Thursday, 13 June 2013

Does Anyone Know When The Gardening Year Starts?

The gardening year is a mysterious concept since it appears to have no official beginning or end. This is hardly surprising given that gardeners in one region are merrily casting clouts for summer, while elsewhere people are pouring themselves into thermal underwear and hunkering down for a long, harsh winter. Matters are further complicated by the fact that in some areas the gardening year is six months long. Even so, wouldn't it be wonderful to have a day when we celebrated our gardening new year?

Wisteria at Magdalene College, Cambridge

Perhaps there is a global New Year Garden Party to which I haven't been invited (which is a shame, because I would turn up to the opening of a compost bin), but I suspect that we all have our own personal gardening new years which are sparked by significant events such as the quiet emergence of a favourite plant or the ceremonial plugging-in of the propagator. 

Wisteria at St Michael-at-Plea Church, Norwich

My gardening new year begins with an event which occurs with annual regularity sometime between mid-March and the end of May. It is the point at which I make a new year’s resolution. The trigger for this is that I get inspired and excited by someone else’s garden or the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and resolve to do better things with my own plot of land. This is all good and well, but 2013 is turning out to be particularly inspiring and I have resolutions coming out of my ears on a daily basis and this has resulted in me celebrating more new years than the Queen has annual birthdays. My latest resolution has been prompted by this...


Wisteria sinensis, a lovely plant in someone else’s garden. In my garden it tends to get neglected. I know perfectly well how to keep this exuberant climbing shrub under control, but by the time I have helped to whip my clients' plants into shape, I fancy a change of gardening tasks, so I give my Wisteria a half-hearted secateurial reprimand and trundle off to do something more interesting. If you have ever been the custodian of one of these brutes, you will know that pruning Wisteria seems like a never-ending task. No sooner do you turn your back than it gathers up a drainpipe and hurls it to the ground. Ignore it and it will come tap, tap, tapping on your window and should you open the window, you may very well find yourself sharing house space with it. 

 Wisteria at the window

Our Wisteria sinensis was growing in the garden when we bought the farm and although I would not choose to plant anything with the potential to grow so large, I cannot grub out a healthy, happy plant which would behave perfectly well if I made time to train it properly. In any case, it is loved by bees and offers great shelter to birds, so it is too valuable to part with. As I type, the front door is open so that I can enjoy the scent of its fragrant lilac flowers and I must admit that I love this plant in spite of its excesses. So today’s resolution is to bring order to the purple tangly chaos. Tomorrow? Well that’s another year. * **

* I will start by gently removing unwanted new growth over the summer, then in February when there are no birds nesting, our Wisteria will see some serious lopper action. 
** Since this is a new year's resolution, I reserve the right to break it. 

60 comments:

  1. Happy New Year to you then :)

    The start of a gardening year, hmmm tricky that one as there's no official date indeed and the answer varies from one person to another. But sometimes you get that good feeling one warm and sunny day, whenever it is and then you get inspired, and the you know that is the start of your own gardening year :)

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    1. If only we could all get inspired on the same day - imagine the party we could have. Still, I think we would all settle for warm, sunny, inspiring days.

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  2. I never really thought of a beginning of the gardening year, I kind of view it as a circle or some continuous activity. I am putting manure in the garden for fall crops and in the winter while harvesting fall grown produce, I am manuring for spring. I guess that the first frost is kind of a definite start/end point for most plants here in Virginia.

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    1. That whole cycle of activity - thinking forwards and backwards - is one of the things I love most about gardening. There is always something to do and plenty to think about. The frost often signifies the end of a growing season, but that's when I tend to go into gardening overdrive. When everyone is relaxing over the Christmas break, I am in a frenzy of bulb planting and trying to catch up with the organised gardeners. Of course, they are sitting comfortably by the fire with their seed lists already compiled (my seed catalogues sit forlornly on my desk, waiting for me to remember them sometime in March).

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  3. I think the ceremonial plugging in of the propagator is my official start to the gardening year. I don't have a Wisteria but am always amazed at how wonderful they look when trained against walls. You would probably need a full time gardener to keep one under control though.

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    1. The plugging-in of the propagator is a wonderful moment - and one worthy of a celebration! You're right about the Wisteria. I opened my front door this morning and a new whippy shoot slapped me in the face!

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  4. It ends when the Forth Bridge is done being painted.

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  5. I guess I could say our gardening start when we send of the order for our seasons seeds early in January! Or is it when we choose those seeds in December?

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  6. I think for me the new gardening year begins when the snowdrops bloom.

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    1. Oh now that's a good one. They lift the spirits and give us hope. Yes, I like this idea.

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  7. I'm not sure when my gardening year begins, since I started really getting into gardening no 3 winters have been the same, therefore I've had no comparisons to make.
    Wisteria..... I love them and wouldn't care how big or how much work they were, the flowers buds always get taken with late frost. Sadly my Wisteria is an ex Wisteria!

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    1. The frost is a problem. We had a Wisteria at a previous house (I didn't plant that one either), but despite being in a walled garden and quite close to London, we had a frost on 8th May and the flowers were completely wiped out. This was many years ago, but I can still remember the date and the image still haunts me. No wonder your Wisteria is an ex Wisteria.

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  8. The gardening new year here has to be when the first chilli seeds are sown. This is also about the time I remember my resolution not to sow too many tomatoes... and just a few short weeks before I forget that resolution and sow way more than I have space for!

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    1. No wonder you forget your resolution; there are so many lovely varieties of tomato to choose from. The first seeds of the year are always the best - there is a lot of hope attached to them.

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  9. What a hillarious and enjoyable post :-). I am still laughing and can imagine Ms (or shall I call it Mr.) Wisteria tapping on the window, and then coming to the room to share some tea with you. Can you grow Wisteria in a pot?

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    1. Thank you!

      You can train Wisteria floribunda 'Alba' as a half standard in a container. I've never tried it, although I have seen it done and it is rather lovely.

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  10. Wisteria is a rampant, though beautiful, weed here. When I was a child my family bought a house with an enormous wisteria enveloping the front porch. Neighbors said people drove for miles to see it when it bloomed. However, we never saw the sight, as my dad had it removed before it bloomed our first year there. There was a great deal of structural damage to the porch because of it. I can well believe your wisteria would come tapping on your window!

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    1. They are astonishingly strong and well able to cause damage to property, but absolutely beautiful in someone else's garden (as your driving Wisteria spotters had discovered!)

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  11. HA! I love that picture of the wisteria just peeping up by your window! You had me laughing!!! And the gardening season...what a concept! I can never figure out when mine ends or for that matter when it begins!!! I have always admired wisteria but have never grown it...best of luck taming it!!! And I hope that you have a lovely weekend!!!

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    1. I think you have hit the nail on the head. Wisteria is a plant to be admired. Good luck with finding the beginning and end of your gardening year... you make it sound like the long hosepipe we have in the field. Impossible to find the end of it.

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  12. There's the saying "The gardening season officially begins on January 1st and ends on December 31st" (attributed to Marie Huston, who I don't know) and seems apt to me, but I think my gardening season begins when the ground thaws! Very enjoyable post, and I especially like the image of the Wisteria tapping to come in through the window!

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    1. Thank you! I would be interested to know where in the world Jan 1st is a good day for the start of the gardening year! Whether we are in the north or south, it is either mid-winter or mid-summer and they sound... middley.

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  13. I know my gardening year has started when my nails go to pot, my hands are tingling from nettles and thorns, and my back aches..... and yes I do own gloves, but they are never to hand (pardon the pun) when I need them.... and would I have it any other way?.. Probably not!

    Agree completely with your wisteria rant..... In the early days, I made time looking up 'best time to prune', but apart from respecting the birds nesting time, the advice has gone completely out the window.

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    1. That's a good one! The back-ache barometer is a very reliable indicator that the gardening year is underway.

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  14. I consider the start of my new gardening year to be the day when I tear open the first seed packet and sow a few seeds. Wisteria looks stunning blooming away, but I wouldn't fancy trying to keep one under control.

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    1. It is a very special moment and it leads to the first seed leaves emerging, which is another special moment.

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  15. I think gardening begins differently in so many areas that it would be hard to define. This year I think has been hard to define at all.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. I think we need a gardening global summit to decide a good day - one when we all have something splendid to do. So long as we in the UK don't get the first cut of the lawn as our celebration, I'll be happy.

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  16. I don’t think I have a gardening year per se, I potter around in my garden every week of the year as long as it doesn’t rain too much. I would love to have a wisteria but considering the size of my garden I think it is wise I have never got tempted to buy one! There is however dwarf wisterias on sale, as standards, and I have been drooling over one in a catalogue but managed to resist. I bought a magnolia to grow in a container instead :-)

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    1. Very wise indeed, Helene. Our Wisteria is trained across two sides of our house, along a wall and along the back of a barn. They just keep growing.

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  17. Oh my! It's Wisteria! I could go on and one about how much I love these plants, but I'll try not to. I love this part of the UK because there are so many old, large and incredible wisterias all in close proximity (Magdalene College, Sydney Sussex College, a random house on Mill Road, Anglesey Abbey). I hope mine to be part of that collection, one day!

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    1. Oh! I didn't know there was one on Sydney Sussex - I will go and take a look! You're right about this part of the world - there are some superb Wisteria to enjoy. Good luck with your Wisteria joining the collection!

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  18. For me it's when I see the rhubarb crowns appear.
    Quite taken by the idea of a thermo compost bin - so you'll get an invite to the official opening if I buy one!!

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    1. Thank you! I look forward to my invitation! Rhubarb crowns - I like that idea. I drool when I see them stirring into life, although this year it was more of a loud sigh of relief because our winter was so long, the snow was so deep and the ground was so waterlogged that I thought they mightn't come through.

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  19. Our wisteria, which covers our front porch, is beautiful but it does require constant maintenance. We prune it back all year long.

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    1. I am now considering a daily prune of the Wisteria. This year it is excelling itself.

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  20. I have never dared to plant wisteria, as it is very invasive here with our mild winters. There is one down the street at a rarely-used house. I have told the owners that they should probably remove it, or prune it regularly, but they have chosen to just ignore it. I imagine one day the house will be unseen under a tangle of wistera!

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    1. The Wisteria will swallow the house, no problem.

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  21. Your explanation of growing wisteria is one of the reasons I have not grown it. It is beautiful, however. I must watch Carolina jessamine in the same way. In the summer months, it grows very quickly.

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    1. Fast-growing plants can be incredibly time-consuming. Although I enjoy our Wisteria, I would enjoy it even more if it wasn't so demanding!

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  22. Mawdlin...I was so surprised to see the photo. It's a special college in our life and was so pleased to see you included it. As for our wisteria (alba longissima)...I forgot to prune it this year, and it didn't like that!! Hardly a bloom. I love wisteria and despite all it's invasive qualities...seeing the beauty at Magdalene, one can't be too harsh.

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    1. I am delighted that you enjoyed the Magdalene photo; I hope it helped to compensate for the lack of flowers on your Wisteria. The one at Magdalene was the prime inspiration for my resolution to take better care of my own Wisteria.

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  23. I so enjoyed your well written post! I am contemplating to plant a white wisteria in my own relative small garden since quite a while, but stayed away from it because it is so vigorous and I am afraid that I can't keep up with its maintenance. To be quite frank, right now can't even keep up with the maintenance of my already planted roses ;-)...
    Christina

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    1. Thank you, Christina! Very wise - a relatively small garden and a plant which wants to grow huge is a recipe for hard work! If I were you, I would use the time you would have spent wrestling with Wisteria, to go on a garden visit and sit and admire the results of someone else's hard work!

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  24. Yes it'a a strange new world this long even gardening year....you seem to know exactly how to make the best of it though:~)

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    1. Ah yes - the gardening year is there to be enjoyed!

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  25. For me the gardening year begins with the ceremonial switch on of the propagator - bit like the switch on of the Oxford Street Xmas lights on a smaller scale. The year begins with the process of beginning to grow the first seed ! It doesn't matter that outside is cold and grey, the promise of summer begins with the first seed !

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    1. Absolutely! Wouldn't it be fun to have a celebrity to switch on the propagator? Oh who to ask....

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  26. I like the idea of the official Gardening Year party and think that that Cambridge college looks like the ideal venue. Do you think they might be up for it. Also self neglect on wisteria touches a nerve. I have inherited one trained as a tree and it has over-reached itself but I hurry past and never get round to pruning it.

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    1. Hurrying past an unpruned Wisteria is only for the brave. These things are capable of tripping you up and slapping you in the face, while innocently assuming the air of a beautifully scented plant.

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  27. My gardening year starts in early March and sort of ends in November. However even up north there is often days in the dead of Winter when I am all wrapped up and doing some tidying up. Wisteria, seen in Aberdeen but very rare and certainly no chance of it becoming invasive.

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    1. You have to pack a lot of gardening into a very short time. The dormant season is so long that it is little wonder you feel like tidying the garden in the dead of winter.

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  28. My gardening season starts mid-April and ends at the end of October. I like the idea of a Garden Day, but am not sure how a date would be chosen.
    I used to have a Wisteria sinensis in our little townhouse garden. They can grow to monstrous proportions left untrimmed, but they are beautiful too.

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    1. An even shorter gardening season - you must be desperate to get outdoors by mid-April!

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  29. It is a funny thing, this gardening year. So many different climates and types of gardening. I live in a cold climate so we definitely shut down for winter here but then house plants carry me through... Love your wisteria, I know they are beasts but so beautiful.

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    1. An ability with houseplants is a wonderful thing. I am moderately good at taking care of them in winter, but the second the sun shines, they won't see me for dust and they are left to fend for themselves. I am better outdoors, wrestling with Wisteria.

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  30. I live in the subtropics in Australia so there is no beginning or end to our gardening year with frosts a rare occurrence. Instead I celebrate what little indication there is of the change in season - like peas in and pumpkins harvested for winter, everything you have room for in spring before the torrential rain and sauna heat of summer leaves you nothing but arrowroot, lemongrass and ginger until you can once again jam everything possible into the ground again once the heat subsides.

    I consider myself fortunate to have a mountain close by where it's cold enough for people to grow wisteria so I too can set out in the car to admire them. Although now I'm afraid that if I pause too long one will sneak in through the back window.

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    1. How fascinating! I bet all those crops grow so quickly. I envy you that, although not your hungry gap (although arrowroot, lemongrass and ginger are more exotic than cabbages and leeks!)

      What a climate! To have the mountain too must be wonderful!

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