Trugg and Barrows Garden Diary, March 2011

“Spring is nature’s way of saying, “Let’s party!”
– Robin Williams
Daffodils and the first of the spring flowering shrubs have been in flower since mid February, leaves are starting to break out of the confines (and protection) of their buds and many birds seem to have gone into full nesting mode. Does this seem early to you?
In flower in the garden at the moment is the wonderfully scented Oemleria cerasiformis. Also known as the Osoberry or Indian Plum, it is the only species in genus Oemleria. It is native to the Pacific and mountain ranges of North America. In the garden here it is one the first plants to come into flower in early spring. The flowers appear before the leaves. It can grow to a height of 1.5–5 m; in the garden here it is kept to about 2 m by pruning. Apparently, Native Americans eat the small bunches of plum like fruit. Alas, I have never seen the fruits on any plant in Shropshire.
Roses have been pruned and hydrangeas dead headed. If you have not pruned your roses yet, try to do so as soon as possible to prevent any check in growth. The winter has been so mild that grass has continued to grow. Many lawns need cutting already. It is good practice to only reduce the height of grass by a third with any individual cut. Cutting grass too low too quickly weakens the grass, allowing moss and weeds to get established, so remember to check the blade height on your mower (and raise it if needed) before you set about the lawn.
Winter Work – Replenishing Rose Beds
The past week has been a heavy one in the garden. A rose bed that had become sparsely populated because of rose dieback needed to be prepared to receive new plants. As everyone knows, you can’t just dig out a dead rose and stick a new one in its place because of the unexplained phenomenon of rose replant disease. This causes loss of vigour, restricted growth and eventually death. If a rose is to be replaced with another rose then we have to mitigate rose sickness by changing the soil. This can entail some serious digging!
The rule of thumb is that when replacing an individual plant you need to dig out an area of soil down two feet and two feet around where the old rose was planted. In our case we were replacing a whole bed, swapping one variety for another so the whole bed had to be dug out. Now if you just want to replace one plant you can try one of two methods: either plant the rose in a cardboard box, a little bigger than a shoe box or whatever will comfortably accommodate the root ball. Then plant the box in the ground. By the time the box has rotted away traces of rose sickness should be minimal. Alternatively you can feed a newly planted rose through rose sickness by putting microrhizal fungi directly onto the root ball before planting and then feeding heavily with a high nitrogen fertiliser. However I have not experienced this method myself so offer it only as a suggestion!
As we dug down we removed and saved the top soil. This can be used on other areas of the garden where there are no rosaceous plants growing. It might seem obvious that soil infected with rose sickness should not be used around other roses but you should also steer clear of using it around other members of the rose family such as apple or pear trees. The sub soil was also kept as it often comes in handy for filling in holes around the garden.
It is amazing what you find when digging over old beds. We came across a layer of cinders that had been put down 40 years ago in an attempt to improve drainage. It had not worked and had formed an impermeable layer inhibiting the roses from growing well.
Soon we were down to the bedrock which in our case was sandstone. This is normally a good thing as it means good drainage but we used a borer to further open up the bedrock and allow drainage.
We managed to procure some pretty good topsoil from a local supplier. To this we added some well rotted farmyard manure at a ratio of 3 of topsoil to 1 of mulch and mixed it well together and then back-filled the hole until the new soil was well above the original level. This was to allow for future settlement. We will leave this unplanted for 4 to 6 weeks to allow it time to settle. If it is planted straight away the new soil can settle away from the roots which will leave the plants prone to dying of drought or being rocked clear out of the soil by strong winds.
As everyone will have noticed, the mild weather has accelerated the development of growth buds on many plants, including roses, and this means that pruning cannot be delayed. If your roses are well advanced you can still be robust, it will just delay flowering. Luckily roses are adaptable to rough treatment. Along with bud break comes the decision of whether to spray against blackspot and mildew. A word of warning; don’t spray your rugosa roses. They are genetically averse to spraying even for their own benefit. For those averse to spraying try mulching around your roses with lawn clippings, this mulch is excellent at keeping in moisture and at stopping rain splash from moving blackspot spores onto the roses from where they are difficult to dislodge.
Lets all hope for a summer in which we can enjoy our roses!
In the kitchen Garden
Due to the heavy workload in the main garden, very little work has been done this month in the kitchen garden. If you haven’t done so yet, get out there and prepare the ground and get some stuff sown; a mild Spring means the possibility of early crops. If a hose pipe ban comes in then you may be glad of early sowings. According to data from the Environment Agency, Shropshire reservoirs and ground water levels are at an exceptionally low level at the time of writing. It seems likely at that there will be a hose pipe ban this year, which is not good news for us gardeners.
Please note: images have been removed from this pages because some of them may have been used without permission.