3 March 2018 - 8:41pm

Pruning - cruel to be kind

If you have passed by our house recently you may have seen there is a big gap at the front where a whole load of trees and shrubs once grew. Yes, we have had the heavy mob in to sort the tangly thicket that was once a beautiful collection of flowering trees. But do not despair on our behalf – there is method in our gardening madness. We have, in effect, been cruel to be kind. The orange blossom, lilacs, shrub roses and viburnum were becoming really tired and congested. By pruning them really hard back they will, with reasonable weather and a little luck, be rejuvenated and back to their prime; maybe not this year, but within one or two seasons . Once we have finished digging out the ivy that has smothered their roots (with the sterling work of Sam and Will) we will give them a nice dinner: a spade or two of decent compost. If I was better organised and had more time I would prune more regularly, pruning back about one third of each shrub down to the ground every year to make, in effect, a brand new bush every three years. Be warned though, don’t do this now to your Spring or Summer flowering shrubs, you will cut off all the nascent flower buds. Save it until they have finished flowering. At the front we have sacrificed flowers this year for the longer term vigour of the plants – let us hope the deferred gratification is worth the wait! The red lily beetle has been a real pest here in recent years. I have tried a daily check over my cherished lilies, but I never seem to get completely on top of them. Now is the time to try, though. They are unmistakeable bright red creatures, so pick them off pdq or your lilies will be done for. We have a lovely, decent sized patch or snakeshead fritillaries (photo) by the pond and I am told they enjoy munching their way through those as well. The beetles haven’t found them yet, but serious war will be waged if they do. Their larvae nestle underneath the lily leaves, doing an excellent impression of bird poo. Don’t be fooled, get your rubber gloves on (it really is yucky stuff) and go on the attack. Talking of garden visitors, I came across some research about wood lice. Did you know that they are not insects, but crustaceans, making them more like a prawn than a beetle? They do real good in your compost heap, helping to get it all nice and crumbly. So these little creatures are more friend than foe. Talking now of compost, now is a good time to get mulching. The soil is damp and still reasonably bare so you won’t smother plants. Peter has treated me to 20 bags of farmyard manure. It is gorgeous stuff, I will while away many happy hours spreading it around the garden to improve soil fertility and structure. We have booked our trip to the Malvern Spring show again. We went for the first time last year and wondered why we had left it so long before visiting. It doesn’t have the sophistication of Chelsea, or the range of activities or celebrity as Gardeners World Live at Birmingham, but the plants on display for sale are beautifully grown and are all in their fresh, spring splendour. The setting is gorgeous too surrounded by the Malvern Hills. The show is from 10 to 13 May, tickets available from RHSshowscustomercare@seetickets.com or ring 0844 995 9664.