My garden in December
If as a child you used to love dressing up your Barbie Dolls, December could be the perfect time for you in your garden. This is the month to settle down and snuggle up comfortably inside to look through catalogues, to take stock of what worked and didn’t work in the past year and to plan what you’re going to grow next year. Once the branches are bare and the perennials have died down, you can look out into a garden that is naked and waiting for your tender loving care. You can dream up all sorts of different ways of re-dressing it in the coming year.
Where the bee sucks
It’s always good to make your garden attractive not only for visitors of the human variety but also wildlife. There are many simple and easy ways to do this, such as growing bee-friendly plants, a vital matter at a time when there are fears about the shrinking size of the bee-population.
Most herbs and all Lavenders will attract bees and there are different groupings you can try, such as planting Lavender with Verbena bonariensis and Scabious. Another nice combination is Sedum spectabile and Aster amellus, which will flower together in the autumn.
For more information about all things bee-related have a look at the excellent Rosybee website which has a list of bee-loving plants ( www.rosybee.com).
Getting bogged down, in a good way
You may not want a pond but you could easily have a bog garden, either based on an area in your garden that is always wet or by creating one from scratch. Either is surprisingly easy to do, and rather satisfyingly mucky. The beauty of it is that you will encourage and attract frogs, bees, butterflies, and those wondrously fleeting little creatures, dragonflies.
Choose an area away from trees and dig a hole approximately 300mm deep and as wide as you want.
Put down a butyl liner and cut drainage slits. Lay gravel on top of the liner and then replace the soil mixed with organic matter. Water, ideally with rainwater. Let it stand for a few days and then plant it up with Iris pseudacorus (Yellow flag). This will grow very tall, spread and has yellow flowers. If you have the space you could plant it with Rheum palmatum but Rheum does need a lot of space. Otherwise any Iris ensata and Astillbe will look good together.
Another interesting plant for the bog garden is Deschamsia cespitosa. It is a tufted haired grass, which throws out blue to silver plumes in June/July. The plumes will still look nice in the winter. It will go well with Juncus effuses and Primula, either Primula florindae (Giant Cowslip) or Primula beesiana.
Essential ‘housekeeping’, starting in the greenhouse
It makes sense to check that your greenhouse heater is working before we get hard frosts and snow. Look out for Botrytis, which is a grey mould that grows on the plants in damp cold conditions. If any of the leaves have succumbed pick them off and throw away.
From November to the beginning of March is the time to prune trees, Especially Acers, Betula and fruit trees to avoid the bleeding before the sap rises. Pruning trees and shrubs now is ideal except for Evergreens. These must wait until the spring.
Continue to cut back perennials. If it’s mild you can still divide them. Also continue to take hardwood cuttings.
The garden will of course still need weeding, but you can also improve the quality of the soil, such as adding organic matter to clay.Any garden will appreciate manure as a mulch or soil improver.
It is worth checking slightly tender plants that are outside in pots to ensure that they are wrapped in a fleece for winter protection. Raise patio containers onto feet or bricks to avoid them sitting in the wet. Protect newly planted trees and shrubs from wind and frost. If their roots have lifted from the wind re-firm them.
If the pond has frozen gently make a hole for the fish to breath. Never crack the ice, as the shock waves from the breaking ice could harm the fish or frogs.
Reduce watering to houseplants now. Check any pots of bulbs that you have planted early for flowering at Christmas. If you are buying Poinsettias do choose them from a reputable company. You don’t want to buy any that have been sitting out in the cold. Even carrying them home or to the car it is a good idea to protect them as much as possible from the cold.
You can pot up Hippeastrum (Amaryllis), which always look lovely , giving a splash of colour in the wintry gloom.
If you want Cyclamen and Azaleas in the house they do need a cool room. Remember to always water Cyclamen from the bottom as they can rot if the corm gets too wet.
Sowing your seeds
You can still sow some seeds in December. It would have to be in a heated greenhouse or indoors but Basil, Chives, Parsley and winter salad leaves are all viable.
Harvest leeks, winter cabbage, sprouts and any other root crops. Broad Beans can be sown outside also Rhubarb crowns should be planted now. They like the sun or semi shade. It will take 2 years for them to mature and be ready for picking.
Alpines can be sown now because the seeds need cold to germinate. If you don’t sow the seeds outside now they can be ‘stratified’ first for sowing in the spring. Stratifying means laying those seeds that need the cold to germinate somewhere that stays cold, which makes the fridge ideal, with its controllable temperature.
Should your ‘Barbie Doll’ garden look too naked at the moment here are some plants which give winter interest now.
Some of these plants have beautifully scented flowers, such as Viburnum x bodnantense Dawn with Erica carnea ‘Springwood White.
Hamamelis x intermedia has delightful scented yellow flowers so you can plant it with Holly in the background to set off the flowers. Chimonanthus praecox ‘Luteus’ needs full sun and has the most sweetly scented yellow flowers plant with Viola odorant and Hellebores orientalis. Clematis Cirrhosa and Jasmiinum nudiflorum are very useful climbers to plant as they give a splash of colour during the dark winter months.
And last but not least do feed the birds. Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year.