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Blog posts of '2011' 'December'

Bring the Garden Indoors to the Christmas Table

The big day is almost here. You have wrapped the presents, decorated the house and got the turkey, but have you thought about how you are dressing the dining table on Christmas day?

You can create a simple yet elegant centrepiece for your table by using foliage from your garden. The look is very natural and organic.


Experiment a bit with Fresh fruit, tall sturdy candles and your foliage until you are happy.

I hope you all have a fantastic Christmas!

-- Gemma Dray

Christmas dinner - veg grower style!

So this month people have been asking me if I'll be eating anything from the garden over Christmas. And the answer is yes! If you've been canny like me you'll still have some spuds left. Potatoes need digging up before first frosts, so ours are long out of the ground. But if you grow good keeping varieties and keep them in a cool dry place, you can definitely be eating homegrown on Christmas day.

So what of the other Christmas dinner veg possibilities? Well sprouts of course. They have a long growing season so need starting off in the Spring and covering with netting like all brassicas, to keep butterflies from laying eggs which equals caterpillars which equals distinct lack of edible greens! Sprouts are of course perfectly ready for picking at this time of year - infact we've been enjoying ours for a month or so in readiness for the Christmas feast.

If you cover your carrots with fleece or a cloche you could still have some in the ground for your Christmas enjoyment. I have to admit though, after over sowing last year, this year I was probably a little too cautious and we've already polished all our root veg off of this year. However, we do still have kale and cabbage - again started off in Spring and Summer and protected with netting, so these will be joining our potatoes and sprouts on Christmas day.

So enjoy your feasts and happy Christmas!

Leave your seed heads for birds this Winter

December is an interesting month in the gardening calendar. Almost all the garden societies I am a member of are offering tips or even seminars on making those vital Christmas decorations – surely the children's show 'Blue Peter' is the best place for such things?

In the garden usually the frosts have bitten hard by this time, and lets not forget it is now not unusual to have had the first heavy snows. But the main question I ask myself is, should all the perennials and grasses be cut back hard, as so many gardeners are want to do? I suggest some should be kept tall. I have noticed plants such as Amaranthus, Helianthus, Michaelmas Daisies, Helenium and Rudbekia are excellent sources of food for the finches and sparrows. A client of mine is trying to structure their entire garden along the lines of William Robinson, that not-so-gentle Irishman who kick-started the cottage garden movement in the UK. It is an exciting place to work as the borders are always alive.

However, the winter aspect has been a little harsh - the previous gardener had been cutting everything hard in November, leaving nothing but short stumps and next years buds showing. This year, I have left some of the spent flowers and have noticed the large number of birds enjoying the bounty. With the decline in garden birds approaching worrying levels, I am always overjoyed to see Bullfinches or Yellowhammers -that little burst of colour on a wintry morning exciting the senses and making me realise in my centrally heated ivory tower, life is hard for those literally on the bread-line. So whilst gardening, I suggest you not only leave the now standard nuts and seeds, but leave the plants as well. It can only bring benefits.

-- Guy Deakins

Things to do in the Garden in December

1. Keep the winter blues at bay by heading into the garden and feel the fresh air and listen to the birds. Don’t forget to plant your tulip bulbs this month for a lovely array of colour in the spring. Order your seeds if you haven’t already.

2. This is the time of year to find your shrubs for free after the leaves have fallen, by taking cuttings from hydrangeas, cornus albas, salix and buddleja of young, strong and healthy looking stems. Insert lengths around 20cm into pots. To take the cutting, cut at an angle just above a bud. Ensure about about 14cm of the cutting length is buried in the soil. They will root and be ready for planting next autumn.

3. Ensure your brussel sprouts are supported with cane and harvest from the bottom when they are 2cm in diameter. If you want to save having to go to your allotment or garden each time you want some sprouts, you can pick the whole stem of the plant and put outside your kitchen door in a bucket of water, so that the water just covers the roots. This will be fine for 1 week so you can always have a week’s supply of sprouts.

4. If you have any fruit or onions stored away, have a quick look through and pull out any rotting ones to save the rest of your crop from contamination. Watch out for any slugs.

5. This time of year, clear all your weeds. A good tip for paths is to ensure all the weeds are pulled out from the root and to prevent them from returning, water the cracks with salty water. They will never return.

6. Sow onion seeds thinly in seed compost trays from late December until mid February. These need to be kept around 15 degrees centigrade so a kitchen windowsill is ideal. When the seedlings have looped after germination, transfer to single cells in a cooler place but ensure it is frost free, so that you are gradually building them up for the outdoors in the late spring. When you plant outdoors keep 30cm between each plant. Onions will be ready in August for picking.

7. Keep your compost covered to avoid excess rain destroying all the nutrients

8. Fit boxes for birds, bats, butterflies and bees. Apples, nuts, cake and cooked pasta are all good for feeding the birds. Wooden Hanging bird feeders are available in purple, red, blue or white at just £9.99 from Town and Country.

9. Piles of leaves, a compost heap, piles of twigs and long grass are great habitats for hedgehogs, earthworms and other creatures.

10. Protect tender plants from the wind and frost.

-- Rob Amey

The "Not so Hardy" Garden Plants

We really were spoilt this November with unusually mild weather. If that is a good thing or not remains to be seen. But this time last year we certainly were in the trows of winter with snow already covering much of the UK. Gardeners across the country saw plants, which we have come accustomed to think as hardy, killed or severely knocked back by the prolonged cold weather, snow and ice. Some plants that were knocked back have recovered slowly, others devastated by the bad weather last winter never made it back to their former glory. I've compiled a short list of plants that suffered during the winter that will benefit from some winter protection if this years temperatures drop as low as they did in 2010.

Cordyline australis- The Cabbage Tree
Cordylines have been a favourite in gardens for many years now due to their tropical look, the most popular being the red varieties. I have always advised on winter protection for these although in the mild winters they may come through unharmed. Native to New Zealand they can potentially reach heights of up to 20 metres, although in the UK climate they tend to be fairly slow growing. Cordylines are one of the species that seem to have bounced back from the harsh winter, new shoots developing from the base of the old stump. These shoots can be left on or removed and cultivated in a pot.

Ceanothus- California Lilac
Ceanothus are native to North America and are another plant that seems to have produced new growth after a complete die back of foliage last winter. Again another favourite in many gardens due to their unusual foliage colour and rich, insect attracting flowers. Leave all the dead foliage on until spring to help protect the new foliage against frosts.

It is debatable as to whether the mighty Eucalyptus tree is suitable to most UK gardens due to its eventual size and rapid growth. But they are there and people love them and, yes you guessed it, they suffered badly last winter. Eucalyptus are mostly native to Australia where the winter temperatures rarely drop below freezing apart from in the mountains. So it's no surprise that a winter of temperatures dropping to -18 degrees saw a few lost. Unfortunately the only thing to do with a dead Eucalyptus is to remove it, with the help of a qualified tree surgeon if needed. And why not replace it with one of our beautiful native trees that will be fine and dandy in most winters?


This one surprised me to be honest. I have often thought of Hebes as being a long standing hardy shrub, sadly not. Many Hebes have met there maker this year. Another shrub native to New Zealand, and a few to South America, they are the largest plant genus in New Zealand with a vast variety of cultivars to choose from and many more arriving every year. I have yet to hear of any Hebes pulling through and re-shooting so a bit of winter protection with some plant fleece may be wise.

Trachycarpus- Fan palms

Trachycarpus palms are native to Asia and have been growing in popularity over the last decade or so due to their exotic appearance, many gardens now dedicated to palms. Unfortunately many species proved to be less hardy this year and as these palms usually demand a high price tag due to their slow growth, many wallets also took the brunt. Tying the leaves up and protecting the palm with straw and fleece may be of benefit in colder winters to come.


I'm sure there have been many more species of plant that have suffered in our unusually cold winters, and a bit of research in Autumn may pay dividends. But cold winters as were seen last year are not all bad. They generally help to reduce the overall numbers of many garden pests such as aphids, funguses and bacterias which in a mild winter can attack and damage dormant plants. So a little planning ahead in harsh winters is all that is needed.

-- Tom Williams

Citrus Peel Birdfeeder Tutorial

As the weather is getting colder, birds are finding it harder to find food (especially when it starts snowing!). A great way to feed them is to re-use orange or grapefruit peel and use it as a bird feeder!

You Will Need:
An orange or grapefruit
A thick needle
String or garden twine
Bird seed

Simple cut the orange or grapefruit in half, and scoop out the flesh until you are only left with the shell of the fruit.

Cut 2 x 30cm lengths of string and thread the string onto your needle. Poke the needle through one side of the orange and bring it through the opposite side . Do the same with the second length of string on the other side of the orange (making a cross).

Pull the string on all sides equally and tie a knot at the top. Fill with bird seed and hang outside.

-- Gemma Dray