December, January In Our Gardens by Philippa Thomas.

We now have limited daylight hours as we approach our shortest day of the year.  This, sometimes bitterly cold, crispy Wintery weather can be beautiful and yes, icy cold in equal measures.

Maybe, dazzle your friends and neighbours this Christmas and New Year 2020 with a beautiful hall door wreath (twinkling or otherwise), bring your outside to your special hall door with some seed heads, berries, Rosehips, Chinese lanterns, Agapanthus, Hydrangeas, Boxwood, Pine, Cedar, Yew, Crab apples, Dogwood stems, Pyracantha, fluffy Miscanthus flower heads, Teasel, Birch, Old Man’s Beard (Clemantis Vitalba) etc., etc. – Anything that you fancy and can forage from your garden.  Most importantly, spend time with family and friends over these festive weeks.  Christmastime can be stressful and intense for some, so an aesthetically appealing garland or candle in floral arrangement, or Winter interesting bark and stems, can create a special kind of delight and peace – inner peace.

If we have a ‘White Christmas’ remember to shake off ornamental trees and shrubs after enjoying the stunning sight of them.  The weight of snow can damage branches and stems.  Snow on low plants actually protects them against hard frosts, it acts as a blanket over them and then, provided the ground isn’t frozen, there is still time in December and even January, to plant your Tulip bulbs and then likewise, let’s protect our plants that are vulnerable to these frosts because our year could enter its coldest phase, – mulch, straw and fleece can be most useful.  Perhaps, group potted plants together in a sheltered spot in the garden to protect them from the harshest Winter weather.  …Now, let’s enjoy a vase filled with something like Winter Jasmine (Jasminum Nudiflorum), Winterberry, Holly, Nadina, Mistletoe, Ivy, Dogwood, Rosemary, Frosty Ferns, Christmas Rose (Helleborus Niger), Snowberries etc. – nothing helps symbolise and brings the beauty, good cheer and the spirit of Christmas into our houses more than a simple, generous bunch of flowers in their vase.

Christmas trees lose water through their needles and they push water likewise, out through them when they are dry.  Avoid them becoming stressed by not placing them in direct sunlight and dry heat.  In order to keep a freshly cut Christmas tree smelling as nice as it does, best to bring it indoors immediately and put in water – your pine’s unique scent can ghost through your special allocated room.  Remember, it is a plant/tree and needs to be treated as such so, a pint of fresh water almost daily will help keep it fresh, lush, green and healthy.

Now, in this late 2019, most of us are trying to reduce the amount of plastic we use in our gardens and recycle wherever we can.  Gardeners have traditionally used feeds that contain animal products, blood, fish and bone but with the growth of veganism more and more manufacturers are developing natural alternatives that are free from animal derivatives.  Natural insecticides are becoming more popular as we gardeners are becoming so much more aware of the effects on wildlife.  Pyrethrins are pesticides found naturally in some Chrysanthemum flowers, generally there are six chemicals that are toxic to insects.

Food For Thought: Conservation organisations/Buglife, are criticising cafés etc. for using wasp traps.  Research has shown dramatic declines in insect numbers, globally.  An expert in London University has said that wasps caught in open areas at the end of the year are workers coming to the end of their lives so killing them does not affect overall populations.

Xyletta, Disease Hits Olives In France: A devastating tree bacterial infection has been confirmed in olive trees in France causing a variety of diseases with huge economic impact.

Solution Not Pollution: Plastic bottles with the bottom cut out, – these are great for fitting over individual plants to protect them from snow and ice.  Likewise, a clear plastic storage bin will protect a plant while letting light in.  Then, you could use your old standard shopping bags over smaller plants, maybe peg them down, this will prevent blooms from getting broken or too cold.

Might Do, Maybe December/January Jobs.

  1. Wisteria, Fruit trees, Roses and Japanese Maples are just some of the plants that benefit from Winter pruning.
  2. Raise potted plants off the ground to prevent them becoming waterlogged.
  3. Check Summer-flowering bulbs and tubers that are being stored over Winter. If any show signs of mould or rot remove the affected ones to prevent spreading.
  4. Winter lettuce, Lambs lettuce, Mustard greens, Microgreens can be sown in December.
  5. Check houseplants, and any plants brought indoors for Winter, for insects that may have hitched a ride – with heating on they can quickly multiply. Pests can overwinter on plants so keep an eye out for small infestations of red spider mite, greenfly and whitefly as it can soon spread in the future months.
  6. Maybe, take pictures before you cut back the last of your perennials so you know where they are in case you want to lift later.
  7. Perhaps, coat your bird table with grease to prevent rats climbing up it.

Having fresh, home-grown herbs at hand is every keen cook’s dream.  Different herbs prefer different degrees of damp, giving your herbs the occasional feed will help them keep going, especially in a small amount of compost.

Sarah Raven says, without her annuals her garden ‘would be an orchestra without its string section’.  ‘Which’ Garden Magazine November 2019 issue, highly suggests Cosmos ‘Snow Puff’ – a new large fully double variety, showy display of blooms over a long season.  Semi-tall with sturdy stems, early Summer into Autumn.

“Let us permit nature to have her way; she understands her business better than we do.”

Michael de Montaigne.

“My garden is full of eating-out places, for heatwaves, warm September evenings, or lunch on a frosty Christmas morning.”

Mary Quant.

“A garden is a grand teacher.  It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.”

Gertrude Jekyll.