A fortnightly series first published in the Weekend Gardener and reproduced here with their permission.
It snowed in mid August. To say we were stunned would be an understatement – in the 130 years of family history here, there is no record of it ever snowing before. But it wasn’t the snow that did the damage, it was the killer frost the following morning. While we get occasional light frosts, the plants are not hardened off so a more extreme freeze can cause considerable damage. But after 3 months, some of the vireya rhododendrons which looked stone dead are forcing out fresh leaf buds from lower down the plant. They are a good reminder why it pays not to rip out plants too quickly. Clematis are also known to rally sometimes from apparent death caused by stem wilt. We will leave the vireyas to their own devices until the new growth is hardening off, at which time we will feed them and cut off all the dead wood. Vireyas have the ability to push out dormant leaf buds from quite old, woody stems but those where the bark has split in a vertical line to soil level will be a goner.
Other frost tender to subtropical material that got clobbered by the frost included the pawpaws, Michelia alba, bananas and Eupatorium sordidum. These all showed some burning and defoliation but are now covered in fresh spring growth.
Amongst the very late spring bulbs, the rhodohypoxis and tritonias are the showiest. The former are small, neat and pretty – the only danger is that they are very anonymous when dormant so hard to spot when digging in the garden or pulling out weeds. The tritonias are very orange and showy. Their downside is that, like some of the species gladioli, the flowers come out when the foliage is already starting to look scruffy.Top tasks:
1) Stay on top of the weeding. The old saying is one year’s seeding leads to seven years’ weeding. We try hard to stop any weeds from getting to the seeding stage.
2) Deadhead the Primula helodoxa planted by the stream. They put on a wonderful display of sunshine yellow in mid spring but can seed too freely and one person’s ornamentals can become the neighbour’s weeds, especially where waterways are concerned.
3) Dig and divide my bed of Grandma’s violets. In fact these are probably a legacy of Mark’s great-grandma, but they are a little too enthusiastic about their reinstatement as a groundcover. Last year I tried to thin them but it was hard my arthriticky fingers. I think it will be easier to dig them all out this year, cultivate the bed and replant divisions.