manky, and while it’s great that an increasing number of passers-by approve of the very informal and natural look of the gardens, they’re still a Garden of Remembrance, and we want it to stay respectful and moderately tidy. It’s a difficult balance!
So last week we tidied just a little, cutting some of the most straggly stems down and laying them in piles around the gardens, or by the compost bins at the back. We’ve left most of the leaves, which have provided really good cover for insects through the coldest weather, and we’ll leave a more thorough edit of the beds for at least a few more weeks.