Paul Peacock - Mr Digwell

December is an important month in the garden, and it is great working next to Robins and various wildlife skittering in and out of the garden in search of food. Lately there have been a lot of Long Tailed Tits stopping by for a chat.

Soil

It’s been hard work in the rain and cold, but ridging the vegetable bed is an important way of helping the soil. Essentially it allows a greater area of soil to be exposed to the elements and therefore to break down naturally. Also, the action of the rain brings nitrates back into the soil – did you know that by ridging you can increase the amount of nitrates in the soil? It is one of the reasons why farmers leave the land ploughed, it improves the fertility of the soil!

Buddleia

Now I have a bit of a problem. I have a Buddleia which needs cutting, but it is in constant use. On the wall of the cottage there is a bird feeder and the birds come and sit in the bush before taking their turn on the feeder! But the problem is this: in order to maintain a really good bush it has to be cut back. If I do it will come back next year with no trouble. But if I don’t it will just become a straggling mess. Out come the pruning shears I’m afraid. I just hope that the birds won’t mind and will still come to the feeder!

Once cut back, I will mulch the base, after clearing away any weeds there may be. You can give it a serious haircut, cutting it back to around 30 cm (1 ft) from the ground. The buds will burst into life in the Spring and the bush will be just as tall as it was last year, but the flowers will be better.

Bare rooted trees

I like to prepare the ground a few weeks prior to planting because this gives the soil a chance to rest. Dig a large hole and half fill it with 50% well-rotted manure and 50% compost and then refill in with your dug out soil. In a couple of weeks you can plant in this mixture.

Don’t forget to support your new trees with a stake and make sure it is really firm. After a week or so you can revisit the newly planted trees and heel them in. This is important because rocking trees do not do well, it troubles new root growth.

Potatoes

Start potatoes! Yes! Start potatoes – not many, just a few. Pop them in a box of compost and keep frost free. In the New Year they can be planted into a frost free greenhouse or polytunnel and ignored, so you have, by Easter, something of a crop – assuming Easter falls in May! Use First Early varieties; these are the only ones that will work in this way. Give them a little water, not too much, and they will surprise you.

Dahlias

Early dahlias are fun to try. If you wrapped your tubers in newspaper and popped them under the stairs – it always was under the stairs for us, but any frost free place is good, then you can try planting some of them in the warm, in large pots of good compost. If you have a conservatory, this is the ideal place. Give them a little water and they will flower in May or early June.

This is the first ever gardening I did as a boy, both my father and grandfather were wild about dahlias, perhaps it was the ten guineas they almost invariably won at the flower show that was the interest. Back then it was almost a month’s wages!

General

Make sure that, every morning, you air the greenhouse – especially if you are actively growing in it. This way the chances of damping off and other fungal infections are reduced.

If you have a rockery, with fairly delicate plants, take some time to remove excess water so they are not broken up by the constant freezing and refreezing. Most alpines are fairly hardy, after all it is fairly cold living up in the mountains where many of them come from, but they do not like to be cold and wet.

Bring strawberries into the greenhouse for forcing. If you want brilliant fruits for Wimbledon, then cloche your strawberries and keep them warm. But to provide fruit even earlier – get them indoors in large pots.

It is also a good time to force rhubarb. We used to dig up the roots and leave them to overwinter on the surface but if you bring a couple indoors, pop them in a large box of compost (I use an old brood box from a beehive) and let them grow in the warm, you will get early rhubarb.

Work if you haven’t already done it includes:

  • Cleaning everything – disinfect tools, pots, work surfaces, greenhouse glass, water butts.
  • Turn the compost heap and insulate the thing so it doesn’t lose too much heat in the winter.
  • Dig out the borders for new bedding, and give onion and carrot beds for next year a really fine loamy soil by plenty of hoeing.
  • Manure potato beds.
  • Go round the garden firming in so the wind doesn’t rock the life from them.
  • Spend 15 minutes of each day, peeping out of the door of the shed or greenhouse, feeling good to be alive.

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

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.

Cat

We regularly post gardening tips on the Primrose Facebook page. Here is a selection of the best ones from last month.

wedding-meCat works in the marketing team and is responsible for online marketing, social media and the newsletter.

She spends most of her time reading about a variety of interesting facts, such as oddly named Canadian towns, obscure holidays and unusual gardening.

She mostly writes about Primrose news and current events.

Gardening Year, How To, Paul Peacock - Mr Digwell

Mr Digwell writes for us regularly so you can work on your garden at the right time. He also answers your gardening questions.

His September post was focusing on the garden as a whole, but he also has many tips for vegetable planting in September, especially with those that can be harvested in the winter. Here is what he suggests:

Continue Reading

Flowers, Gardening, Gardening Year, Guest Posts, Insects, Paul Peacock - Mr Digwell, Pest Control

Here’s hoping for a pavement-cracking Indian Summer, where the weather causes us to sleep in the garden around mountainous flowers of every colour and aroma. We need a good rest in the garden after that summer, and are we going to get one? Probably not! Besides, there is plenty to do in the garden in September, and plenty to admire too.

For a start, our lilies are finally going to explode into bloom. It seems they have held themselves back over the last few weeks, staying in bed I suppose, and who can blame them?
Lily about to burst into flower
I always wait with bated breath for them to open, because they are so beautiful – even though I don’t like the smell. They are perfect in form, and I spend the whole summer protecting them from the rain and the lily beetle.

I find the best way to deal with the lily beetle, which nibbles its way through flowers and leaves and causes a mess, is by hand – looking out for them. But you have to be careful! One touch and the bright red beetles fall over on to their backs, leaving nothing but a jet black underside which is almost impossible to see.

When the flowers have finished it will be time to divide up the bulbs for next year. I grow my lilies in pots, and every third year I take them out and divide them up by simply pulling them apart. It’s an easy job – the new bulbs simply pull away from the old. You can either wrap them in newspaper and keep them in a frost-free place until spring, or pop them into new compost in new pots.

If you are growing them in pots, as with all plants really, you need to be sure they are not waterlogged in winter, and kept protected from frost. A pot is not so good an insulator as the rest of the garden, and a plant will not survive the same. I take mine into an unheated greenhouse, and maybe, if the temperature is minus 18 again as it was over the last two years, I might give them a little heat, just to keep the plants around 1 degree or so.

September is also a good time to attempt structural changes around the garden when the weather is still warm enough to get into the soil and there is not much chance of freezing to death out there. (That said, I bet we have snow! It was snowing on my birthday in 1957 at the end of September!)

I have finally sorted the huge holly bush that was taking away so much light, and threatening the roof of the house and the telephone line. If you are going to try to take large branches out of the garden, the thing to do is to tie them with stout rope to the next branch, or something sturdy. That way, when you have sawn through it, the branch will not fall onto something.

This whole area was covered in holly - soon to be an English cottage garden
This whole area was covered in holly – soon to be an English cottage garden

Never, ever saw at something whilst on a ladder, and if there is the tiniest amount of doubt you can do the job safely, get the professionals in to do it. The cost is well worth avoiding injury.

I now have a great space, vacated by the holly bush, in which I am going to plan an English cottage garden, but this takes time. So I will make up the beds – once I have cleared it of roots and stock it with winter bedding.

I am in a mind for delphiniums, agapanthus, flowering alliums and a few dahlias. Actually, it was a toss up between a cottage garden and an old fashioned dahlia garden, and I would love to hear from anyone who still grows dahlias in the traditional way. You can contact me via my Ask the Expert page.
Verbena - magical in the rain
September should be time for lawn maintenance, but this year, because of all the rain and therefore all the moss, I am hanging out a bit. If you scrape all the moss away in September, and this goes for this year only, you will only get more moss by the time spring comes along. So this year I am going to give the lawn a good cut (if it’s not too wet) and then a good spiking with a garden fork. Make holes half an inch in diameter and about six inches deep. This will improve air getting to choked up grass roots.

In the spring, give the lawn a good scrape with the grass rake, and over sow!

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

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 involved in an inner city program in Manchester which aims to encourage people to grow their own food whether they have a garden, an allotment, or even a balcony, as well as leading a co-operative initiative to train city dwellers to keep bees on allotments and gardens

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.

Share!