As the pace of jobs that have to be done slackens this is a good time to do some work on longer-term projects. I have, at last, done a job that I have been thinking about for several years. When we moved here many years ago we had a wilder area along the back of the T-shaped land at the bottom of the garden. Over recent years I have worked on this to change it to more of a spring garden and I now have a line of camellias flanked by hellebores and snowdrops with an area of long grass growing daffodils, bluebells and a patch of snake’s head fritillaries in front …At one end of this there is an L-shaped border which is still pretty unkempt. I had a go at tidying this up last year but this month I have had a good clearout and put in some new perennials and now it looks like a garden and a fitting place to host my statuette of April – a young girl sitting cross-legged and radiating calm.
I mentioned this last month but, if you grow vegetables, you may well have harvested most of the produce and there will be empty spaces calling for attention. This is the traditional time for winter digging (not double digging nowadays) but a “no digging” regime is becoming increasingly popular and this means hoeing the empty spaces to loosen the top soil and remove the weeds. If you still have root vegetables like parsnips or carrots in the ground they should be lifted and stored in dry soil or compost in a frost -free place. Many varieties of brassica (Cabbage family) and leeks will be ready for use now and in the coming winter months. Brassicas may need protection from marauding pigeons. You can sow broad beans for an early crop next year and you can try salad leaves in a heated greenhouse or on a windowsill indoors for cut- and- come- again use.
Most spring bulbs should have been planted by now but November is the best time for planting tulips either in the ground or in containers. You may still be able to buy bedding plants for winter and spring colour with pansies ( viola) the most popular.
Most plants can be bought in containers for planting at any time of the year but a good way, and the cheapest, is to buy bare-root plants now. The most likely to be available will be trees, roses and fruit bushes and canes. Prepare planting places with the addition of compost and don’t plant when the ground is water-logged or in freezing conditions. If mail-order plants are delivered when conditions are not good unpack them and heel them in, in a patch of loose soil. Soak the roots of freshly delivered plants for an hour or so before planting out. Trees will probably need to be staked to keep them growing upright. Summer-fruiting raspberries should be planted in a row with a stake at either end connected with two or three strands of strong wire. All newly planted plants will benefit from a good layer of mulch (kept away from the base of trunks or stems) and they should be well-watered. Keep plants regularly watered throughout the first year. During the last year or so we have had three trees planted by the Council on the verges opposite our house. The Council do come round and water them occasionally but not often enough. We kept the one nearest to us well watered and it is flourishing, but, of the two on the other side of the road which were not watered additionally, one is dead and the other not looking too healthy. If you have a newly-planted tree on the verge near you keep this in mind.
When the weather is wet or too cold for comfort remember that this is a good time for tidying up in a shed or greenhouse. Plants will grow better in a greenhouse with clean glass and hygienic conditions and it is quicker to find things in a tidy shed. This is advice I need to heed myself. While thinking about glass don’t ignore the advantages of having a cold frame which you can either buy or make fairly easily for yourself. A frame can provide winter protection for newly grown plants and is useful as a staging post for new plants that need hardening off before going to permanent positions. Alpines are plants that need to be kept out of the rain in winter to prevent rotting but, given good ventilation, doesn’t mind the cold.