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 emerging, so there’s always 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 to cope with either bent backs, or bent knees, for any length of time. Which is worst?
We’ve also realised how shrub or tree selection needs to be considered from the point of how rapidly their leaves rot down – Hydrangeas, Acers and Sorbus, for example, are brilliant, since they speedily decompose.Quercus, oaks, Fagus, beech, 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, chain sawing, 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 living in Wells, 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 as a stocking addition, who’s looking for a late Christmas present idea should think about buying a pair – 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“) 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, although has a narrower chain, as shown above, with smaller teeth which makes it a bit slower. 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.
Alhough the days are shorter, November is probably one of the most physically demanding times in the garden, 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?
I thought I was the only person who sees faces, animals in cloud and sometimes trees. I feel much better now that there is another kindred spirit out there.
Thanks for that Lita – I wish I could share some of my time lapse of cloud scapes in this part of the world… one last week showed an apparently static band of cloud which didn’t change position across the sky in over an hour, but which was actually constantly turning over and breaking like a wave, on the same spot, but with an extra corkscrew pattern as well. Amazing, but our limited satellite data allowance means we can’t do You Tubes…so for now the odd face in the clouds has to do….
Your photographs are beautiful, I saw Pinocchio but I love your landscapes. The hand shears solved a tricky Christmas present problem. I am interested in your experience with the re-chargeable chain saw. Kourosh has had very bad experiences with tools with re-chargeable batteries that did not retain the charge after a relatively short period of use. This may have been due to old technology or buying cheap quality. This type of chain saw would be very useful for us too. Kourosh uses a petrol one at the moment. Your perennial borders are so beautiful but I can understand the problem with succession of bulbs. Ideally what plants do you think would be left eventually? Amelia
Thanks Amelia. I’m sure whoever gets the shears will find them really useful – I didn’t say we’ve bought another pair already once we tracked the website down – they’re so much better than anything else we’ve ever tried.
Re the chainsaw, I was reluctant to spend the money, since we had the petrol one, but I have to say that it’s been a huge boon – Fiona insisted I get it, for safety reasons. OK we’ve maybe only had it 18 months, but previous German Bosch Li-ion lawnmowers ( though actually built in UK )have proved great- the original 5 year old batteries are still functioning, though not holding quite the charge, and over 20 years, we’ve never had a poor experience with Stihl machines, so fingers crossed.
Re what plants will be left, for us, beneath trees it’s the low growing perennials like Chrysoplenium davidianum, and Ajuga reptans, which hug the ground, and can take a lot of shade. Oh and Cyclamen – coum and hederifoilum, which are increasingly providing us with autumn/winter/early spring ground cover, which even small bulbs can still push past. Too expensive to buy the tubers en masse, but with time if they seed around, they can cover the ground really well, and survive right up to tree trunk bases, in dense dry ( at least for us!) shade.
Julian, I was so low after our national elections here in the States that I hadn’t even been reading your wonderful blog posts. Today I am catching up, and it has been lovely, a compression of time and season, from October 27th onward. I so love to read your blog, and see what is happening in your wonderful garden in Wales! Our winter in central Oregon started in early December, and we had 63 inches of snow in about 6 weeks. The town is 80,000, so you can imagine what an amazing BOTHER that was! In 15 years here, it was certainly the worst winter! Lots of water for the trees, and the spring plants are finally coming on, I have buds on my lilacs! Thank you for taking the time to share your wonderful garden’s life, and your thoughts, with us all. I love the sunsets and cloud photos you show us, and the green fungi, oh, my! The wonders of the world always lift my heart! Keep on writing! Suzette in Oregon
Hello Suzette, and thanks for the comment. That sounds like one heck of a winter, and glad to hear that you’re at last coming out of it. The last few months here have been unhealthily stressful for lots of reasons, and at last spring has arrived properly, the days have lengthened and things are calming down a bit. I actually find doing my blog posts quite therapeutic usually, but recently they’ve had to take back seat – hopefully again things will get back to normality soon. I think you’d love the latest quilt exhibition which I just wrote about, and I’m really grateful for your kind comments. Whilst I’d do the blog anyway, ‘cos its a great record of life, and the garden here, for whoever eventually takes over stewardship of this place, nevertheless,it’s really nice when others say they’ve got something from it as well, so thank you!
And best wishes for the rest of the year. I think we’re all wondering what DT will do next…