By Nick Condron
The Garden Gate Project is a community garden, at Northdown Park in Margate. Its aim is to promote inclusion and reduce prejudice by bringing people together whilst supporting adults with learning disabilities and/or mental health needs to engage in meaningful health, educational, creative, social, environmental and leisure opportunities.
The new year’s arrival in the garden provides an ideal time to get going with a fresh project. Having recently cleared an area along our back wall, we’re busy planting it up as an eye-catching shrub border that will provide winter interest in years to come.
Cornus, otherwise known as dogwood, is a great plant for this purpose, as its bare winter stems stand out on a dull day for being either bright red, fiery orange or vivid yellow depending on the variety you select. Another useful plant we’re including is Salix cuprea, the pussy willow, which is similarly valued for its brightly coloured winter shoots and showy male catkins. Pruning both back to just above the ground in late March/early April will encourage fresh colourful stems to grow back for the following winter. We’re also keen to plant Rubus cockburnianus, the white stemmed bramble, which in winter has brilliant white arching prickly shoots that will provide a dramatically contrasting thicket.
Elsewhere, whilst the weather remains largely cold and rainy, some of us will be turning our energies to crafts that can be practiced in the shelter of our polytunnel. We’re particularly keen to revive our interest in willow weaving and intend to experiment with making some large sculptural balls and other shapes to decorate the garden. Once you get the hang of it, weaving can be a beneficially meditative and creative activity that achieves both long lasting and visually rewarding results.
At this time of year it’s important to remember to feed the birds as natural sources run low, and to make sure they have access to some water that isn’t frozen over on frosty mornings. If you spot a large bumblebee on the ground that has come out of hibernation early, provide a 50:50 solution of sugar water in a shallow saucer for her to drink, so she can revive and fly away.
Finally, as the month progresses and the dark days begin to brighten, we’ll be enjoying the appearance of snowdrops and winter aconites in our woodland as they mark the coming of spring.