The main priority at the moment is to ensure that the utmost has been done to protect our delicates. At this juncture I should confirm that, by “delicates” I mean the less than hardy members of the garden, not my underwear. My underwear is always well protected. But I digress. In the small village that Cliffe resides there can be four degrees of difference between ourselves and those strange folk in the valley, when we are talking about degrees of frost this can be quite important. Even within the garden the conditions differ considerably. The photo above was taken last week and is a case in point; two osteospermums, side by side, one still flowering, one a pathetic mess of singed vegetation.So the question “will that dahlia survive if left outside unprotected?” is a very complex one. Even if we could foretell the coming weather conditions the only true test would be to leave it in the ground and wait and see what happens. Of course it may well die, and what will we have learnt? We will know is that this particular plant (a certain size, pedigree, position and health) did not make it through this particular winter (wet and cold early, wet and cold late, just cold, just wet etc etc). There is nothing exact about this science, does that mean it is science at all? All we can do is recognise which of our flock will not enjoy excess winter wet, freezing conditions, cold winds, alien attack, or any combination of the above and act accordingly.
At Cliffe we protect in a number of ways; some plants we lift and they have a sabbatical in the relative sanctuary of the greenhouse; some we fleece insitu; to some we apply a heavy mulch. Oh and we cross our fingers quite a lot. Then come the associated problems. When plants are to be kept dry, how dry is dry? we don’t want a desiccated shell come spring. When is it best to unwrap? I can’t help feeling they will emerge like pale sickly children if they don’t get some fresh air on their skins but I also don’t want to be continually rushing around re-wrapping when there is a frost alert. Fresh shoots fighting to emerge through the heavy mulch should be liberated but not too soon.
I feel quite exhausted just thinking about it, there is a lot to be said for growing the tough cookies.