Guest blog: Putting Your Garden to Bed

Garden designer and Completely London guest blogger, Kate Gould, tells us how to prepare our outdoor spaces for winter…

When I think of a winter garden, I think of evergreen structure and seed heads dusted with frost backed by a clear crystal blue sky with the sharp early morning light glinting through.

Our winters are now so unpredictable in the UK, and certainly in South East England, that we cannot guarantee those crisp cold sunny mornings that warrant planting a garden solely for its winter seed heads.  My own garden is full of late summer colour and this can continue until mid November, if I am lucky and the weather is kind.

Over the years, many plants with winter structure have crept into the planting palette, but my garden errs on the damp side and plants that should look good during the winter months, look soggy. This year I have hardened my heart and I am going to cut it all down before the cold really sets in, feed it, and mulch it with well rotted manure to prepare it for the summer next year. It will look ever so bare over the winter, but I can cope if I know the garden is getting ready for next year under its blanket of ‘black gold’.

Normally I leave everything standing to protect the crowns of the plants and don’t cut it down until the middle of January, but a 5cm mulch of organic matter will give the same effect, and if I can get it on the ground while the soil is still warm then all the better.  This practice is also useful if you have a garden with plants that are generous with their seeds (Verbena, Lythrum, Althaea and Papaver to name a few).  A thick mulch can help quash unwanted seedlings next year, it wont get them all but since the Verbena I have seed in their thousands, I am hoping it will do for quite a lot of them.

There are also some tough pruning jobs to tackle in my garden and a fifteen year old Amelanchier ‘Obelisk’ that has looked decidedly unwell for most of this year will probably have to be removed.  It was rocked heavily by a gust of wind in the spring and is really beginning to lean over. This will leave a gap, but that isn’t a problem per se; I just have to decide which new plant to replace it with!

In fact that whole border requires a re-think.  It’s a job that I’ve put off for a couple of years now, always with the excuse that the weather wasn’t quite right or that there were still flowers on the Rudbeckia, and I couldn’t bare to cut them down.  This year I am going to be ruthless and tackle it head on; no lame excuses (well that’s the plan anyway!).

Five jobs to tackle before winter sets in…

Tie in climbing plants. Make sure they are secure and the wind doesn’t damage them over the winter, this is especially important for climbing roses.

Rake up fallen leaves out of the borders and off lawns, and compost to provide an organic mulch next year.

Clean your pots.  It isn’t the most pleasurable of jobs but will help to keeps pests and diseases at bay next year.  If you are lucky enough to have somewhere frost free to store them, do so after cleaning.

Plan for next year, whether it’s a landscaping project, vegetable garden or simply a new herbaceous planting plan inspired by a seed catalogue.

And finally, we aren’t the only animals to use our gardens, so if the winter is harsh, provide food for birds in your garden (safe and away from pets and other animals). Keep doing so regularly until the weather warms up. Find out more at www.rspb.org.uk

Kate Gould is an award winning garden designer with more than a decade’s hands-on experience transforming gardens of all sizes. A regular exhibitor at the Chelsea Flower Show, Kate also blogs for the Guardian. www.kategouldgardens.com

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