The weather this past year, hasn’t been brilliant. I may be wrong, but it appears that our summers start earlier and then degenerate into a period of overcast and wet weather interspersed with the odd fine day. Then all of a sudden, we’re into winter.
Many gardeners see these cold months as a time to hang up their wellies and hibernate until the spring. Yes there’s far less to do in the garden, but there’s also far less daylight or good weather, in which to do it! I see the next few months as a good time to plan ahead and decide on what I’d like to do differently with the garden or what new plants I want to experiment with. I use the brief periods of good weather we get to tidy up the garden in general, but especially the flower borders. They’re also used to roughly dig over the vegetable garden. It’s a good time to extend your vegetable plot or start a new one from scratch. The best approach to digging, in my opinion, is to just do a small amount when the weather allows. That way, you don’t end up overdoing it – and your back will thank you!
November is really the last month that you can plant or sow. Traditionally, it’s the last opportunity you’ll have to sow broad beans and plant out garlic bulbs. Personally I’ve had very little success with autumn sown broad beans – losing at least 50% to frost. I find it better to sow in February under a cloche, the beans will be ready only a week or so behind the winter sown beans – but the crop is far heavier as you have more plants. Garlic, however, seems to survive winter sowing very well, they will be slow to show signs of growth but seem to survive (if not flourish) when they’re hit with severe frosts.
Soggy, brown, collapsed plants are an eyesore and deserve nothing better than to be cut back and given a decent burial on the compost heap. Cut down herbaceous stems and clear the tatty remains of annuals, but do leave a little cover of the perennials that fade relatively elegantly (sedum, astilbes and grasses for example). They will provide winter interest as well as some much needed wildlife shelter – ladybirds especially appreciate winter quarters and will repay your hospitality by disposing of aphids in industrial quantities next year. Leaving sodden debris and fallen leaves around plants will only encourage pests and disease.
If you own a greenhouse, now’s a good time to wash pots and trays, clean, mend and oil your tools and throw away anything that is beyond hope or reasonable repair! Cleaning your greenhouse thoroughly will prevent pests from hibernating and leaping into action next spring. Wash the windows inside and out to allow maximum light in over the winter and scrub benches, fixtures and glazing bars with disinfectant, making sure you hose the whole place down really well, especially dark and dusty corners.
For really effective pest elimina-tion in your greenhouse, fumigation is the ticket. Move all plants outside, shut the windows, and light a sulphur candle in the middle of the floor, (retreat at speed!), shut the door and wait until the smoke and fumes have completely dispersed several hours later. Your greenhouse should now be delightfully pest free!
With Christmas just around the corner, now is the perfect time to prepare for Christmas day itself. I’m not suggesting planting any specific vege-tables for consumption on the day, more importantly I’m suggesting it’s time to start hinting about what you, as a gardener, really want for Christmas! Garden Centres are full of all things Christmas, but I sometimes wonder how many gifts bought for garden-ers are really well thought through. So rather than leave it to chance, and if you suspect your hints are being ignored – tell your nearest and dearest what you’d like!
Jobs to do in the garden over the winter months
Sow/Plant Broad beans
Plant out Garlic
Harvest Your leeks should be coming ready now. Harvest every other one in a row leaving the rest to grow on.
Brussels sprouts should be starting as well. Pick from the bottom of the plant upwards. Just remember the sprout is for the whole of the winter, not just for Christmas!
Along with sprouts you can harvest kale and take up the winter cabbages and cauliflowers. A cauliflower tightly wrapped in cling-film kept in the fridge can be kept fresh for as long as six weeks.
Main crop carrots can be lifted to store safe from pests in damp sand or peat in your store along with parsnips but parsnips do hold in the ground better than carrots.
You could still be harvesting celery and celeriac and kohl rabi as well as turnips, swedes and spinach.
Fruit It’s pruning time for apples and pears and they’ll benefit from some compost around the base as a mulch. With younger, staked trees check the stakes and ties are firm. Winter winds can shake the roots loose on young trees causing poor growth or even death.
As with October, November is a good month to attend to pruning the raspberries, blackberries and hybrid berries as well as being the ideal time to plant bare rooted canes. Don’t forget to add plenty of compost to the soil and 250gr (8oz) per square yard of bonemeal.
General Prune roses lightly to prevent wind-rock, full pruning to be done in the spring / Clear up fallen leaves – especially from lawns, ponds and beds / Raise containers onto pot feet or onto upturned saucers, to prevent water-logging / Plant tulip bulbs for a spring display next year / Plant out winter bedding / Cover brassicas with netting if pigeons are a problem / Insulate outdoor containers from frost – bubblewrap works well / Stop winter moth damage to fruit trees using grease bands around the trunks / Put out bird food to encourage winter birds into the garden / Have a bonfire (if you’re allowed to) – to dispose of excess debris unfit for composting BUT check there aren’t any hedgehogs hibernating in it before you light it.
Seasonal Recipe Tempted as I was to include a recipe for sprouts, here’s a recipe for that other compulsory winter vegetable – the humble swede. This recipe serves 4 as an accompaniment. You will need a large swede, small onion, clove of garlic, butter, sugar and vegetable or chicken stock. Prepare the swede by peeling and cutting into large evenly sized chunks, roughly chop the onion – add both to a large saucepan, along with the crushed garlic, a small pinch of sugar and a large knob of butter. Pour in sufficient stock to just cover the swede.
Cover with a tight fitting lid and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes or so, once the swede is soft, remove the lid and boil vigorously to drive off virtually all the liquid – then mash. Serve with your Sunday roast – superb!
Readers Tips Don’t skimp on the gardening gloves you buy. Go for the best quality you can afford such as Gold Leaf. They’ll last for ages, and do a great job of protecting your hands.
Continuing with Fulke’s garden make-over for a friend
In talking to a local keen gardener, one of her comments really hit home. “You never finish a garden, it’s a lifetime’s work”. This is so true, especially when you decide to radically change its look, as in this case.
So, as the new plants have become established and matured, so the brief has changed! Before I expand on the new challenges, I thought I’d review progress to date.
What’s been a success? The raised vegetable plot has really delivered and is continuing to do so, with kale and spinach hopefully providing greens for the coming months. The jasmine (pic top right) really likes its spot and should completely cover its support by next summer. The roses have been fantastic, other than a climber which was replaced. The honey-suckles provided scent and colour right through to November, following an unexpected second flush of flowers.
What hasn’t been so good? I’d failed to spot the level of protection from wind the garden had. This, coupled with a damp summer has meant that mildew and black-spot have become endemic. Now that this is known, a spraying regime can be started early next year to keep it under control. The hollies I purchased on line (J.C. van Tol), intending to grow them as cone shaped specimens, appeared as tall single stems. However, this did allow me to source Golden van Tol (its variegated cousin) from a holly specialist in Carmarthen. (See picture above comparing the two) The tall single stemmed plants will be pruned and encouraged to form a ‘standard’ appear-ance (as per bay trees). The perils of buying on line!
As for the brief changing? Well expansion of the meagre flower border is now a must. This will require some structural support in front of the fencing, as the ground level drops rap-idly the other side of it. The paths need to be finished and the ground covering of pebbles removed. Additional herbaceous plants are planned, including Convallaria majalis (Lily of the Valley) in memory of our lovely little dog (Lillabellus Maximus), who sadly passed away in September – not long after her appearance on the front cover of Bay.
So, when the weather permits, it’s back to toiling on the structural aspects, before planting recommences in the spring.
Ed. We were saddened to hear of the passing of the beautiful Lily, and in her memory I thought I’d share a beautiful poem by Rudyard Kipling called –
There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and Sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.
Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie—
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart for a dog to tear.
When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find—it’s your own affair—
But … you’ve given your heart to a dog to tear.
When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!).
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone—wherever it goes—for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear.
We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we’ve kept ’em, the more
do we grieve:
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-time loan is as bad as a long—
So why in—Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?