Waking up your garden


GARDENS:Now is the time to take stock of you successes (and minor mishaps) from the past year

THE WEATHER AT the end of January is a mixed bag: late winter one day, early spring the next. The garden may be the last place you want to be, but it’s worth sending yourself out into the cold to get a head start on the season. As long as the soil is not waterlogged, frozen, or covered in snow, you can be planting woody things: shrubs and trees. But, trample on the ground (and that includes lawns) as little as possible: winter soil is wet and heavy, and is easily compressed. Work from a path if possible, or use a sheet of timber to spread your weight.

It’s still too early to sow seeds outdoors, even on those days when the sky is blue, and the low sun is pumping a little warmth into the air. The soil got an awful chilling during our fierce and early winter, and it will probably be a late spring. Sow now, and most seeds will just rot away. However, if you have a greenhouse or polytunnel, you can sow broadbeans, Brussels sprouts, leeks, onions and lettuce and other saladings. Sow in trays of compost, or in modules. I prefer the latter, as there is less damage to the fragile little roots when transplanting.

Garlic is one food crop that likes a bit of cold in its initial stage of growth: it needs at least a month of temperatures below 10 degrees – otherwise it does not divide properly into cloves. It can be planted now (and as early as November). Use only plump cloves (about 1cm across). Plant 10cm deep in light soil, and about half that depth in heavier soil. If the soil is very wet, start the cloves off in modules instead and transplant in a few weeks. The most common reason for garlic crops failing is competition from weeds – so keep the soil clear between now and harvest time in summer.

Before you leave your vegetable patch, check on your purple sprouting broccoli, to see if the top-heavy plants need some support. Tie them into canes, use proprietary plant supports, or draw some soil up around the stems. If yours was a bone-freezingly cold area this winter, your broccoli plants may not have survived, alas.

Now is the time – before the leaves emerge, and when the garden is at its quietest – to carry out repairs and maintenance to structures. Check fences, sheds, compost bins, trellises, pergolas and other plant supports to see if they need attention. It is also a time to look back on last year, and to make notes about your triumphs and failures: how to increase the former and minimise the latter. Get your thoughts down now before the garden wakes up properly, and your memories are displaced by plans for the future.


Congratulations to Frances Uí Chinnéide of Dún Chaoin, Co Kerry, the winner of our Irish Timesgardening quiz. A gift certificate for €300 is winging its way to her from Mr Middleton Garden Shop at 58 Mary Street, Dublin 1 (mrmiddleton.com).

The next three correct entries out of the hat belonged to Anna Higgins of Cheshire, John O’Toole of Sandymount, and Helen O’Brien of Blackrock, Co Dublin. Each of these three wins a year’s subscription to Irish Gardenmagazine. Thank you to all who entered, and especially for the many personal notes.


1. Courgette 2. “Mistletoe” and “ivy” 3. The snowdrop 4. Ilex5. Andy Sturgeon 6. B: suck the sap from plants 7. True 8. Crocosmia (the cultivar is ‘Emily McKenzie’, as many readers pointed out) 9. All bloom in winter 10. Aster 11. Honeybees 12. Iris unguicalata13. Glenveagh Castle Gardens 14. All contain “snake” in their common names: Acer davidiiis snake-bark maple, Actaea racemosais black snakeroot, and Fritillaria meleagrisis snake’s head fritillary 15. Bristlecone pine 16. California 17. Mount Stewart 18. Whitefly 19. William Robinson 20. True 21. Any of the following is correct: small tortoiseshell, red admiral, peacock 22. Saint Fiachra or Fiacre 23. All have an upright or columnar habit 24. Taxus baccata‘Fastigiata’ 25. True 26. Martha Schwartz. 27. Chilli pepper, sweetcorn, broadbean 28. Heywood Gardens 29. Apples (all are Irish varieties) 30. The Japanese Gardens at the National Stud, Tully, Co Kildare 31. Cotton fly 32. Petals are most often described as recurved or reflexed; pedicels, sepals and leaves are also acceptable answers 33. Eupatorium34. Monty Don 35. Monkshood 36. False 37. Ballymaloe Cookery School or Kinoith 38. At germination and seedling stages 39. Poppy or Papaver(the species is opium poppy or P. somniferum) 40. The shedding of surplus fruit in early summer by some fruit trees

Veg-growing courses

Klaus Laitenberger, organic gardener and author of Vegetables for the Irish Garden, is offering a series of courses at Milkwood Farm in Co Leitrim. Day courses (€80, including lunch) include planning your organic vegetable garden, growing in polytunnels and greenhouses, and a beginners’ workshop. An eight-day complete vegetable gardening course (spread between March and October) costs €600. Details: 071-9131855; milkwood.farm@hotmail.com