Lifting the gloom with these ornamental grasses

Ornamental grasses can bring great winter colour and interest to the garden, writes Peter Dowdall.

What plants do you think of when you go to spruce up the pots, containers and borders for Christmas and winter interest? Is it the traditional holly and ivy for foliage and then the cyclamen and winter pansies for flower colour and perhaps some skimmia and Pernettya for winter berries? Nothing wrong with any of those choices and they will all provide seasonal colour and interest.

But now for something a bit different, have you ever looked at using ornamental grasses to provide winter interest in the garden. They can provide a great addition to the garden in terms of foliage colour and texture. The first thing to remember when choosing a variety is that not all grasses are evergreen. Carex is a great choice as it’s evergreen, has a grassy texture and comes in a range of varieties that will suit even the smallest of planting containers.

Spotting the many benefits of using Carex in the garden, Kilkenny nurseryman, Pat Fitzgerald developed the EverColor range of Carex. They are now available in garden centres all over Ireland, Europe and as far away as Japan, South Korea, China and New Zealand.

The story started in 1989. “I received a gift of 100 Carex oshimensis Evergold for my 25th birthday,” says Pat, who hasn’t looked back since. By 1999 Fitzgerald Nurseries was growing about 35,000 Evergolds and it was at that stage that he looked properly into developing some new cultivars.

“I began hybridizing and developing other plants from these and in 2008 we launched the first of our new range, Carex ‘Everest’. There are now 10 cultivars available in the range, having launched one per year since then. They have all won medals at leading international horticultural trade shows with the most recent addition to the stable Carex ‘Everglow’ winning gold at the Plantarium in Holland this year which means that the gardener is assured that the plants are of top quality.”

Most gardeners fall in love with specific plants and it’s easy to see where Pat’s obsession with Carex comes from. They are easy to grow, adapt to most soils, they offer colour and interest through each season, they are suited to our climate, will thrive in nearly any aspect, shade, semi-shade or sun and they can grow in pots, window boxes, open ground and increasingly visible in green roof and green wall schemes.

From the initial 100 plants, over three million EverColor plants were sold internationally last year.

I ask Pat why he keeps introducing new varieties and he responds in true Kilkenny style: “It’s because I don’t like competition, I want to be the world leader. If I was to play any team in the world I would want to play against the All Blacks,” and then swiftly adding — “in hurling of course”.ko

Research and development of new cultivars are done in the company’s lab in Enniscorthy and what happens here is critical. In a sterile environment, all pathogens, pests and diseases are removed from plant material allowing the power of the plant to be unleashed. As a result of this, plants are shipped all over the world without any risk of biohazard, or transportation of pests or diseases internationally.

Native to the islands around the Tokyo region, this beautifully garbed grass has proved to be a real Irish success story. Plants for the European market are grown on the nursery in Kilkenny. There are 45 people employed in Ireland with more abroad, thanks to the initial birthday present and obviously some savvy Kilkenny business skills.

Replicating his success with the ornamental grasses, Pat spotted a gap in the market in terms of edible plants and is now, as part of a joint venture in a Portuguese company, also the biggest grower of sweet potato plants in northern Europe and there’s a lot more on the horizon in terms of both ornamental and edible plants.

Carex ‘Everest’ is similar to ‘Evergold’ except that the variegation is more silver than gold. ‘Everdoro’ is, for me simply a better and improved ‘Evergold’, both the green and the gold colourings on the leaves are stronger than the original cultivar. All of them are clump forming with differing leaf colours and I think my favourite of the entire range is ‘Everillo’.

It grows taller than most reaching up to 60cm. Bright golden foliage lights up my garden during the winter months and of course, for December, you can grow it in a pot accompanied by red cyclamens for a beautiful contrast, literally a living decoration.

Prune your apple trees

November is traditionally the month to do any pruning to your apple trees. If you have seen any signs of fungal infection or if the tree is reducing in yield and not producing as much fruit as previously then a good pruning will help. In the case of infection, remove any visible signs such as dead stems, cracking bark or fungal growths on the tree.

In general terms what you need to do is remove crossing branches to create a good open bush centre. There are two main reasons for this, namely, to allow good air circulation through the crown and thus to reduce the risk of infection and also to prevent branches rubbing against each other and creating wounds.

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