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Last-minute winter pruning jobs

Tiffany Daneff / 30 March 2016

With the garden rapidly warming up it's time for Tiffany Daneff to tackle the last-minute pruning jobs in the Sheep Garden.

Pruned buddleia
Pruned buddleia

In the fields the lambs are visibly growing while the wood at the end of the garden seems to have paused on the very lip of the new season. The scarlet lime buds are swelling while the larch stems are softly bristling with little finger tips of young pink cones. One more push of rain and sun and they’ll be there.

I’ve suddenly realised what a lot of chopping, cutting and pruning I need to do before spring comes sending the sap rising and pushing the pale hazel buds into their fragile new growth. [NB If you’re gardening in the south you’re a good three weeks ahead of us.]

In a mad flurry I cut some hazel hands for plant supports. One job down. Next I had to do the roses, Gentle Hermione. Gosh I find pruning a worry. Each year I think, surely I must know what I’m doing by now and still I don’t. I’ve several books on pruning but, you know how it is, there never seems to be exactly what you are looking for.

As it happens this week I also had to write up an interview with Rosebie Moreton, who grows old fashioned English roses to sell as bouquets. There’s not much Rosebie doesn’t know about roses. How I wish I could have spent a day with her learning how to prune. She does run courses, but not near where I live. So I fumbled through the bushes doing my best to follow written instructions and keeping to the basic rules of cutting a little above an outward facing bud. I hope I’ve managed not too bad a job. If you are still unsure then do get yourself on a hands-on pruning course. It is by far the best way.

Related: how to prune roses

Much to my relief when the garden designer and Saga Magazine’s new Border Doctor, James Alexander-Sinclair dropped by the other day he did not wince at my efforts.

Growing up the south wall there’s an old dark red climbing rose. It’s a rather pretty thing with a lovely scent and loose, single petalled flowers not to mention chubby orange hips. I’ve pruned it back a fair bit but it’s still not giving me sufficient blooms to feel it’s worth keeping. “Shall I take it out and try another?” I wondered, rather hankering for a chance to mull over which new climber to get. “Give it one more try,” was what I got, complete with suggestions to take one half right back down. So that was a task for the saw.

Once I get the bit between my teeth I find it hard to stop. Next in the crosswires was the Virginia Creeper. We had a wall of this hiding the garden wall when I was a child and I well remember how we left it for years until it was all climber and no wall and we had a right job getting the ruddy thing out of the gutters. This one hadn’t reached the roof but it was already curling up over our bedroom window sill. Telescopic loppers and a short ladder did for most of it, the remainder I reached from the window. Next time, though, I’m going to make life simpler and reduce the chances of falling off ladders and out of windows by using a single handed lopper.

The buddleias needed the usual radical work. There are two well-established plants in the flower border and unless I take them right down now they will smother everything else, flower poorly and look ridiculously out of scale.

Related: how to grow buddleias

The holly was next on the list. Holly doesn’t need pruning but ours is quite a size (over 20ft) and is not letting much light through to the woodlanders beneath so I am going to take out the lowest ring of branches at James’ recommendation.

For the same reason I’m going to lift the skirts of the osmanthus which has just finished flowering in the flower border.

As I said, quite a lot of chopping. And there’s more to be done in the wilderness at the bottom of the garden. But more of that another time.

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