In his regular column for French News Online "Lifestyle"
Section, professional gardener Mike Alexander, marks the coming
of winter as he tackles his autumn tasks.
Gravity becomes more apparent with age!
January for me will always mean pruning.
Years ago, when I first started working in horticulture, I was
employed by a landscape architect who did a lot of tree surgery
and so when I wasn't building and planting gardens I was nearly
always bounding up one tree or other in an appropriately agile
In those days I was much more comfortable up tall trees than I
am today. For now I find myself less and less inclined to do the
really high work. I attribute this to the greater wisdom and experience
that comes with age
. but some of my colleagues have suggested
-- rather cruelly in my opinion -- that it likely has to do with
increased gravitational pull directly related to expansion in
my personal surface area. No amount of explanation about Newton's
theories will persuade them to believe otherwise. Fortunately
today, with only a couple of now rather under-pruned exceptions,
most of the pear and apple trees I tend are of a fairly manageable
size for one -- and here I bow gracefully to the situation - indeed
experiencing the impact of increased gravitational pull.
Another tree I will be pruning in the coming weeks is the quince
(coings in French). Before coming to France I did not have a lot
of experience with this fruit tree other than its role as a root
stock for most of the modern apple cultivars. Now I come across
coings quite regularly and they impress me more and more.
I had always regarded their fluffy pear-shaped fruit as rather
bland and unappetizing to eat but my French partner, whose ability
to make a gourmand delight out of just about anything apart from
driftwood, has changed my opinions on that. Quince make delicious
jelly, are great chopped up and roasted like a vegetable or excellent
when turned into pate de fruit.
For me though, their utility extends further to their use as
an ornamental tree. With minimal pruning they can be kept to a
nice shape which does not become too overpowering and when in
flower they give off a scent that seems to permeate the surrounding
area with a fresh smell not unlike that of recently picked apples.
In other parts of the garden things will be looking somewhat sorry
for themselves. Even grasses like Stipa and Molina which have
provided some interest and movement over the winter will be looking
ragged and should be cut back now, as should any other perennials
that may be looking worse for wear. The stalwart evergreen shrubs
suddenly start to really prove their worth which is why good designers
aim for a balance between shrubs, perennials and annuals when
drawing up planting plans. Variegated
and lime coloured evergreens such as Choisya ternata 'Sundance',
Eleagnus pungens 'Maculata' and Aucuba japonica 'Varieagata' which
may have been much maligned for the rest of the year suddenly
provide a welcome visual relief in what might otherwise be a very
grey and bland landscape.
Choisya ternata - 'Sundance'
As for a climber in winter, it is hard to beat Jasminum nudiflorum
which if cut back hard each spring will give welcome yellow flowers
through most of the colder months.