Monday 5 December 2016

Diarmuid Gavin: gardening resolutions for the New Year

He's made a list and checked it twice - Diarmuid's guide to making your garden more than just nice

Diarmuid Gavin

Published 10/01/2016 | 02:30

Super fruits: Why not grow berries this year?
Super fruits: Why not grow berries this year?
Us a garden path to create a destination.
Top choice: Solanum crispum 'Glasnevin'

My worst gardening habit is procrastination, putting off until tomorrow what I should be doing today. The new year brings with it our annual time of renewal, an excuse and reason to start over. It's perfectly positioned for gardeners. The weather isn't inviting enough to tempt us outside but what we can do is make a list!

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So during this mid-winter break I've been gazing, through the rain and wind, at my own plot. I've made some resolutions, set targets and begun to think how I'll go about achieving my gardening aims and goals. I've jotted down a list of ambitions and now I'm going to work out how I can achieve them.

Setting out projects and having something to aim for is central to life in the garden and at this time, our first weekend of a new and optimistic year, it's time to get going.

My resolutions involve planting whole beds full of herbaceous colour and ornamental grasses, adding some trees near boundary areas of the garden, cladding some ornate wrought iron pillars next to the house with climbers to replace a wisteria that failed, and bringing in many tonnes of new fertile topsoil to lay out some terraces.

These are all projects - our gardens tend to evolve on a project by project basis. The flowering perennials should arrive as Chelsea Flower Show leftovers in early June. To be sure the beds are ready for them I will have to plan for lots of digging, clearing of perennial weeds and the addition of a layer of well-rotted manure, well in advance. And, when they're in, they will need copious amounts of water to help them establish.

So they're my gardening plans for 2016. How about I suggest some new resolutions for you and your garden? It may be just a list of "things to think about in the garden", small suggestions of improvements that can be made and which, if acted upon, will be maturing nicely by this weekend next year!

Grow berries

Berries (pictured) are super fruits - wonderful bundles of stored sunshine in the form of Vitamin C. Between juicing trends and Bake-Off they have never been more desired, but they can be expensive to buy. And most types of berries are so easy to grow. First, find a sunny spot in the garden and pick a selection of your own to grow. They are hungry feeders so ensure that your soil is well manured.

Learn a little bit about annual pruning and then plant raspberry canes, gooseberries, blackberries and a bed of strawberries. This isn't big commitment gardening but it will keep you in the raw materials for jams, tarts and cakes almost all year round.

Create a destination

Every garden needs a place to go, a final focal point, a destination. We need to be enticed from the house, along a pathway, down a vista to a place of relaxation and rest. And even better if that destination is an enclosed space, undisturbed by the weather allowing for a garden escape.

It may be a pavilion or a summer house or if you are really swanky maybe a delightful orangery. But think about that place as your garden reward, a spot where you can sit and view what you have created. Even by converting a simple 6x4 shed into a destination allows you to shelter from the elements while being surrounded by lush greenery and fragrant flowers.

Make compost

I read in the paper that last December one householder made a new year's resolution to cut down his waste disposal bills. No more bags out every week. Eventually, he put the rubbish out - one bag for a whole year.

For most of us that's taking it to extremes, but much of the organic matter that you produce as household waste could be composted. Paper, cardboard, veg peelings, even hair clippings, egg shells and tea bags will all rot down in a controlled environment to produce rich humus material for your soil.

A place to relax

Remember gardening isn't all about work. It's about sitting down and enjoying the fruits of your labour, so consider some seating areas and maybe make a bench from a couple of railway sleepers. If your garden is formal, purchase a nice stately Lutyens bench or commission something that's individual to your place. Visit a scrap yard - is there something there that you could renovate? Outsized cushions are a trendy, colourful seating option that might suit your situation best.

Screen offending walls or fences with planting

When we are in the garden we really want to escape contemporary life. We want to get away form the architecture of the garden. So how about using one of these climbers to crawl up concrete walls or battered fences, allowing you to fully surround yourself in garden glory.

My top choices would be Solanum crispum 'Glasnevin' (pictured) for its bunches of purples flowers, definitely a climbing rose such as Rosa 'Shropshire Lass' with its deliciously fragrant pink roses.

Clematis armandii is a good evergreen option as are any of the ivies.

Hedera 'Buttercup' is a favourite variety of mine with its bright yellow leaves.

Finally, grow something from seed

This is how I got started in gardening, trying to achieve a badge from the cub scouts. If you've only ever bought plants go back to basics and enjoy some real satisfaction that gardening can provide. Next month I will be showing you how to start off seeds indoors and later in the year the soil will begin to warm up and they can be planted outdoors. So whether it's bedding plants, unusual annuals or vegetables, there's a world of seeds out there waiting to delight.

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