December

The BBC will not do long range weather forecasts now and its odd really that as the technology for forecasting weather has improved we seem to be provided with less information but I honestly believe it is becoming more accurate. I watch the weather in the evening or early morning and the forecasters are often correct to the hour as to when the rain will stop or the clouds will start to gather. However, during October when we were enjoying sunshine for days on end one of the forecasters was quizzed on her prognosis for the winter. They discussed the fact that there are so many early berries on the hollies. Was this an indication of Mother Nature providing early food for the birds to get through another cold winter? Well no, it isn’t.

We had early berries and prolific flowering because it was a damp summer and warm autumn. Equally some of my camellias that flower in January are in flower a month early because of the weather conditions. If you have a favourite camellia and the label says ’flowers January’ then watch it every year and see just when it flowers and make a note of it. You will find that some years there are significant differences in the flowering time. Just as with the holly berries, the weather conditions can change flowering times by weeks.

The reservoirs were actually below average in September and October but have been filling up and the ground in many places is quite wet though if you dig down, it’s not too far before the ground is still very dry, a lot of the water being superficial. But for gardeners its back to my usual advice for December in that by trampling over lawns and flower beds you may be doing more harm than good. Soil becomes compacted and damaged and puddles can form leaving vast areas for frost to form when it comes. So unless your drainage is perfect, December is the month to do other jobs that you don’t have time for when conditions are more conducive.

I take the opportunity to tidy up the pots that always seem to end up in piles of differing sizes, to clean out the sheds and even to clean the outside of the glasshouse and poly tunnels, thus letting in as much of the little light that we have available to us at this time of year. It’s not a bad time to think of buying in composts. Many of the garden centres have it on offer at this time of year as they don’t sell much and you know you are going to need loads in the not too distant future. But, as I always say, make sure that the compost bags have been kept under cover. Those that have been left out in the rain this autumn will have had all the goodness leached out of them.

It’s also time to sit down with the seed catalogues or to make seed buying part of your Christmas shopping. When you have had enough of family over the festive period it’s a great excuse to run from the dining table claiming that you must sow your sweet peas or broad beans!

Another job worth contemplating is any hard landscaping in the garden, as long as it’s not too frosty. A good pal of mine who is one of the best landscapers I have come across always has order books full to brimming from March to October but he has no work planned until February and he cannot understand why you don’t get your patio and retaining walls done now, whilst he is less busy and you can give him the space to work because you are not out side so much and landscaping materials, like the composts, are cheaper.

No doubt you are also using the mower less. Take the opportunity to give it a good overhaul and a thorough clean or better still take it for a professional service. It will pay dividends, lengthen its life and make those frantic spring mowings efficient. Nothing worse than getting the mower out to find its clogged with last year’s grass and the spark plug is furred up and the petrol too old to move freely. And whilst you are getting the mower out of the shed take out all the tools and give them a good clean up, sharpen the hoe, clean the tines of the fork, shine up and edge the spade and check your secateurs. If you don’t know what you are doing sharpening the secateurs can be tricky. Their special shape needs to be retained and the cutting blades may need doing professionally. Secateur sharpening is cheap and replacing the spring can save all sorts of bother next spring. We always have a trip to the garden machinery outlet, loading up the boot with all the equipment for servicing so that hedge trimmers, mowers, cultivators, edging shears and the like are all ready for after Christmas.

One other little job that I do is to make the Christmas wreath for the front door. By all means buy a commercial one, but look at the prices they charge and nine times out of ten they are artificial and not strong enough for our weather. You can make the circular shape with willow or hazel twigs and if you don’t have any they are easily obtainable as bear wreaths. Attach some lengths of conifer, pine or fir (or even some ivy) carefully with wires whilst retaining the shape and gather some pine cones and dry some orange slices slowly in the oven and hey presto, with or without baubles and ribbon you have your own wreath for the front door and it cost very little and is much more satisfying. Because you have used material that has been hardened off out doors it will last well in the cold and windy weather and what’s more it won’t look as if you have hung a bit of ’High Street’ on your front door and will be truly original for little effort.

I wish everybody a very Happy Christmas and if you’re stuck for a present for friends or family consider a plant. I have so many specimens in the garden that remind me of the giver every time I look at them, yet I cannot remember who bought my socks, and wine and chocolates just don’t have the same longevity in our house!!

And if you run out of runner beans to sow and still need that relief from the family festivities remember it is traditional to prune your grapevine on Christmas Day!

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