Monthly Masterclass: December

Do it: Sharpen Secateurs

Step 1

Dismantled secateurs, Winterbourne House and Garden, Digging for Dirt

Dismantled secateurs

Sharp secateurs give a clean cut which is better for plant health and makes pruning or dead-heading significantly easier. The winter months are a good time to carry out essential secateurs maintenance in preparation for the season ahead. However, those who use their secateurs very frequently will likely need to carry out this task several times a year. Begin by completely dismantling the secateurs in question (snap a quick photograph if you think you’ll have trouble remembering where all of the bits go later) before removing rust and dried sap with some wire wool and a general purpose oil.

Step 2

Sharpening stone and blade, Winterbourne House and Garden, Digging for Dirt

Sharpening stone and blade

Next you must sharpen the blade itself. Prepare a sharpening stone with a lubricant such as oil or water and rub the blade across the stone moving it in a circular direction at the same time. Take care to hold the blade at the correct angle by mimicking the existing bevel. Particular care should be taken with bypass secateurs where the inside of the blade must remain flat. Gently rub this side along the sharpening stone at a very shallow angle to remove any burrs.

Step 3

Testing sharpness, Winterbourne House and Garden, Digging for Dirt

Testing sharpness

Moveable parts, such as the central spring, should then be sprayed or wiped down with lubricating oil to ensure free movement in the future. Once re-assembled the sharpness of your blade can then be checked on a thin piece of ordinary paper. If the secateurs fold the paper before it is cut they must be sharpened again. Very badly damaged blades, with notches that cannot be removed by a sharpening stone, will likely need to be replaced altogether.

Grow it: Pittosporum

What: Pittosporum are large evergreen shrubs or small trees sometimes domed and sometimes columnar in habit. Many are variegated or have brightly coloured leaves as well as small highly scented flowers.

Where: Often tender, many Pittosporum must be grown in full sun or part shade sheltered by a south facing wall or other surrounding shrubs. Most thrive in a maritime environment benefiting from the coastal climate and sandy soil.

1. P. tenuifolium, 2. P. 'Warnham Gold', 3. P. 'Tom Thumb', 4. P. 'Tandara Gold', Winterbourne House and Garden, Digging for Dirt

1. P. tenuifolium, 2. P. ‘Warnham Gold’, 3. P. ‘Tom Thumb’, 4. P. ‘Tandara Gold’

How: Over watered or fed Pittosporum will produce weak, lanky growth. They can be kept in check with regular pruning or even trimmed into a loose hedge. You can use the clippings as a supporting act for cut flowers in the house as many professional florists do.

When: Overgrown Pittosporum can be trimmed in mid-summer, before semi-ripe cuttings are taken in late summer or early autumn as insurance against winter losses. Tender species grown in containers can be moved to a cool conservatory or greenhouse at the first sign of frost.

The Gardener’s Verdict:

“For some people the fresh and bright evergreen leaves of Pittosporum are almost too perfect. They can look strangely artificial amongst the more sombre evergreens usually found in traditional English gardens such as holly or yew. However, they don’t look incongruous at all in more contemporary gardens. In fact, their resolutely cheery form makes them positively desirable, especially in winter, when this kind of light relief is so rare.

P. tenuifolium is the most commonly grown and with good reason. Its bark matures a deep, dark grey, whilst younger, twiggy branches appear almost black, contrasting brilliantly with the foliage. We grow P. tenufolium (1) and its cultivars in the Australasian section of the Geographical Beds. P. ‘Warnham Gold’ (2) stands out with golden-yellow leaves which never fade whilst P. ‘Tandara Gold’ (4) has a much smaller leaf with delicate variegation barely perceptible from a distance.

Here, we pair them with other Australasian shrubs. Rounded evergreen domes of Hebe make complimentary companions as do the low growing and scented species of Prostranthera. For contrast, the strappy leaves of Astelia and Phormium are perfect often providing striking colour combinations as well. Pittosporum also look great when planted with other sun loving winter performers such as Jasminum nudiflorum or Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’. More robust specimens can be used further as a frame for well behaved climbers such as Clematis ‘Madame Julia Correvon’.

P. ‘Tom Thumb’ (3) is a low mound forming cultivar with purple leaves. It is planted frequently but is not the best dark-leaved foliage plant available. All too often the plant takes on a bronze mottling which occurs as young green growth matures purple compromising the clarity of colour. Although not evergreen, Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’, Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’ and Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea offer richer, more consistent, wine coloured foliage.”

Daniel Cartwright, Outdoor Area Supervisor, Winterbourne House and Garden

Read it: The Natural Order of Things

In recent years the frequency with which plant names are changed has led the horticulturalist to despair. To many a Hosta will always be a Funkia and to many more a Solenostemon will always be a Coleus. Through the history of ‘Family Beds’ at Winterbourne, November’s ‘The Natural Order of Things’ explores the essential nature of plant classification and explains why these taxonomical revisions should be embraced by the gardener.

The Family, or Natural Order Beds, in the Sunken Garden, Winterbourne House and Garden, Digging for Dirt

The Family, or Natural Order Beds, in the Sunken Garden

6 Thoughts on Monthly Masterclass: December

    • Winterbourne House and Garden


      Hello Dorris. Glad you found them useful. It is a classic winter job! There is plenty of maintenance to do throughout the growing season though. Not least of all, disinfecting them after use to stop the spread of disease from plant to plant.

  1. Annie


    I loved growing different species of pittosporum in my zone 7b gardens on the coast of Virginia USA. Alas, I live in zone 6 now and can no longer grow it. It’s great for floral arranging.

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