Thursday 14 December 2017

Marie Staunton: Garden blues

Take inspiration from the woodlands and create a carpet of bluebells, says Marie Staunton

Marie Staunton

If you go down to the woods today, you might just be transported back in time to a gentler place where things happen at their own pace and childhood memories come flooding back.

I grew up in suburbia, but on Saturdays, before we discovered boys or the Dandelion Market, we headed off up to Enniskerry or Ticknock, always with a packed lunch. I still have a snapshot in my head of a beautiful woodland teeming with bluebells, and, even at 12 years of age, the beauty of something so simple made a massive impression on me.

For the past few weeks, we have been busy planting ferns, woodland anemone, snowdrops and bluebells to create a woodland garden. Once established, some ferns can be divided. A couple of my favourites are Athyrium filix-femina -- which is also called Lady in Red -- and Dryopteris marginalis, known as Evergreen wood fern. These are clump growers, which means they can be divided in early spring.

If you are thinking of moving or dividing clumps of bluebells, do it as they are just peeking through the soil or when the flowers are fading. Another thing to consider is whether they are native to this country -- the native bluebell is smaller than its Spanish counterpart, is darker blue and flowers on one side of the stem. I prefer its more delicate appearance. The best time to see bluebells in their natural habitat is late April or early May.

Anemone blanda are a lovely addition to a woodland garden and these can also be divided. They self-seed too. As with all things wild they shouldn't be taken from their natural habitat, but by dividing your plants it's possible to create something special.

Lawnmower man is back, and I'm not talking Pierce Brosnan -- more's the pity! Some men enjoy cutting grass; in fact, it's an obsession with some. We had a great lecturer in college who taught us the basics of servicing gardening equipment, so I will pass on as much as I know.

Clean the grass from underneath the lawnmower before it goes back into the shed. Check for oil and petrol, and when the arm is falling off you trying to start the thing, disconnect the spark plug, take it out and clean it with an old toothbrush. Then, try again.

Try not to scalp the grass on the first cut of the season. Keep the blade high and just run it over the lawn, taking the barest snip off the top. As it starts to grow, you can lower the blade, but avoid cutting the grass shorter than 2cm.

If you're a golfer, of course, you will probably ignore this advice in pursuit of your very own putting green.

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