DARK AND DAMP DECEMBER DAYS
Garden activities have been a bit curtailed not only by the short days but also by too much rain. Temperatures are just fine for this time of year, but you should resist walking over the soil if it is wet. However some activities such as pruning my raspberries, currants, saskatoons and gooseberries can be done as the soil is firm and I can always add a mulch of compost to protect the surface.
As the festive season approaches priorities change as the needs of the Christmas tree for decorations takes precedent over the need to get my compost spread and dug in, at least as long as it is still wet outdoors.
It took me nearly three hours to find and clear up all the broken glass from my greenhouse, after the last gales in early December twisted the structure and shattered over a dozen panes of glass, spreading shards all over the garden. I will now need a dry fortnight as I will have to remove all the glass so I can bend the aluminium structure back into shape to allow the glass to fit in. I think my grape vines will be fine as recent frosty weather was just cold enough to harden the stems off without causing any injury. The greenhouse base will also need more strengthening as it came away from the breeze block base pulling out all my bolts. I have no chance of getting bored over Christmas and New Year as someone has got a wee reconstruction job to do. I don’t think Santa Clause will be bringing me a new greenhouse.
Dry weather is also necessary to allow me to spray my peach tree with fungicide to prevent peach leaf curl. Previous sprays of Bordeaux mixture last spring together with a warm dry summer really helped to keep peach leaf curl at bay, but if wet weather continues it is very ready to reappear.
Anna has been busy in the kitchen making a festive spiced pumpkin soup with one of our confused pumpkin courgette hybrids. Saving your own seeds from that huge perfect pumpkin is not always a bright idea if it just happens to be growing next to some really good courgettes. However the flesh has been great with not so many seeds, but the outer skin was a bit tougher than normal.
The resultant soup was delicious.
Not much happening up at City Road other than finishing off the pruning and tying in the raspberries, (with a running knot) and tying the bramble Helen back onto my shed wall.
Digging continues as long as it is dry enough or the soil surface has some frost on it.
Mild days in late autumn and early winter has allowed a lot of leafy vegetables to keep growing. I have any amount of salads still very tender and as yet unaffected by cold weather. To pick a tender outdoor lettuce in December is quite a feat. Other leafy vegetables such as Swiss chard and kale for stir frying are also plentiful, and cauliflowers for hearting up next spring are really quite big. Spring cabbage April has started to heart up and some could be used now, but we have not even started on the January Kings as we are trying to finish off the autumn cabbage.
Brassicas have been very successful this year as I mostly grew clubroot resistant varieties.
Care had to be taken when clearing up leaves in the flower borders as most bulbs have started growing and many have young tips showing above soil surface level. As soon as all the leaves are off my coloured stem winter border it will get a compost mulch before the bulbs put on any more growth. The garden is still surprising us with flowers still unaffected by winter weather. Climbing rose Iceberg had some brilliant flowers out in mid December, and Irish bell heather Daboecia is a mass of small white tubular flowers. However I still wait on my Jasmine and Hellebore to show a bit of flower. My three year old Amaryllis which I fed and watered all summer before drying it off to ripen up the bulbs has now burst into growth and is showing four flower spikes. I have kept it very pot bound and it seems to have worked. Hopefully the flowers will open in January.
Plant of the week
Irish Bell Heather, Daboecia cantabrica comes in pink and white colours. The tubular flowers open in summer and autumn, but this year they have continued well into winter. This heather is evergreen and grows in all soils but prefers full sun for flowering. This low growing heather is quite dense so makes a terrific ground cover plant for the low maintenance garden. I grow mine in a mixed drift heather garden next to azaleas and a specimen white stemmed birch in the middle for effect.