Whilst the weather and the lack of greenery does little to endear us to our gardens at this time of year, it is remarkable how much better you feel if you get out there even just for an hour or so – think of it as a chance to escape festive mayhem!
Bring the garden in
Anything that flowers in Winter is always hugely welcome, especially with the idea of bringing it in to the house. The smell of a few cut sprigs of viburnum or winter jasmine in the kitchen does wonders for the soul at this time of year. Sarcococca is just coming into flower and I will soon be foraging for that as well. And while you are out there foraging, get creative and make your own wreath! (See Georgie’s video on wreath making below)
I love the structure and form that evergreen plants give our gardens at this time year. Green is good for you. It lifts the spirits so the more we see of it the better. I still think ‘it has to be yew’ for the best evergreen hedge but topiary as well using yew is gorgeous and Irish fastigiate yews make a bold statement without taking up too much space. Box is still a favourite of mine despite the risks that go with it of box blight and caterpillar – luckily we have managed to avoid it so far at Glebe Cottage. Holly, Sarcococca, Hebe, Skimmia and Pittosporum all make for really good evergreen bones for your garden. And if you are feeling you are lacking, now is a great time to plant them.
Continue to cut back where perennials have turned to mush and give the grass and edges a final cut/trim before Christmas so that things look a bit tidier. Rake up the leaves first and be sure to heap them in a mound somewhere to allow them to rot down into a crumbly leaf mould which will be the perfect top dressing for shade loving plants in about two years time!
This month is the best time to plant bare rooted trees such as hedging and fruit trees as well as roses – by the end of January the sap may be beginning to rise and planting will have to be done with greater care. But be careful when you are walking on your borders, particularly after wet weather, so as not to compact the soil.
Feed the birds
The moment i am out digging, my friendly robin joins me in the garden, on the look out for worms no doubt. A reminder to feed garden birds now that the weather is getting harsher.
Seeds and Seedlings
My greenhouse is now full to the brim with little seedlings which i am trying to keep healthy over Winter. The key is to reduce watering now they are dormant to avoid the risk of rotting. Whilst lots of these seeds could well be sown in the Spring – for me, the activity of sowing seeds and nurturing them over the colder months, wipes out any feeling of a bleak mean winter that might be still to come. I also have quite a few seedlings on the go in the conservatory but Belle likes the heated seed tray so it is never used for the purpose for which it was intended!
You still have till Christmas to get these in the ground or in pots. Plant them as deep as you can if you want them to come back year on year. If you are treating them as annuals they can be planted more shallowly, just make sure you plant them with their tips up! I have actually planted mine in old plastic pots this year to be sunken into the ground and then lifted when they go over – it is a bit like hard work (!) but it does mean you don’t have to cope with disguising dying off leaves in the borders and I am then left with ready made holes to sink my salvias and dahlias into once they have been lifted.
December is a great time to prune apple trees. Don’t be too over-zealous and make sure you stand back every now again to take the tree in from every angle. You are looking to create a nice open habit where air and light can swirl around. After you have done this, look to cut back last year’s growth to put vigour into the buds. Leave Plums, greengages and peaches alone at this time of year.
Protect plants and pots that are vulnerable to frost damage. Clear out any debris like fallen leaves trapped around the stems to avoid disease getting in. Protect Bay Trees by moving them to a sheltered part of the garden.
Our grapevine produced its first grapes this year – and they were delicious! Christmas is a good time to prune a vine – be ruthless and prune back all lateral side shoots to two or three buds leaving a strong main stem.
Compost is sacred and my three compost bins are old friends. First the rigorous job of emptying last year’s gold and spreading it all over the surface of my borders, and then to refill with everything that has been cut back, all veg refuse, excepting the roots of perennial weeds. I will top this up with grass cuttings over the course of the year together with cardboard to counteract any sogginess. And for Christmas? A garden shredder has to be top of my list to cut all those things down further to speed up the composting process!! Oh the glamour…!
Hyacinths, Narcissi and Amaryllis should now be poking their noses through the bulb fibre/whatever you have put them in! Now is the time to bring them into the warmth and light and importantly give them a little drink. I surround them with moss – either sphagnum or cushion moss and support them with various twigs to give them a little support and make them look really festive.