As we look forward to spring here in the gardens at Hillsborough Castle, we’ll be bringing you monthly updates from Gardens Manager Claire Woods about what the team are up to, and tips for how you can get the best out of your own gardens throughout the year.
The days are lengthening, and so are all the shoots of the bulbs throughout the garden! The weather may not be any better in February, but many plants are now in active growth.
For the last eleven months there has just been a skeleton staff here on site, so only the essential jobs have been done. In many ways this has been good for the garden and excellent for wildlife, but in order to keep these beautiful spaces in good health renovation and rejuvenation is needed regularly. For example, brambles are good for wildlife, but too many can smother shrubs, so you may see the team out and about tackling these this month. When controlling brambles it is important to pull them out by the roots – if you just cut them off, they will grow back stronger than ever!
Over in the Walled Garden, the apple trees in our orchard area are now three years old. They put on good growth last year, but formative pruning is still required in order to get the best production from them this year. This is now being carried out: cutting back leading shoots by one third and taking out any dead, dying or crossing branches. When pruning your own trees, use clean sharp secateurs and make the cuts just above and sloping away from a bud. The aim is to create a balanced open framework of branches, in a goblet shape. To ensure that the trees do not have competition for water or nutrients, the apples were planted in tree circles, and as the trees have grown it is now important to also increase the size of these circles. If you ever wondered how the team manage to create perfectly round tree circles all the same size, their secret weapon is a wooden template which we place around the tree, making it easy to cut around the outside.
And in the Lost Garden there is a promise of fabulous blooms to come as the magnolia, camellia and rhododendron buds all swell. For the time being the tree ferns will remain wrapped up in their fleece and straw collars to protect them from the cold weather, but one plant that is in full flower at the moment is the Sarcoccoca humilis. Planted under the birch trees near the crannog, the flowers are fairly modest and small, but their scent is wonderful!
Up on the terrace outside the Castle, cutting back and clearing is continuing. One plant that is due to be renovated this spring is the Euphorbia mellifera – the ‘honey euphorbia’. An eye-catching semi-evergreen, it grows into an beautiful dome, with waxy leaves and big heads made up of many of tiny greenish yellow flowers, which are very attractive to bees with their sweet honey scent. When cutting back euphorbias always remember to wear gloves, as the milky sap can irritate both your skin and eyes.
February is a time to appreciate the small details that will soon get covered up in late spring and summer. Whether it is an empty nest from last year or a clump of self-seeded snowdrops you haven’t noticed before, wrap up warm and enjoy the garden now!
Hillsborough Castle and Gardens