2 March 2015
You know that spring is on the way when you seem to experience several seasons in a day; today has been just such a day in the garden here at Allt-y-bela. When I arrived this morning it was cold with a hint of frost, that soon cleared into a fine sunny mild morning complete with bright blue skies and a warming sun. Within an hour the skies had darkened, the air was cold and there was sleet falling, the rest of the day has followed this rather schizophrenic pattern.
Around the garden the snowdrops are still appearing, popping up in the colder corners just when you think that their peak has passed, but they are now being followed by the leaves of narcissus, lots of narcissus! The very first brave ones are flowering today and with the weather behaving the way it is I'm pretty sure they are wishing they had waited a little longer. I'm excited about what's coming next all of the time now.
The bulb lawn is now a carpet of crocus but they haven't really reached their peak yet. I think I'm going to hold off talking about those for a week or so until they are and if you haven't seen pictures before I guarantee the sight will have you wishing you'd planted some way back in the autumn. The great thing about gardening is that there is always next year!
Last Friday I spent a very productive day pruning in the garden with Arne; we pruned the step over apples in the vegetable garden, the pear arches, the gooseberrys and the bulk of the remaining roses. Right at the end of the day we started pruning the crab apples which screen the courtyard. My job today then has been to finish that particular piece of pruning and a lovely prospect it is too.
We prune our top fruit twice a year at Allt-y-bela, once in late summer and once in the winter. In the late summer we cut back the new shoots to three or four buds above the basal whorl at the bottom of the shoot, this helps the fruit to ripen, increases airflow around the ripening fruit and also encourages the fruit tree to put more effort into producing fruiting buds for next year rather than continuing to put on vegetative growth. Once we get to this time of year then the job is already half done and we can get a really good look at what we have to work with. Our aim of course is to maximize fruiting for the year ahead and so we first look to cut back to a fruiting spur if at all possible. If you don't have a fruiting spur to cut back to then we shorten last years growth to just above the point we had our basal whorl last year, this is visible on the stem as a pronounced wrinkle. We are also looking to remove any diseased or dying wood and we may well be looking to train new wood to continue our chosen shape. There may be a need to shorten or remove some established knuckles which have either started to become crowded or have increased in length by degrees over the years. The tops of the crab apples are particularly prone to this!
There is something very satisfying about winter work that leads directly to results later in the year. It keeps us looking forward on these late winter days, which can promise so much, only to disappoint us with a change in the wind and a shower of sleet leaving us feeling rather like those pioneering narcissus: battered by the cold!
Words: Steve Lannin
Photos: Britt Willoughby Dyer