December

It has been a hairy few weeks of wind, rain and then a bit more of both but more forceful!! I do find strong wind very tiring to work in and frankly doing too much work in or on the soil can do more harm than good in very wet periods as all we are doing is compacting the soil. So stay off it, go indoors and indulge your thoughts in the seed catalogues, or give the shed the clear out it has been waiting for!

A recent trip to Trebah reminded me however of the beauty of a well planted garden. Whilst some of the show gardens choose to close at this time of year I always think you can tell a well planted one because they choose to stay open to the glorious varieties of autumn and winter plants with which we are blessed. If you have time during the festive break, a trip to Trelissick or Trebah will open your eyes to the wonders of a well planted garden that gives interest all year.

The camellias have huge fat buds and are about to spring into copious flower. Acouple of years ago I planted some japonica varieties which are much more tolerant of sunshine and they have put on tremendous growth in a short space of time.

A shady wall can be covered in pyracantha with brilliant orange or red berries that last for weeks and jack and jill walls are calmed by the prostrate cotoneasters. Whilst a sunnier wall supports the long leafless stems of jasminium nudiflorum, bright yellow little flowers for a dark winter day.

Mahonias are not a favourite of mine as I seem to spend all summer getting hooked up on them whilst weeding the borders but when the vivid yellow candle-like flower of Mahonia x media ’Charity’ emerges I forgive it all its attempts to impale me.

But I do have two stars of the winter show. The first has to be my huge evergreen shrub Genista ‘Porlock’ which like its broom cousins should flower in spring and then again in autumn. However for the past two years mine has not been without a flower on and off all year and is currently covered in vibrant fragrant yellow flowers. It is not long lived and will get leggy but it is well worth its good five or so years. Mine stands elegantly next to Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’. Garryas are hardy and evergreen and at this time of year are covered in very conspicuous grey tassel catkins that shine like silk. On this variety, as a mature shrub, the catkins can be 9” long – it is a real joy.

The nature of our business generally is that we supply plants but inevitably we end up doing some design and planting and this last month, as the best time for planting, has been very busy. Now I mention this only because we have arranged a fair acreage of new lawn in a new development, which has knitted beautifully with the generous rainfall; we have lifted and planted espalier fruit trees, mature shrubs and the more exotic trachycarpus, cordyline and acers. The soil is warm and wet and I anticipate everything getting off to a grand start.

Many of the specimen plants are real bargains as nurseries feel the pinch and want to off load as much stock as they can now. The hedging plants, particularly the native hawthorns, oaks and hollies are very cheap being bare rooted and a one hundred foot hedge can be done for around £100.00 compared with over £400.00 with potted plants. So if you are planning a new shrubbery or hedge get buying the bare root plants now – there are fantastic bargains from nurseries via the internet so do your comparisons carefully and watch out for the delivery price which can add a huge excess if you are not vigilant.

Now there are jobs to do this month (apart from the Christmas shopping, which I promised myself I would do in November!) although it is slightly less hectic at this time of year:

Sow pelargonium seeds now and certainly no later than mid February. They will need at least 18 deg c to get going. If you don’t want to chance seed then look for the plugs in mail order catalogues. If you leave mail order too late you will not get the choice because nurseries are planting now and will not take a chance on selling plants that are not specifically ordered bearing in mind the cost of heat, light and staff. To be sure of any commercial bedding we require my order has to be in the Nurseries by mid November, always a difficult time to be envisaging your summer displays!

Start potting up lilies for summer colour. Put on a bed of grit within the pot or in the border to help drainage and if the soil is really wet plant them on their sides.

Prune deciduous trees to shape once all the leaves have fallen. Always remember that hard pruning encourages vigorous growth – the harder you prune the harder they come back!

Prune and plant blackberries. Cut out all the canes that fruited last year and mulch lavishly.

Browse the seed catalogues that come thumping through the door with the Christmas cards and do your order before January for plugs, seeds and new potatoes etc.

Prune apple and pear trees now to let in air and light.

Earth up sprouts to stop them rocking or keeling over.

Keep all glasshouse grown Christmas plants like poinsettia and cyclamen cool and moist but not wet. Watch out for botrytis, that nasty grey mould that loves the cyclamen that are over watered or lacking air circulation.

Finally, I wish everybody a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year. By the time I write again the nights will have started drawing out, can’t wait!!

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