DIVIDE AND COPPICE
POT'S GROWING ON? 02/02/24
Winter work continues at pace this week, which mainly involved coppicing. Cutting certain trees and shrubs down to the ground, triggering regrowth from the stumps. I need to cut and remove wood growth as quickly as possible now, spring bulbs are growing rapidly and warmer weather causes sap of the woody plants to flow. First up was an overgrown privet hedge I’ve reduced to low stumps, opening up a window beneath old elder trees to the top meadow.
In this little loop of wall Chris and I have talked about putting a couple of seats, it’s in the middle of the garden. It’s already surrounded by plants and will be a beautiful spot from spring to autumn. Although removing the hedge here increases wind exposure slightly, it also joins up three parts of the garden making it feel more natural and flowing. And I’m gradually replacing the formal hedge with a more diverse mix of shrubs and small trees. I am keeping a lot of hedge for birds however, so this is done sensitively with them in mind.
Down in the wilder garden I then coppiced a run of hazel plants, these will provide us with a good amount of poles for climbing beans and twiggy bits for growing peas over on the allotment.
Hazel, like many deciduous wild trees, can be cut down like this and new shoots will regrow from the stumps. This would have happened naturally in the past as large herbivores, such as aurochs and mammoth roamed the UK snapping wood and eating young stems. Sadly, these animals were hunted to extinction by humans alongside many other animals like lynx and wolves. This is where we can step in until some are returned to the wild, acting like large herbivores to help create new patchworks of habitat.
Coppicing the hazels opens a large area beneath the polytunnel for more light to grow for the next few years until the hazel grow back, and the cycles starts again. I’m planning to introduce the seeds of some wildflowers from around the farm to give the area a helping hand at being more diverse. I use a chainsaw, hand saws and loppers to coppice. Only use a chainsaw if you have been trained, they are incredibly dangerous without the right maintenance and techniques. In small gardens, a saw and loppers is all you need.
Last autumn I started dividing primroses, Primula vulgaris, at the top of this area and stuck the offshoots all around. They are just starting to grow now (FYI their leaves and flowers are edible). I plan to repeat this over the next year or two to speed up their spread.
I won’t divide most plants just yet, but I am starting to make a note in my mind of which ones I’d like to divide and spread. Such as this Geranium, which has formed a good size after two years and should divide into a few plants to spread around. You can see snowdrops I planted next to it last year beginning to show on the left and right of it.
A key new habitat I’ve been working on is this area between our patio and grass path. This used to be lawn up to the hedge and tree. Over the last few years, I’ve been taking some clumps of snowdrops from beneath the tree and spreading them around the garden. This year, now the patio extension is finished, I’m going to spread the snow drops all around this area to create a sea of them from the patio down in future years.
It’s a real joy seeing the snow drops I planted last year happily regrowing in their new spot this year! I don’t know why I love that simple process so much, but I do. Snowdrops are easy to divide and spread, I wrote an easy to follow guide here.
Another plant I divided last autumn was this pink Pulmonaria officinalis in the main garden. Like the snowdrops and primrose, it was already in the garden, but I noticed this one clump was different to all of the others, with pure pink flowers, rather than a mix of blue and pink. I divided half the plant into about ten little pieces I dotted all around the main garden, and they all seem to be happy in their new spot.
What stage are you at in your garden? I can’t believe it’s February already! I will be waiting until March before doing much sowing, dividing and growing, but I’ll be continuing the coppicing and clearing of wood over the next week. I’ve shared more ideas for things to do this month in your garden in this article.
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