Introducing native plants into your garden.
By Sarah Wilson
In Kingwood we are fortunate to live in an area surrounded by native woodland and we have many remnants of the historic landscape of the medieval Kingswood in our gardens.
In local deciduous woodland there is birch, beech, hazel, ash and hawthorn – all trees which we could have in our gardens – add to that the whitebeam, rowan and oak and you have all you need for different tree shapes, coloured leaves and berries and nuts.
There are two conifers which are native to England and frequently found in Surrey – the Scots Pine and yew, and another native evergreen, which makes a wonderful hedge, is the holly.
Widely Introduced to our parks and gardens by the Victorians were the cedars, ornamental cherries and maples and of course Rhododendron, Azalea and Camellia. In the 1920s and 30s, when the first houses were built in Kingswood, the roads were lined with, the then much admired, Rhododendron ponticum – and the conifers and deciduous trees, which had been growing here for decades, were kept in the large woodland gardens.
So is Kingswood a ‘garden estate’ or an area of woodland? It is obviously a ‘garden estate’ which has tried to preserve its original vegetation. As houses were built and gardens divided there was a proliferation of man-made green barriers of laurel, and Leylandii. The laurel used for hedging is not a true laurel (as the Bay Laurel we use for cooking) but, together with the Portuguese Laurel, is a member of the Prunus family. Unlike other plum or cherry trees its fruits are poisonous and the leaves contain cyanide which vapourises when cut. If you have ‘laurel’ in your garden, keep the black berries away from pets and children and always wear a mask when pruning or burning the leaves.
You will also notice that some self-sown native trees such as ash, sycamore and willow have grown into huge mature trees in our gardens and roadsides. The ability of these trees to self seed is amazing so unless you want them everywhere do watch out for seedlings and remove before they get too established.
Around Kingswood there are also some interesting introductions, such as cedars, sweet chestnut and redwoods, which have become attractive and stately trees. When you are planning your garden and its boundaries do try to introduce some of our native trees and hedging, because not only will it look wonderful but will be a habitat for hundreds of creatures – not least birds and insects which in turn are very good at controlling pests and diseases in the garden.
Plants in your garden.
I try to find at least three plants looking good in my garden to show you in this newsletter. Today it is freezing cold with lying snow so many are looking very droopy. There are three which seem to just brush off the cold and snow –
Rosemary – full of delicate purple flowers which will provide pollen for the solitary bees which will come out when the sun begins to shine
Epimedium – no flowers yet but beautiful bronze shiny leaves – small pink or yellow flowers follow in spring.
Iris reticulata – always welcome in February when this tiny purple flower pokes out of the snow and stands up straight.
There are other colours, including the very fashionable Iris ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ which is yellow grey and of which there are swathes in the winter garden at Wisley.
Jobs for March
I doubt if anyone is out in their garden this week but don’t forget to put out food and water for the birds and hedgehogs as they find it very difficult to find insects and worms when the ground is frozen.
Once the weather improves you should begin to:
Tidy your borders – pruning shrubs, dividing perennials and cutting back grasses
Deadhead Narcissi – but don’t cut back or tie up their leaves, as this will prevent the bulb storing energy for next spring
Move snowdrops – dig up a clump and divide it, replanting slightly deeper than it was before
Complete the pruning of evergreen plants and tidy up topiary and formal hedges
Start cutting lawns, tidy up the edges and manage the reduction of dips and bumps in the lawn
Put up new bird boxes – in a fairly open position preferably facing east or west
Feed plants in pots with a long acting pelleted fertilizer
By Easter I hope that there will be a riot of colour in our gardens and fields of daffodils on our verges and roundabouts – a true sign of Spring!