Happy New Year! Let’s hope it is a little less chaotic than the last couple. While not much good has come from the pandemic, the various lockdowns did reacquaint many people with the simple but powerful pleasures of a garden.
This relationship with a garden as a connection to the natural world and a place to grow flowers, vegetables and herbs is a return to the essential core of all that is good in gardening.
So what is new in 2022 for us in our gardens? On the one hand, nothing. The verities do not change or shift with the winds of fashion. Those same deep pleasures will not become out of date or cease to work their magic.
Monty Don (pictured) shares advice for gardeners as the effect of climate change becomes noticeable in the UK
But on the other hand, existing things will, I believe, become more pressing and pertinent to all us gardeners. The biggest and most pressing is, of course, climate change.
For the past ten years, at least, all gardeners have noticed the effect of climate change on flowering times in spring, as well as strange behaviour like fruit trees blossoming in late summer – which is a direct result of insufficient cold weather in winter.
Many insects and fungi are surviving winter, which adds to problems. Severe weather is making life harder; my own garden is flooding more often and the east of the country is getting ever drier.
Q Should I feed my winter violas?
Brian Littleton, Notts
A They should be fine for the rest of the winter as long as they are in a good, free-draining peat-free compost, but in April I would cut them back hard and give them a weekly feed with seaweed to build up their roots.
Q Last March I severely reduced a crab apple that was no longer flowering or fruiting. This year it’s covered in new growths. Can I take off the majority to create a new framework?
Sarah White, Worcestershire
A Winter pruning results in vigorous new growth (whereas summer pruning restricts it). To create your new framework, prune lightly in winter, selecting the shoots you want to keep, then prune harder in July, removing everything except the new framework. No more than 30 per cent of growth should be removed in any one year, so stagger major pruning over two or even three years.
Q Is there any way of keeping a poinsettia for next year?
David Smith, East Sussex
A Kept at a steady temperature, it should look good for another few months. In April, cut back hard and put in a bright, cool, frost-free place, keeping it bone dry before starting to water again in late summer.
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Our bird, butterfly and insect populations are declining and increasingly gardens are becoming havens for creatures that have formerly lived in the agricultural countryside.
Climate change and wildlife run hand in hand, and gardeners can – and I believe must – work hard to stop things getting worse. A good place to start is the three Ps: peat, pesticides and plastic. Completely jettison the first two and change the way you use the third.
No one should be using peat for plants, not wholesalers, retailers or anyone at home. Peat-based compost should be banned completely. Peat is not only an excellent carbon sink, but is also a unique ecosystem that can only replace itself at the rate of 1mm a year.
So the work of a bulldozer in an hour can take a thousand years to repair. There are plenty of peat-free alternatives that work extremely well, so there is no excuse for using peat at all.
Pesticides (and fungicides) are a crude, inefficient way of controlling so-called ‘pests’. None are absolutely specific and will always incur far too much collateral damage.
Far better to encourage a balanced diversity of wildlife in your garden with a pond, long grass and plenty of cover that will regulate itself.
As for plastic, gardeners use far, far too much of it. Putting your black plastic pots out to be recycled is achieving nothing, as at the moment black plastic cannot be recycled and ends up being dumped.
Avoid buying plants in flimsy single-use pots if you can. Buy the most robust plastic pots you can find and reuse them as often as possible – and if you can find a viable alternative, such as terracotta, cardboard or coir, then even better.
So hopefully in 2022 we can contribute to the challenges of climate change and caring for the precious natural world, just in our gardens.
No one can do everything but everyone can do something. Lots of small changes can make big things happen.
MONTY’S PLANT OF THE WEEK
Monty said Amaryllis should be put somewhere warm and dark, and as soon as a stem appears with a bud, bring it to a bright windowsill in a warm room
Many of you will have been given amaryllis for Christmas, and you can also plant the bulbs now to flower in spring.
Choose a pot just big enough for the bulb, with no more than an inch of compost around it, leaving half the bulb above soil level. Use a very gritty compost mix.
Put it somewhere warm and dark, and as soon as a stem appears with a bud, bring it to a bright windowsill in a warm room. When the flowers open, move it to a cooler place to prolong flowering. Do not let it dry out and feed with a general tomato feed every ten days.
THIS WEEK’S JOB
Cut back Hellebore leaves
Hellebores hold their leaves until they are replaced by new ones in early spring. Start to cut off the old leaves now, taking out any diseased leaves first. Remove all leaves by the end of February to prevent the viral infection hellebore black death.
Monty Don’s Adriatic Gardens begins on Friday at 8pm on BBC2.