Tag Archive: christmas


Make your own Christmas Wreath?

Make your own Christmas Wreath?

December’s key gardening tasks may seem a little like November’s (and January’s too). But it’s important to be determined and to keep on top of some routine jobs, especially leaf raking (and leaf mould making), and clearing away spent stems and leaves from areas where, if left, they will encourage pests and diseases (but don’t be too tidy). On the other hand, the pace of activity has definitely slowed, so you can afford to take it a bit easier this month (well I  suppose that should read transferring your energies from gardening to christmas shopping, putting up christmas decorations etc.).

Here are a few ideas to help you stay connected to your garden during the onset of winter.

1. Digging (and mulching)

Continue to dig over beds and borders and incorporate as much organic matter as you can (spade work in heavier soils, or border forks in lighter soils like that in Old School Garden). This will not only help to prepare the soil for next year, it will reduce some pests by exposing them to hungry birds. If conditions are too wet or the ground frozen, avoid digging and instead spread a good layer of organic mulch- and let the worms do the work for you over the winter.

2. Clearing

It’s important to clear away old plant debris to prevent slugs and snails setting up home in the warm and damp conditions layers of leaves and stems can create.  Take special care to remove leaves around alpines – they will die if covered up in damp material. It’s also worth covering bare patches around these plants with a top up of gritty compost to aid new growth. But don’t be too tidy as you’ll remove valuable cover and shelter for hibernating animals and insects.

3. Planting

From now through until March is a great time to plant deciduous hedging (bare – rooted whips can be bought from nurseries). Some varieties – Beech and Hornbeam for example –  will retain their old leaves over the winter, and provide good screens. Hawthorn is good for a traditional country hedge and provides a natural, dense barrier (you can add in dogwoods, maple, dog rose and guelder rose to increase the wildlife value). To plant hedging first dig a trench a week or two before planting. This will allow the soil to settle. Then plant out your whips when the ground is moist (but not waterlogged or frozen). If the right conditions are a little while coming either ‘heel in’ your plants somewhere temporarily or keep them in compost in containers. Other trees and shrubs can also be planted – but again, wait for the right conditions.

It’s also a good time to take cuttings from rhododendrons, azaleas, and other evergreen shrubs. New growing tips should be cut to about 10-15 cms long, just below a leaf node, strip off most of the lower leaves and place the cuttings in pots of gritty compost in bright light, keep them moist and at a temperature of around 21 degrees C.

Hedeg planting- now's the time to get started

Hedge planting- now’s the time to get started

4. Protecting

Mulch Hellebores with wood chips to protect their flowers from rain splashes and remove any black spotted leaves (a fungal disease).

Lift any Dahlias in potentially cold and wet positions and store them in a gritty compost or vermiculite somewhere dry, cool but frost-free for the winter. It’s best to leave these (and any begonias you want to keep) in the ground for as long as possible to fatten their tubers- lift after the foliage has been blackened by frost.

Keep an eye on temperatures and if there’s a sudden drop forecast, then erect a temporary cover for tender flowering plants like Rhododendrons, Camellias, Azaleas and Daphne. A few stakes driven into the soil around the plant and a covering of fleece or a sheet should do the job. But make sure the material doesn’t touch the plant and remove the cover as soon as the temperature rises.

Avoid your hose freezing and splitting by stretching it out with both ends open, so allowing water to drain completely. It can then be coiled up and put away somewhere frost free. Likewise make sure any outside taps are covered to protect them from freezing.

Prevent your compost bin from getting too wet or frozen (and so slowing the decomposition process), by covering it with old carpet or plastic sheeting.

5. Decorating

Why not cut some shoots and branches for Christmas decorations and maybe make your own wreaths? Add in cones, dried orange slices, cinnamon sticks, and broad, wired ribbon.

If you normally have an artificial or cut Christmas tree, why not consider buying a rooted one this year? They don’t cost that much more and can be planted out to add a feature to your garden as well as saving a living tree! Make sure that you water a living tree well before bringing it inside and limit the tree’s ‘indoor holiday’ to no more than 10 days, making sure you keep it watered and ideally not in a warm room. Here’s a link to advice on caring for your tree.

A living Christmas Tree this year? In some places you can rent them!

A living Christmas Tree this year? In some places you can rent them!

6. Feeding

Now’s when birds start to go short of natural food, so provide good quality bird food and fat or suet balls, ensuring that feeders are out of the reach of cats. And make sure clean water is available and remains unfrozen.

7. Pruning- or not

Have a quick whisk round trees and shrubs and cut out dead, diseased or dying branches. The spurs on smaller fruit trees can be thinned out, and new horizontal tiered branches on Espaliers can be tied in. Apples, pears, quinces and medlars can be pruned. Cut down the canes of Autumn fruiting raspberries (or leave these in place until February if they are in an exposed position) and prune gooseberries, red and white currants.

Now is the time for coppicing native trees and shrubs. This technique is good for limiting the size of trees in small gardens, turning a tree into a multi-stemmed shrub. It will also provide shelter for wildlife and a breeding ground for butterflies, and lets more light through to the surrounding plants that would otherwise be shaded out by a bigger tree. This opens up the possibility of planting bulbs and ground cover plants around the tree.  Pollarding involves pruning to create a single main trunk, with cutting back of higher level stems. If you are growing shrubs for winter stem colour- e.g Cornus, then wait until spring to cut back the stems to the base.

Avoid cutting back all your perennials as they can provide food and shelter for wildlife in the winter. Anyway, many perennials (e.g. Agapanthus and Rudbeckia) have attractive seed heads and so add a little interest to the winter garden. I particularly like to leave the bleached stems of deciduous grasses in Old School Garden.

8. Harvesting

If you have them, these crops should all be ready for harvesting:

  • Beetroot

  • Turnips

  • Parsnips (best left until the weather has been frosty)

  • Brussels sprouts

  • Celery

  • Swedes

  • Cabbages

  • Leeks

9. Watering

Rain or snow might tempt you to think you don’t need to water your plants, but those which are growing underneath large evergreens or the eaves of the house or in other ‘rain shadows’, may become very dry. A lack of water in winter can be the death knell for these plants.

10. Winter projects

The weather may be good enough for you to complete a special project to enhance your garden:

  • Add a few native trees and shrubs into your borders and more exotic plantings

  • Build a compost heap – use old pallets to get the cheapest, most effective and sturdiest result

  • Feed hedgehogs with tinned dog food (but not bread and milk)

  • ‘Create’ a pile of sticks and logs to make a wonderful ‘des res’ for hibernating hedgehogs and the like

  • Make a leaf container out of chicken wire and posts to make leaf mould out of fallen leaves (it normally takes about 1 – 2 years to rot down). Alternatively they can be stored wet in large black plastic sacks pierced with a fork to make holes

  • Dig a wildlife pond

Oh, and finally, stay off frozen grass!!!

Old School Gardener

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I said I’d post up a few pictures of how Blickling is handling Christmas this year. In short, the outside lighting and house decorations are the best ever.There were even outposts serving mulled wine and mince pies, horse-drawn carriage rides and some merry musical entertainment from a brass band and hurdy gurdy player. And of course there’s a range of festive-themed crafts on sale. In case you can’t experience it for yourself, here’s a selection of shots I took. Enjoy.

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Old School Gardener

WP_20151220_15_37_30_ProI wrote about my last working session at Blickling a couple of days ago. I thought I’d add one further post about our visit to the place on Sunday, to see how staff and volunteers had dressed it for Christmas; especially the house. The theme- ‘Putting on the Glitz’, a return to the inter war years of stellar dinner parties, silverware and champagne cascades…

WP_20151220_15_35_35_ProWe were impressed (and smiled widely) as we did the normal tour route of the house… to see a wonderful rendition of a Lord Lothian Christmas complete with costumed staff (and celebrities), dinner menu and place cards and a wonderful range of floral displays. Here’s a gallery of some of the best bits…well done staff and volunteers, you did the place proud, celebrating 75 years since the house was given to the National Trust by Lord Lothian.

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I hope that your Christmas is glitzy too!

 

WP_20151220_16_42_59_ProFurther Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

 

Chard providing a bit of winter colour in the walled garden

Chard providing a bit of winter colour in the walled garden

In the last visit to Blickling before Christmas we had only a morning session followed by a wonderful Christmas buffet lunch where all the gardeners and Thursday volunteers shared a lovely spread in the education room.

Digging over the parterre border

Digging over the parterre border

The morning’s work began with the ladies going off to dig over the long border by the parterre (you may recall we chopped down the spent growth here a week or two ago). Fellow volunteer Peter and I helped gardener Jane (newly returned from a birdwatching holiday in Australia) in tidying up (yet more) leaves. This was a case of loading up from a big pile, rather than blowing like last time. Oh, and I discovered that we volunteers will not be able to use any machinery in future unless we have been on an accredited course, so it may be my flirtation with the various bits of kit here is a brief one!

After an hour of leaf loading (they were rather wet and heavy so my arms and shoulders were beginning to ache), Peter and I headed off to the Walled Garden.

Project Manager Mike was already here. I hadn’t been in the walled garden for a few weeks and it was pleasing to see the progress and to hear of Mike’s plans for the New Year.

Taking shape- metal posts awaiting fixing alongside the main paths- they will carry a selection of apples and pears trained as fans or espaliers

Taking shape- metal posts awaiting fixing alongside the main paths- they will carry a selection of apples and pears trained as fans or espaliers

Mike himself was just finishing off hole digging for the last of many metal posts that will carry wires and a selection of apples and pears grown as fans or espaliers. Mike told me that a local apple growing project had managed to identify all of the different apple varieties growing on the walls, some of which were not as currently labelled! He’s still pondering whether to put up wooden battens to fix new wires here, but as this is not normal or historic practice, thinks it might be a case of fixing vine eyes directly into the walls.

Some of the metal path edging is in now but contractors will be finishing this off in the New Year. It also looks like the drainage is all in place. I mentioned in an earlier post that money has been secured to fit out a new gardeners’ bothy (though Mike is having second thoughts about a wood burner in here as he doesn’t want it to be too comfortable!). And the refurbishment of the second big greenhouse is also planned for early in the New Year.

So, having got the low down on everything, Peter and I set about trench digging for the wooden edging boards that will be used in some of the more minor cross paths in the growing areas. These oak boards and pegs had already been prepared by the ‘Wednesday Volunteers’ and they smelled lovely stacked up outside the bothy- in- waiting.

My trench with Peter in the background, preparing for oak edging boards.

My trench with peter in the background, preparing for oak edging boards.

It took me about 45 minutes to finish one trench, just long enough to take me up to that Christmas Lunch. It was a nice event, with Head Gardener Paul thanking us all for our efforts during the year. As well as receiving a Christmas ‘thank you’ card from all of the gardening team, we each took away a bottle of wine and a bag of apples that Mike had gathered from the walled garden. A nice touch.

Oak boards and pegs awaiting installation

Oak boards and pegs awaiting installation

I can’t believe that it’s nearly a year since I began volunteering here; a year which has been a joy.

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

 

We attended a couple of carol services at St. Agnes’ Church in Cawston, recently, and were bowled over by the floral displays put together by local resident Lynne Fairchild.

Old School Gardener

IMG-20151203-WA0002O.K. it’s me in there (captured by my wife on one of her walks)…and yes, it isn’t Ghostbusting (as my daughter suggested), but rather leaf blowing at Blickling this week!

The ladies were put to work helping the tidy up before the big Christmas events here at the Hall, and Peter, Ed and I were set to clearing the main roads and verges of some rather wet and in some places, deeply laying leaves. With the Oaks still holding on to their foliage it will be some weeks before all the leaf litter is down and can be cleared away for another year. But it was well worth doing this little bit of work to protect the grass and help to tidy up the paths and roads around the Hall.

WP_20151203_10_41_45_ProEd took me through the machine for the day – a very powerful petrol-powered back pack blower which was a bit on the heavy side, especially after a couple of hours! But, moving in a line, Peter, Ed (who had an even more powerful trolley blower) and I managed to get the leaves ready for Ed to bring round the tractor with a powerful vacuum cleaner attachment to suck up and shred the leaves ready for dumping on the leaf mould pile.

I know the use of this sort of powered leaf collection is not very environmentally friendly, but the sheer scale of the job here at Blickling (as with so many of the gardening tasks) requires this sort of kit to get anywhere in a reasonable amount of time. Still, I salved my conscience a day or two later with some manual leaf raking and dumping in my newly created leaf mould bay at Old School Garden!

WP_20151203_15_47_48_ProThe run up to Christmas with Blickling  ‘Putting on the Glitz’ is starting to come together, and we also helped lift furniture in the courtyard where a fire pit, lanterns and other features look set to create wonderful centre piece. Staff and volunteers have been out decorating the Acorn Yews in the Parterre Garden and the traditional avenue of illuminated Christmas Trees looks wonderful once more. This year there is even a ‘Christmas Tree’ alight on the island in the lake.

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

 

sticks and succulents

I wish all my blog followers a very Happy Christmas, and thank you for taking the trouble to look at my site!

Old School Gardener

 

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