This Month in the Garden – December 2016 / January 2017


As Christmas looms nearer, present giving can be a problem.
In my December article I like to help ease the problem by suggesting some ideas for presents for gardeners. Many of us have bought or been given books on garden design. I certainly have but I can’t really say that I have done much with them. They describe the principles of garden design and frequently deal with the design of hard landscaping but most of us are not bold enough to make big changes to our gardens on the basis of this sort of knowledge …

Vegetable gardening is pretty straightforward compared with organising an ornamental garden and what I have needed is guidance on the plants to put in the garden  and how to group them together, shape and form and structure of plants, colour combinations and so on.  This year I found it in a splendid book by Matt James “How to plant a garden”.
( Published by the RHS and Mitchell Beazley). The book starts with an explanation of the importance of understanding something about soil and climate and what applies to your own garden. This is followed by a description of the varieties of type of plants and their characteristics before going on to a description of how you can use plants for different purposes such as shade, security and privacy and so on. There are chapters on the various styles of ornamental gardens, form of plant shape and structure, colour combinations and how to put it all together in clumps and drifts with focal points. The whole book is made up of short sections of text with ample illustrations. There is a chapter with examples of many different planting plans and the book concludes with practical information on sourcing plants, spacing and quantities needed.

Another present which would be enjoyed by gardeners who haven’t already got it is membership of the RHS ( Royal Horticultural Society. Annual membership costs £42.75 or £62.25 for joint membership. This provides an informative monthly magazine and gives free entry to RHS gardens plus a guest and individual entry to a great many partner gardens around the country..

December and January are generally quiet months in the garden but, weather permitting, there are several useful things to do. This is the best time for pruning deciduous trees and especially fruit trees and bushes. The aim here, apart from removing diseased or damaged wood, is to reduce new woody growth to encourage fruit production and keep the centre of the tree or bush open to provide light and air. With trees this may mean now and again taking out quite substantial branches. Keep secateurs and loppers sharp. The use of products to cover the ‘wounds’ where branches have been freshly cut is no longer recommended. If you have an open fire fruit tree branches make splendid logs and a shredder converts woody matter into useful material for the compost heap; a  good thought when wondering what to do with prunings when there is no council garden waste collection for three months (You can take stuff to  the Barkers Lane ‘tip’ if you can bag it up or have the use of a trailer)

When the soil is not too wet shrubs of a manageable size can be dug up and moved now. Dig all round the plant leaving a good sized root ball. For bigger shrubs it will help if you take out a small trench round the edge of the line of your first cut so that there is room to get the spade underneath the roots. Put a sheet of plastic  against the root ball and slide the plant on to it so that you can drag it out of the hole and continue to slide it to the new position. Replant in a previously prepared hole of generous size with soil mixed with compost or manure and water in well.

If you want to have sweet peas next year but didn’t get them sown in October another opportunity arises in January, preferably with some gentle heat (10 to 15 degrees C ) until they germinate. Keep an eye on October sown seedlings and pinch out the tip of the plant when it has grown two sets of leaves and this will encourage side shoots..

Jeremy Arthern

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