Starting to write this on the last day of November, after a freezing night, as the thin clouds glow neon pink towards the Black Mountain. Sennybridge made the national weather news at 7.00 am with minus 9.4 degrees C. On the white ground in front of the greenhouse, my laser thermometer registered minus 10.
What a change this year, from the 353 mm of rain, and gloom of last November. A wonderful late autumnal month this year, with frosts, blue skies, light winds, and masses of weather window time to do all those tidying up jobs in the garden.
With such an emphasis on spring bulbs in many areas of our garden and the normal default weather which tends to wet and soggy, rather than crisp, dry and frosty, we try to get most perennials cut back by about December 1st. This year we’ve actually managed it. Hard wood pruning of ever expanding shrubs and trees can wait, but removing decaying perennial vegetation before the first bulb shoots appear is essential, or in some areas, early smaller bulbs will struggle to push through. This is particularly important in the retyred matrix garden, where many of the first snowdrops are just pushing through, so a lot of material to remove, and then mulching with twice lawn mowered leaf litter. From this… to this…
The eventual plan in several areas of the garden is for trees and shrubs to provide sufficient cover, so that all but the toughest low growing perennial ground cover gradually disappears, so the need for such work reduces, as our frames struggle with either bent backs, or bent knees. Which is worst?
And we’ve also realised how shrub or tree selection needs to be considered from the point of how rapidly leaves rot down – Hydrangeas, Acers and Sorbus, for example are great since they speedily decompose… Oaks and Zelkovas (Japanese Elms, below) less so.
We also now realise that alternating different tasks quite frequently through the day is vital. Gone are the times when we could spend a whole day, say, chainsawing, or hand weeding. Aim for a couple of hours, and make time for tea breaks! Though ever managing to stop a job at the same time to sit down and chat is a constant challenge!
But what to use for this annual tidying up work? We’ve got our Felcos, and previously used ordinary hand held sheep dagging shears, for the soft perennial cut back. A couple of years ago a friend gave us a pair of stainless steel dagging design shears with the added merit of red blade paint which made them less easy to lose amongst dense foliage. The traditional, unpainted metal shears got left somewhere by me, and have never turned up, and so this year with us both working simultaneously at the big cut back, Fiona picked up a pair of second hand Jakoti dagging shears (the lower pair above) which we’d bought from a neighbour who was selling off all his sheep and equipment, to try them out for this task.
Eventually I had a go with these, and discovered they are a revelation. Quite the best thing I’ve ever used for such cutting back. They fit perfectly in the hand, can tackle at least twice as much as traditional design daggers, and cope with tougher stems as well. A bit of research found that these Jakoti shears are made in Greece from carbon steel, so although you have to look after them and oil them occasionally, they keep a brilliantly sharp edge, and are really solid, with nicely cushioned rubberised handles. They’re imported into the UK by a chap in Wells in Somerset, whose mother apparently came back with a pair after a holiday on a Greek Island 3 years ago. So impressed were they both, that he set up a business to import them! Anyone with a serious gardening friend, or partner, or even a stocking addition, who’s looking for a late Christmas present idea – have a look at the website, click here, – I reckon it’ll be the best £30 you ever spend.
By similar way of word of mouth ( “You never get bad information, if you believe in the word of mouth“….click here) endorsement, for a long time, I’ve been meaning to mention a Lithium ion Stihl MSA 200C chainsaw which I bought 18 months ago (top in the photo above). Chainsaws are scary bits of kit, as is their use, so all carry the warning that some sort of training should always have been undertaken and protective gear worn whenever the saw is used. Historically I’ve used Stihl petrol chainsaws, and I still have an old model which is a workhorse for tackling larger trees, and logging them up. But much of such serious work has now been carried out on the property, and anyway my days of tackling larger trees are nearly behind me – better and safer to call in some professionals to do this. But there are many more modest pruning jobs, limb removal, and more particularly hedge laying jobs around the property where this small saw has proved a huge boon, as with cutting back branches overhanging our stream recently, which meant I was in and out of the water, and dragging bits of branch up onto the bank all the time…
In particular the Li-ion saw is quieter, fume free, instantly starts without a pull, and stops faster than a petrol model. It’s also a bit lighter and easier to manipulate for all of this sort of work, where you’re putting the saw down and picking it up again on a frequent basis. It will cope with quite large trunks as well, though having a narrower chain (top, above) with smaller teeth, makes it a bit slower, and it’s also a bit more prone to accumulating debris round the chain, though this is easy enough to clear out. It’s unfortunately an expensive bit of kit, in part because of the Li-ion battery and charger, though this would power other models in the Stihl range as well. For anyone with a largish garden though, or quite a lot of small tree management to do, it’s a very worthwhile, safer and ecologically more sound option than a petrol saw.
After being behind the curve this spring with the big bag bottle bank vegetable growing area, I’ve managed to tidy the whole lot up before hard frosts hit. All the root vegetables are safely in boxes in the barn, ( by the beginning of November) and only the leeks and chard remain. Our favourite early leek (Jaune de Pitou, from Real Seeds, click here), has again excelled, but being a little less cold tolerant has been covered with enviromesh recently. This year the 4 different carrot varieties all cropped pretty well, though “Purple Haze” (to the right below) produced slightly more split and forked roots than others. The apparently rare Manchester Table carrot, again from Real Seeds, produced some of the best carrots, although sown latest. ( To the left below)Conscious of the heavy leaching of nutrients that must have occurred in last winter’s heavy rainfall, many of the bags have been covered with sheet cardboard to reduce such issues. 4 more bags have also been planted up with additional daffodil cultivars to increase the range of varieties we have.
November is probably one of the most physically demanding times in the garden, though at least the days are shorter, and with less payback in terms of plant interest, but this year has been different with so many days with fabulous autumnal light. Selecting sunrise, or sky scape images to include in this post is tricky – there have been so many lovely ones over the last fortnight or so, but I did walk outside one morning and was convinced that I spotted a head in the clouds, Pinnochio nosed, and tipped back, open mouthed in amazement…Anyone agree?