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10 Nov 2020

Preparing your garden for winter – tips from Geilston Garden

Written by Simon Jones, Gardens & Designed Landscapes Manager & Alison Farrell, Head Gardener (Geilston Garden & the Hill House)
A golden-leaved tree in autumn in front of a high walled garden.
Beautiful maple tree in autumn at Geilston Garden
Geilston Garden is a beautifully crafted blend of landscapes designed to use the changes in the topography to create a sense of immersion and inclusion. This is strengthened by the effect of the high hedges bordering the kitchen garden, sympathetically contrasted by the impressive 18th-century walled garden and almost grotto-like appearance of flowing water and woodland planting.

Once the clocks change at the end of October, it hastens the nights drawing in, highlighting that winter is fast approaching. At Geilston Garden, this means leaving behind the last vestiges of autumnal colour so spectacularly seen in the lime tree avenue, woodland walk and walled garden. The hormonal changes within the plants allow the leaves to drop to the ground, where they’re pulled down into the soil by worm action and converted into some of the nutrients that the plants need for the following season’s growth. In woody plants, this change reveals a skeletal system of branches often starkly silhouetted against a winter sky.

Seasonality, like a red-breasted robin, goes hand-in-hand with the art of gardening. As the season changes so do the endeavours of the gardener.

There are lots of winter jobs that must be done to prepare the garden for the following year, and many are the same for any garden. So, some of you with gardens may already be tackling some of these winter garden tasks:

  • Final going over of herbaceous beds, then applying a winter mulch
  • General mulching and preparing the soil for next year
  • Lifting and storing dahlia tubers over winter
  • Protecting tender plants with fleece or straw
  • Planting trees – whips and bare-rooted
  • Planting any bare-rooted plants
  • Planting spring bulbs
  • Surveying trees and carrying out any tree surgery
  • Final leaf clearance
  • Turning compost and making leaf mould
  • General winter pruning
  • Ordering seed for spring
  • Maintaining and servicing tools and machinery
A border in autumn, where the plants have died back and a mulch is being applied.
Applying a mulch to the herbaceous borders at Geilston Garden

But at Geilston Garden, we have a few extra jobs that need to be tackled:

  • Completing the major task of over a mile of hedge cutting by hand-held hedge cutters
  • Cutting back, shredding and composting the remains of over 100 varieties of vegetables and cut flowers grown on site from seed for educational and aesthetic purposes
  • Lifting over 150 dahlia tubers and hundreds of gladioli corms and storing them in a frost-free place for planting out next season
  • Removing the top nets from fruit cages to prevent the cage structures being damaged by heavy snowfall
  • Pruning apple trees in the orchard, the fan-trained cooking apples in the walled garden and the fruit bushes in the kitchen garden – we like to have this completed by the end of January
  • Planting over 1,000 bulbs – tulips, camassias, lilies and erythroniums – will ensure a vibrant spring display to lift all our spirits
  • Resurfacing and upgrading the paths and the car park with gravel to help cope with the increasing visitor numbers and the challenging wet climate at Geilston
  • Removing old leaves from hellebores to allow the flowers to take centre stage into early spring

Additionally, one of the Geilston team’s aims this winter is for each of our active garden volunteers to plant a tree, which will further strengthen the bond between people, plants and the landscape. So our woodland garden will be rejuvenated with acers, sorbus, betula, eucryphia and a stunning liquidambar. Planting Scottish heritage apple trees will also extend the range of varieties in the orchard.

A woodland garden in autumn, with trees in shades of yellow, red and orange. Leaves are lying on the grass.
The spectacular shades of autumn in our woodland garden

So, even though the days are shorter and the weather might mean you can’t get out in the garden as much as you would normally, there’s still lots to do – and it’s great for your wellbeing.

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