Examples of Articles written by Anne McKeon during the year.
Sit back and Relax. Take Time Out To Enjoy Your Garden
Winter has arrived once again but what an autumn we have had. It crept in silently while we were waiting for a late summer to arrive but what a glorious season it turned out to be. Reds, wines and yellow shades brightened up our gardens and roadside verges. It was a gardeners and photographers delight. I wonder what the remainder of this season has in store for us.
Irish gardens are often viewed more from indoors than from outdoors as our climate often dictates what we do with our spare time. Over the past few years there has been very little sitting in the garden, sipping wine by fragrant rose beds or barbequing ribs under canopies of honeysuckle. I would imagine that more time has been spent drinking hot tea or soup while sitting inside the kitchen window looking out. We must contend with climate change etc therefore it is important that we design our gardens with changing weather conditions in mind.
Develop planting schemes that will provide all year round effect will give you great pleasure no matter which side of the house the garden is viewed from. By this I mean including plants with winter value such as Cornus, Ilex and Erica carnea types and spring flowering plants such as Sarcacocca and bulbs. Thinking of summer I would suggest that roses, buddleia and anthemis be included while autumn flourishing plants such as rhus, euonymus alatus and rudbeckia are all worthy of inclusion. The variety of plants available is endless and of course features such as bird baths, sundials, gates, bog oak and so on are all very effective in giving your garden the all year round visual effect you require.
While you are indoors this winter, curl up by the fire and plan out a layout for your garden that will give you joy through the seasons.
Changing the subject slightly being the time of year that it is but staying with the garden I would like to touch on the subject of gifts for the gardener. As you have probably experienced, buying gifts for certain people in your circle can be more difficult than buying for others. If there are gardeners in your life I hope that I can be of assistance to you in advising you on what gifts are suitable.
Plants are an obvious gift for gardeners. Trees, shrubs, heathers and so on are all very acceptable. Maybe you could go a step further and buy plants with special significance, e.g. Rosmarinus officinalis for a recipient called Rosemary, or Sorbus Joseph Rock for the Joseph in your life, Lilium regale for your own special Lily or even the scented Daphne retusa for your very own Daphne. If you decide to go this route there are so many plants named after people so do not be afraid to ask for help at your local garden centre.
Another angle would be to purchase plants with specific significance, for example Peony for good fortune, Narcissus for good luck or Pine to symbolise longevity and dignity. Grey coloured plants indicate a more balanced life, while purple suggest greater power and riches, yellow for wisdom and knowledge, pink to encourage love and romance and green plants are bearers of hope and inspiration. A gift card explaining the significance of your plant choice might make a nice added touch. Be creative and imaginative.
Gardening books make very welcome gifts and as usual the selection is wide and varied. There are specialist books such as those on dahlias, houseplants, rhododendrons and so on. Other favourites of my own would be The Master Book of The Water Garden by Philip Swindells, Trees for the Garden by John Cushnie and The Hillier Gardening Guide to Trees and Shrubs. As per usual Readers Digest have a large selection of gardening books available. These are easy to follow and always enjoyable. There are beautiful Irish gardening books available and I know that the gardener in your life would love them. Spend time browsing in the many book shops around and if making a book choice proves too difficult you can always buy a book voucher and let the gardener pick his or her own book.
Other suitable gifts for gardeners would be flower arrangements, garden tools, Wellingtons, gardening socks, woolly jumpers, gloves, gardening aprons, cushions, pots, compost, diaries, gardening calendars, gardening DVD's etc. The choice is endless. Use your imagination.
Use you time indoors this winter wisely. Plan for the year ahead, take plenty of photographs of your garden for reference, read plenty of gardening books (or at least look at the pictures), enjoy your Christmas gardening presents and take time out to stroll through your own garden over the coming weeks.
- Garden Checklist
- Transplant trees and shrubs where necessary.
Trim back prior to moving them.
- Tie back wall climbers.
- Plant bare root hedging plants.
- Lift and divide rhubarb stools.
- Bring garden furniture indoors and treat hardwoods.
- Continue making hardwood cuttings.
- Dig over your vegetable garden.
- Prune your fruit trees and fruit bushes.
(This work can continue until early March).
- Prune your rose bushes over the winter months.
- Tidy up unruly herbaceous plants.
- Stake and tie trees. (Secure but not too tightly).
- Protect Dahlias from frost damage.
- Clean greenhouse glass to allow more light through.
- Removed rotting fruits from stored apples.
- Prune greenhouse grapevines.
Butterflies and Bees
Though for some people wildlife gardening is a very natural thing for many others it has taken time to be appreciated and then accepted.
The secret to having a successful wildlife garden is to create natural habitats for the occupants. There are four area types required but if you find that your garden can only facilitate one or more of these areas. If that is the case then so be it. All you can do is your best. The four area required are (I) Woodland edge, (ii) Water feature, (iii) Meadow and (iv) Hedgerow.
Gardening for wildlife does not mean that you have to completely change the structure of an established garden though you may have to alter it a little and more importantly you may have to change your way of thinking. For instance the use of chemicals is a non runner in a wildlife garden. There are organic methods that can be used in place of the chemicals you might usually use. Should chemical herbicides (ie. weed killers) be necessary then I would advise you to use those that do not leave a residue in the soil. Be sure to ask plenty of questions from garden centre personnel etc.
Ease yourself slowly, one step at a time into wildlife gardening. To start with plant native hedging such as hazel, hawthorn, holly etc. Native species support a greater number of wildlife species and are obviously more tolerant of our weather conditions.
Within the garden try to plant a selection of plants that are high in nectar and so will attract a variety of insects throughout the year. Suitable plants would be hellebores, snowdrops, asters and flowering shrubs. A tip to note would be that insects prefer simple shapes rather than double blooms and lots of petals.
Dense planting tends to be much more effective than sparse, gappy planting. Density provides warmth and shelter for insects, birds and animals.
Be sure to leave seed heads on plants over the winter months and into spring as these encourage birds.
Evergreen plants provide shelter over the winter months for ladybirds so be sure to include some such plants in your layout.
Though it can look untidy at times (beauty is in the eye of the beholder), leave areas of long grass as this provides food and shelter for insects and small animals over the summer period. To add some spring beauty to this grassy area, plant crocus and narcissi bulbs over the autumn season.
Make your garden colourful or at least introduce areas of colour to the plot as colour acts as a signalling system to attract insects, butterflies and flies.
Scent works in tandem with colour. Butterflies for example love heavy scents while bees prefer lighter but sweeter scents. Moths are attracted by evening scented plants such as honeysuckles, stock and campion as they are night flyers....like many of you,no doubt!
Garden centres stock many of the plants required to create your wildlife garden and they can generally source species elsewhere should they not be in stock in their own premises. These days there are specialist wildflower seed merchants which produce seed mixtures suitably balanced to make them suitable for specific situations. eg. dry and open areas or damp and shady sites or on acid or alkaline soil. Perennial or biennial wildflowers can often be obtained as young containerised plants ready for planting. These begin flowering in the same season. When seed mixtures are obtained they usually contain a high proportion of grass seed which will help to produce a quick ground covering and offer the wildflowers both the protection and competition which they need to thrive. Again, ask questions if you are puzzled by anything.
It is worth keep a note of everything that happens in the garden. eg. from the first snowdrop to the last holly berries. This will help you to plan next years garden and monitor changes in wildlife. Taking photographs of the changes in your garden, season to season, is a very worthwhile exercise.
Too many gardeners worry about the state of the garden but the great thing about wildlife gardens is that a little untidiness is not only acceptable but essential. The garden may be an extension of your house but it does not have to be cleaned with the same thoroughness as the indoors. Keeping up appearances in the wildlife garden is not socially acceptable so don't be afraid to sweep your leaves under the hedge or to leave your trimmings in a corner. Let the resident wildlife and not your neighbours decide whether or not your garden comes up to standard.
Gardening with Anne McKeon.
I hope that you are all keeping fit and well this week because you will need all of your energies for gardening. We're fast approaching the busiest time of the year, garden-wise anyway and I want you at your best.
Have you preferences when it comes to colour? I have a particular love of white, yellows and pinks. I intend dealing with pink today as there are so many classy plants of this shade around, just waiting for you to notice them.
If you are a 'pink person' consider planting Magnolia Leonard Messel. Many magnolias prefer an acid soil but Leonard Messel will grow quite happily in alkaline/limey soils. As you know, present day gardens can be quite small and confined so with space in mind it is worth noting that this large shrub/small tree- like plant is suitable for small gardens.
Digitalis purpurea (Foxgloves) are bright and cheery and come in pink and white shades. They also grow in the shade which is a major bonus in any garden. If you grow them alongside hostas, ferns, astilbes and silver birch trees you can create a woodland effect.
Monarda (bergamot), in pink or in other colours are like magnets for bees. They are traditional cottage plants and are an asset in any garden. Monarda plants with names of the zodiac, eg. 'Capricorn' are mildew resistant and tolerant of most conditions.
'Pinks' in both name and in colour, are carnations that should have a place in every garden. A particularly nice carnation, especially if scent is important to you is Dianthus Doris. This can be grown as a border to soften path edges, in a rockery or even in pots.
Being Valentines month I really should mention some pink coloured roses. A particular favourite of mine, both for its delicate beauty and repeat flowering (value for money) is Rosa New Dawn. A good pink climbing rose, especially for shaded walls, is Rosa Compassion. This rose is also heavily perfumed so I hope that you can find a place for it at your address.
If summer bedding plants are your passion, consider planting Petunias or the newer Surfinias. Their trumpet shaped flowers add character to window boxes and baskets. Be sure to dead-head the flowers as they fade in order to extend their season and encourage new flowers.
I hope that I have been of some help to you this week. Try planting something new, possibly one or more of the plants outlined above and never be afraid to ask questions relating to your garden. Believe me, no question is foolish and no problem too small. There is no better way to improve your knowledge than to ask plenty of questions.
All the best until next week. I hope this leaves you 'in the pink'.
Gardening with Anne McKeon.
Though the weather has been very changeable of late we have been gifted with occasional glimpses of spring. We know that spring has arrived when the local woods and watersides become crowded with walkers, buggies, roller bladders etc. The dormant season is over for man, beast and plants.
The early risers among you are recently being serenaded by the bird equivalent of the Vienna Boys Choir. They (the birds, I mean) really are in fine voice these mornings. When possible I enjoy early morning strolls through my garden, just looking and listening.
This morning, as I took one of the above mentioned strolls, I was not disappointed. In my apple garden (not big enough or mature enough yet to be described as an orchard), I saw a robin perched on a branch of my James Grieve Apple tree (a good choice tree for the robin and a good choice fruit for the gardener). I was sorry that I had left my camera behind on the table (I usually bring it with me) as that robin posed so beautifully. I think that the robin was probably as disappointed as me not to have had his pose photographed.
I was delighted yesterday evening to see that 'my' wild Mallards have returned. I call them 'my' Mallards because these ducks (or at least their off springs) return annually for a few nights B & B on the island in the centre of my pond. They nest, hatch, teach their chicks to swim and then fly off to other parts. I eagerly wait for their arrival each spring. Having seen them arrive last night, I went down to see them bright and early this morning but they had an earlier start than me it seems, as they had already gone out for the day, leaving behind their un-made beds (grass flattened). I'll call on them again this evening, quietly of course (which means leaving my dog Daisy indoors) to watch them go about their routine. Who needs a TV?
Earlier I mentioned the choir of birds to be heard each morning but there are also some solo artists worthy of mention. Take for instance the blackbird singing somewhere (I cannot see him) between the Pine trees and Hollies in my front garden. That blackbird is a definite runner for the 'You're a Star' award and will get my vote anytime.
Many people are superstitious when it come to magpies, opting to salute, wave or bless themselves on sighting these birds in order to ward off bad luck. Magpies seem to have become very plentiful over recent years so those of you waving off misfortune must be quite tired with your hands in constant motion. My garden seems to be full of magpies these days and though I do not like their thieving nature I do not worry about superstition. There are enough other 'real' things to worry about.
Enjoy your garden in the company of the birds.