Britain is in the cold grasp of Winter. This statement is particularly apt at present as many areas have seen quite a bit of snowfall, every area it seems except for West Wales, and temperatures have plummeted in to the minus numbers. Here on the beautiful coast the snowfall, pictured above, can only be compared to a light dusting of sugar on a Welsh Cake.
Despite our pitiful snowfall it does remain very chilly. We have taken steps to protect our tender plants and our much loved favourite specimens. My trio of Tree Ferns (Dicksonia antarctica) have been tucked in for Winter with handfuls of straw protecting their crowns. The sherbet lemon scented Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla), I couldn't have a bath without it, has been placed under cover as it is ever so delicate and worthy of molly coddling. And the unidentified succulent which prompted much debate, Aeonium or Sedum?, has been brought in to the house.
One result of the bitter cold is that the half barrel pond has frozen solid. The layer of ice, which coats the surface of the pond, is probably around 2cm thick. It's amazing then how the poor plants and goldfish survive this icy entombment. The ever bomb proof Elodea crispa pops its head above the crystalised surface in an attempt to escape its claustrophobic catacomb but what about Carol and Geoff the goldfish? Well, they're fine and of course they're not frozen they're just sleepy.
The secret to ensuring that your fishy friends get through the winter is quite simple really. Firstly, in Autumn clear the pond of vegetation that is likely to rot down and affect water quality as it decays. Secondly, ensure you complete a partial water change at this time. Thirdly, feed your fish appropriately. A wheat-germ based food should be provided as water cools and be aware that fish stop feeding when water temperatures go below 7 degrees C. Finally, and most importantly, it is essential that your pond does not freeze over completely as to allow natural gaseous exchange can go uninhibited.
In my pond I always ensure that there is a ball floating on the surface of the pond, although there are many other ways of achieving the same goal. This does two things. The ball will bob about in the water stopping it from freezing by producing ripples. In cooler periods it will also ensure that if the majority of the pond freezes a hole will remain in the ice. If this does happen, or if you haven't taken such steps you can smash the ice and move, or add, the ball. Then again you could add whatever item you want. Many people use plastic ducks and this works just as well.
Winter is essential. It provides many important functions and don't panic about plants and animals too much. Most are programmed to survive the cold and many actually require it as dictated by their life cycles. Winter is a month to observe, to plan and to see the bones of the garden. Just remember that Spring is on the way and it will all begin again!