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The Grumpy Gardener - January

Hints & Tips With Mike Alexander
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.

Newtonss Law of Gravity
Gravity becomes more apparent with age!

Slash and burn!

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 fashion.

Bowing to the Gravity of Newton's Theory
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 a quince jelly recipe - click here

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.

Worse for Wear
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
Choisya ternata - 'Sundance'

Mellow Yellow
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.

Jasminum Nudilflorum
Jasminum Nudilflorum

Previously - click an image below
To read February's gardening tips article - click this image
Is a world without bees possible? Read about this crisis that will affect us all - click here
Prune for Results
A World Without Bees?
What you should have done in January!
Prune your roses - click here
Fruit Tree Pruning
Wars of the Roses
Grumpy Gardener April - It's War Out There. Click to view
Click to read this article
Prune When Finished
Herald of Spring...
click to read Grumpy's july  tips
You've got to be quick!
Un-thirsty Lavender
To read this August 2011 article - click here
To read this August 2011 article - click here
Grasp the Nettle
Star Jasmine - Madrid
To read this August 2011 article - click here
To read this August 2011 article - click here
Jihad - on Bunnies Ears
Autumn Arrives
Designer chic or neccessity? - click here for full story
click an image
to access the story
Designer Chic?

Grumpy Gardener
Our Grumpy Gardener has been gardening professionally in France for more years than he cares to remember and before that in Africa and the UK. Today he happily shares his expertise with French News Online readers. Your gardening questions are welcome and while they may not be individually answered, they may form the basis of future monthly columns.

Article: Mike Alexander
January 2012

Related Story

Quince Jelly

To pop-up a delicious recipe for Quince Jelly - click here

To pop-up a recipe for delicious Quince Jelly, click the image above or link below.

Recipe... click here

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