February 01 2023

Head Gardeners’ tips
February 2023

Sallie Sillars - Head Gardener, Scotland

As we head into the second month of 2023 Head Gardener Sallie shares her words of wisdom about taking care of your garden and its wildlife this February.

Whatever the weather throws at the garden at this time of the year, the bulbs shoulder through the mulch and leaves. This winter we have had it all! Snow, intense frosts, high winds, and very prolonged periods of incessant rain, only like the west coast of Scotland seems to experience. The words deluge and ‘like buckets’ do not do it justice. So, I am glad to report that we have not had to remain in wellies or in fact learn to tread water, but have embraced a gorgeous week of sunshine like it was a gift from the heavens and got out into the garden.

Volunteers, our WRAGS trainee and myself donned our thick gloves to stave off those pesky pyracantha thorns, picked up our tools and set off to begin our early pruning. Shrubs have begun to take form where they need it, yew hedge balls have gone back to being the markers that lead you down the woodland pathway and the fullness of select shrubs thinned out to restore light where it was needed. A job well done!

I cannot recommend how useful a good pair of loppers are to give you added reach. Some would say my stature dictates the need and while I admit that I always am on the look out for the taller volunteer to reach the heights that defeat me, loppers are a must for all when pruning deadwood, or for creating much needed structure in tall wayward shrubs. Anything beyond that reach sits within the realms of an expert tree surgeon, whose skill to prune whilst suspended at great heights is amazing to watch. Gardening safe should always be on your mind.

It is far too easy to create hard trodden down surfaces with boots at this time of year, so if gardening from the edges of the borders isn’t feasible, I recommend you wait as long as you can; a hard job, I know, when you are itching to get started!

A hard frost allowed us to walk onto the wet ground without compromising the soil this time. A window of opportunity, in fact. Gardeners, by February have been ‘off soil’ for too long and I know the strength of that pull to get back into the garden routine. I try to remind myself that what you prune away is potentially a habitat for insects, which in turn are food for birds. Food that birds desperately need now in the period of food shortage between the availability of berries, now consumed, and the wait for the fresh supply of spring food, yet to germinate.

Keeping the bird feeders clean and topped up in the garden provides patients with ever changing interest outside the ward windows. This view to the garden is proven in research to aid patient recovery and I often check out the view that they see by going into the ward to look at the patients’ eye view.

James Alexander-Sinclair’s planting frames the garden and as the garden grows, certain plants begin to overcrowd and block that view. Sometimes by walking your garden and framing a view like that at different heights, you can discover potential you didn’t know was there and improve that sense of being in a greenspace. Control them with a bit of plant manoeuvring, selective pruning and additional planting. Seek out and create these vistas to maximise on the potential your garden has to improve your wellbeing by creating a place that encourages you to stop and take it all in. Mindful and relaxing moments, in nature, are beneficial to us all.

When the weather changes back to a seasonal norm and the rain returns then the seeds will be sorted. A precious time for me that invokes future visions and includes thoughtful consideration of all the therapeutic activity potential. Whilst we have a wonderful selection of flowers that we can pick and share, dry, press, squish colour out of, use for imprinting and so on, there is always room for more. Supplementing the herbaceous with annuals to extend the colour across the seasons and fulfil all our wishes takes planning.

Colour is my go-to starting point and I select a top three that I can bring on early from seed. Successes have been Coreopsis tinctoria, Lunaria annua albiflora, Escholzia californica, Centaurea cyanus, Lathyrus odoratus and Cerinthe Major and these will be some of my choices with others I have yet to decide from the sweety shop of seed catalogues! Oh, and more climbers must feature too; don’t forget the ones that give a little height or creep across other plants. There is room for so much!

On the vegetable front, the chilli seeds are a little late. I like to get them in propagators in January, sown into coir plugs as a patient activity and all the rest will follow, interspersed with flowering, edible companion plants. Cakes topped with edible flowers look gorgeous and seem to taste even better for the added decoration. Another activity potential in that idea too!

So, I wish you happy planting and wellness in your garden endeavours this year! Make time to enjoy the special places in any and all gardens, relax, take in the views, and create opportunity to share them with your nearest and dearest in 2023.

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