GARDENING: Blossoms and birds are lifting the gloom

Never underestimate the positive power of a garden to shine through when gloom and doom is in the air. Blossoms and birds are currently providing a welcome distraction from events beyond the boundary hedge, and it`s not just in our gardens.

By Tom Pattinson
Thursday, 7th May 2020, 12:00 am

This is the time for members of the prunus group to show us their power to entertain. Most stunning images of the great white cherry (Prunus `Taihaku`) shown recently in the Gazette, were so worth waiting for. Such was the attraction that an image thought good enough for the country to enjoy appeared on front page of The Times at such an appropriate time.

This and countless cultivars in urban plantings, parks and countryside cannot fail to catch the eye as they come into bloom. With our travel restricted I`ve still caught sight of two separate groups of the wild cherry or gean (Prunus avium) along the Hipsburn to Alnwick road, also the iconic cultivars that have graced a corner of the Column Field in Alnwick, welcoming visitors for decades.

There`s hedge-to-hedge spring blossom in this garden and the fruit trees are making a strong contribution, proving the point that they`re more than a one act entity. It`s not just the autumn harvests we appreciate. A `Victoria` plum started the ball rolling last month and resultant embryo fruits suggest this might be a good year. Similarly, the `Conference` pear blooms have given way to early signs of a decent crop. What is undoubtedly our biggest flower display is currently breaking out amongst the apples. One in particular, `Redlove,` has the most attractive deep pink petals imaginable.

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I eagerly anticipate the opening of large flower buds currently lining stems of the thorn-less blackberry `Loch Ness.` The blooms emerge bigger than a £2 coin. Raspberry canes are shaping up to burst into bloom and that`s good news for the bees. This soft fruit featured strongly in a list of top ten flowers for attracting a diversity of bee species in a list published by a top organic group a few years ago.

Groups of traditional native bluebells (and white) are colonising certain

parts of the garden and they are welcome. Grape hyacinths (muscari) are dotted around in numbers too. Some patches of wallflower are in full border display mode while others continue their family tradition of clinging to crevices in a drystone structure. The perfume from both is a knockout. This is but a taste of what is to come as the year unfolds so what`s not to be optimistic about!

Meanwhile, ever looking ahead, a spot of shrub pruning is required to

secure next year`s floral displays. Two golden forsythias are covered with fading blooms, so the time is right for action. Removing any crossing branches, those that are weak or diseased is the first step as in most pruning. This is followed by the removal of spent flowering stems. The plant`s reaction is to offer new growth that develops over summer, maturing as it goes. It will bear next year`s flowers.

Similarly, two viburnums, bodnantense (deciduous) and tinus (evergreen), have just completed months of constant flowering and need rejuvenating. Light to medium pruning will secure new flowering wood by autumn. But both can take heavy pruning which might delay the autumn display. Yellow winter jasmine (J. nudiflorum) is also up for pruning now. This can be a thinning-out of the centre if it`s congested with stems and shortening of long shoots. Resultant new shoots will secure next winter`s blooms.

Never underestimate the importance of birds in your garden. Okay, so

they test our patience on occasions with the most disreputable ehaviour, taking a dust bath in the middle of emerging seedlings, raiding our ripe garden fruits, et al. but they offer such valuable year-round entertainment that this fellow goes all out to encourage their presence.

Throughout April there was little rainfall and a subsequent shortage of

water for birds, so the action was based around two garden baths. So many behavioural traits can be gleaned from observing interaction within and between species as they quench their thirst and tend ablutions.

Sound hedges surrounding the garden, plus ornamental trees and

shrubs, provide important roosting and nesting sites and food sources, but that`s only part of the deal. The nesting season rules out any hedge trimming from early March until July, allowing for more than one brood being reared.

Shrub pruning is also ruled out if one of your friends has built a nest in it. Some garden species are struggling to survive and need all the help they can get so a little tolerance can bring great rewards. Their presence has been a Godsend in this current situation!