When I was a small child I always thought the plants, the birds and wildlife in the garden were all celebrating Christmas just like the rest of us. The sprouts were just waiting to be picked, knowing they were special; the new potatoes in the bucket were honoured by being pampered in the greenhouse just for this special day. As if they were all a little like the Magi, journeying through the months ready to worship the New Born King on our Christmas dinner plates.
If you have sprouts in the garden, take a bowl out with some ice in it, and cut the buds off into this. They will remain tight and unblown. Sometimes we forget, pick enough for a few days of feasting, and by Christmas morning, their leaflets have loosened.
Parsnips, our longest growing vegetable in the garden, are at their best following a frost, and this year we have had a week or so of cold – they should be really fine. Collect them on Christmas morning, top and tail them and give them a jolly good wash. Microwave and then add butter – I could eat just them alone!
I always try to grow some baby carrots in sandy tubs for Christmas, and, if you have some, just run them under the tap to get rid of the grit – it is amazing how grit gets everywhere, and you don’t want it in your gravy! I always add the carrot water to the gravy – especially since I give them an extra knob of butter to boil in – you get an ever so rich gravy that way.
Traditionally, Christmas is a time for sowing onions, so if you want a couple of hours away from the madness of Boxing Day, pop off to the shed and sow your next year’s stock. I always sow them in a large wooden box of compost, (far too many according to the books, but they tease apart really easily) and transplant in the late Spring.
I do hope you get something ‘gardening’ for Christmas. Last year someone bought me a kneeler – and boy, is it useful. I can now get down to basics on my hands and knees without messing my trousers and I don’t get so tired.
One last thing for the kids is to grow your pineapple tops. If you have a fresh pineapple this Christmas, tease back the leaves to find some buds. Carefully pull them out and plant them in small pots of compost and keep them warm. Of the ten buds you find, five will grow, and then next year you will have some pineapple plants to give to a favourite aunt for Christmas. They are handsome and unusual little house plants.
Do have a wonderful holiday and don’t forget, when you are eating your Christmas Dinner – are the birds topped up with wild bird food? After all, it’s their Christmas too.
Merry Christmas from me and all of the team at Primrose!
Our Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is looking at the consequences of restricting the use of imadacloprid, the most widely used insecticide in the world. A series of publications appeared in 2012 bringing the severe impact of this insecticide to light. Over the past few weeks the media have latched on to this and discussion is building around the idea to ban this particular pesticide. The current debate centralises on the impacts for farmers and the chemical companies which profit from pesticide production.
What is imadacloprid?
Imadacloprid is a chemical insecticide known as a neonicitinoid. This toxin was selected for its purpose as it is more toxic to insects than to mammals. It irreversibly blocks insect nervous systems causing paralysis and death. It is applied and injected into plants and soil in many different ways, as a seed treatment, and in liquid or granular form. As it is systemic, once taken up by roots it can be transported to all parts of the plant. Thus any insect visitor can become poisoned via feeding on pollen or nectar. Imadacloprid builds up in the soil year on year, with many crops being treated multiple times a year.
Why should I care about bees?
As most people know pollinators such as bees are vital for food production. Bumblebees are our most efficient pollinator and for a range of reasons their populations have been falling. Starvation and habitat loss due to insufficient food sources are frequently cited as major factors, but pesticide misuse is clearly one of the biggest issues that need to be overcome if we want to bring back the sound of Summer.
What can I do?
There is a lot you can do in your own garden to help boost bumblebee numbers. By planting colourful pollinator-friendly plants throughout the Spring and Summer you can attract bees and butterflies. When buying plants check with your garden centre to find out if they’ve used neonicitinoids. We sell a selection of pollinator friendly plants in our plants section and as Spring draws near we will be letting you know more about what plants are best to help you create a wildlife garden.
It took ten years from the publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring until DDT was banned in the US in 1972. DDT was a chemical pesticide used in large quantities regardless of a lack of a full understanding on its harmful impacts on ecology and human health, and was not banned in The UK until 1984. The toxicity of imadacloprid has resulted in both France and Germany banning the use of the toxin, and The UK is now under pressure to take action too.
I’m getting tired of writing about the weather – and I dare say you are getting tired of reading about it. Besides, there are so many jobs to get on with we won’t have time to pause for breath, and it all starts with my favourite plants – Dahlias!
Likely as not, frost will hit us sometime in October, and this marks the end of the dahlia season. It is time to lift, divide and store them for the winter.
You will need some sulphur powder for this job, and a sharp knife.
Cut down the plants and carefully dig up the tubers with a garden fork. Wash them clean and dry them with an old towel.
You will have a stem with lots of tubers that look rather like fat fingers. With a sharp knife, cut the fingers away at the base.
Dust the cut surfaces with sulphur powder and then wrap the lot in newspaper – lots of layers, and store them in a frost-free place until spring.
For perfect runner beans next year, now is the time to start a trench. Dig a trench that is around 18 inches deep. Mark it so you don’t fall down it and pile the soil along the side of the trench. Over the coming weeks, fill 3/4 full with vegetable matter – kitchen waste, potato peelings etc, but no gravy or meat, and when there is about 6 inches free space, top up with the soil leaving a little mound.
The vegetable material in the trench will rot and create heat, and it is amazing how long this heat lasts. It will give your plants a good start when you get to sowing, or transplanting in the spring. Actually, I sow in late February, covering the area with a cloche, protecting the seedlings from cold and rain and giving them a head start in their warm soil.
Roses have had a torrid summer and some of this can be alleviated now. Take cuttings of new growth and place them in compost – say 5 per six inch pot. Remove the lower leaves and cover with a plastic bag and around 60% at least will root, giving new plants for next year. Keep them in a frost free place, I use the polytunnel, and this is heated a little when the weather gets really bad.
Transplant them in April into a larger pot – 8 inches per plant will do, and give them generous water and feed every month. Plant them out next October.
This method is ideal for climbers and bush types where the root stock is not important – and don’t be too careful, I have had great results simply chopping at climbers with shears to control them, and using the most likely ones for cuttings.
The real promise of a summer of colour and fragrance is sown now: Sweet Peas! The best are sown in October, and I sow mine in pots and keep them in a cool greenhouse until spring, when they are transplanted as small plants. They get such a good start this way, rather than sowing them in spring. If you are in a sheltered area, spend some time preparing the soil, so they can grow rapidly in a nutrient rich soil – give them plenty of rotted manure. Plants that have to make lots of colour or aroma need a lot of nutrients, and this rule holds true for any plant.
Furry plants need protecting from frost – if you have furry leaves in the rock garden (sempervivums and so on), they need to be covered. If you can get a cloche in place, all well and good, but sometimes you need a sheet of plastic held down as firmly as you can, or a covering of straw held down with plastic.
Making a good hedge is an October job because these shrubs take well if planted now. I recently made a hedge of blackthorn, berberis, mahonia – each planted about a foot apart, in a slight zigzag. As they grow, I train them into each other and, having made a backing fence of stout garden wire attached to stakes, I will tie them into their supports. Once they are in place, they need little looking after and are particularly good at living together. Mahonia especially is very colourful and makes for a super autumnal display.
In the vegetable garden it is time to take down the asparagus fronds. Don’t let the fronds settle on the ground, but cut them off and bring them away to the compost heap. This will keep the asparagus beetle at bay next year. I give them a mulch of compost and well rotted manure mixed at 50-50 proportions, and they seem to come on a treat using this regime. Here’s to next June!!!
Plant out cabbage ‘All Year Round’ and cover with a cloche. This way you will get cabbages right through the winter that look good. It’s one thing being able to actually get this variety to grow in Winter, it’s quite another to get great specimens. The wet wind plays havoc with them, and they soon look messy. A cloche will do the trick!
Don’t forget to earth up your leeks against the winter storms and go round heeling in the shrubs and young trees to make sure they are really firm in their beds before they get rocked about by the Winter weather, like a dentist pulling a tooth!
Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.
He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.
Today we went on a wildlife hunt in our garden but the only luck we had was getting a snap of a bee on our sunflowers. Not to be discouraged with finding so little besides the bee and our usual feathered companions we took the search further even looking for those pesky slimy plant munching pests aka slugs and snails, the idea being that we could see who found the biggest but my boys soon lost interest.
Venturing beyond the garden we took a walk to our local loch, bread in hand in hope of seeing the pair of swans which frequent it alongside the ducks. After trekking up to it battling endless hills (my town is built on hills and I’m sure everywhere we seem to go is an uphill climb) then having a little break to play in the local park we finally arrived at the loch ready to see some wildlife at last but the swans weren’t there!
Thoroughly disappointed we threw the bread in anyway. My boys looked as downcast and downtrodden as the photographer next to us who must’ve trekked all that way for a picture to leave empty handed. The reason for the swans’ absence is perhaps the amount of dog walkers around because our local swans aren’t too keen on dogs at all.
Not wanting to see my boys so unhappy I decided we were not leaving until they got to see something… anything! After carefully explaining to them to get comfy, stay still and stay quiet we all waited patiently. It wasn’t long before something started moving among the reeds then ventured out for a nose, my boys were delighted! It wasn’t the swans but a collection of wee birds (I think it could be a moorhen and maybe it’s young?) we watched them run along the water and were rewarded with one of them coming up for a close look at us.
Finally my boys were happy and we set out for home managing to get a picture of a lovely butterfly on the way. Tired from our wildlife hunt we reached our gate and were just about heading upstairs to our house when my neighbour shouted us. Curious we followed her into her garden and my boys kneeled down to look where she was pointing. Lo and behold there was a wee toad! Needless to say it made their day and ended our adventure with me thinking that maybe we should’ve just asked our neighbour for a look round her garden instead!