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As the days get shorter and the winter solstice approaches, spending time outside happens less and less. This is the time to take stock of how your garden is working for you, and consider any changes you’d like to make in time for spring. Mind you, it might seem as though you’re working for the garden rather than the other way around, with mowing, trimming and tidying taking more time than you’d like, so if you’d like to change that, it’s worth considering some improvements to your garden layout and planting.
There must be few things as rewarding as looking after the birds in your garden. This garden has lots to attract them, and as I write a glossy blackbird is lunching on the bright red pyracantha berries outside the kitchen window. Goldfinches, blue tits and sparrows are jostling for space at the bird feeder, occasionally swooping down to the water bowl. The wise little robin – my absolute favourite – who doesn’t love the robin? – has just landed on the edge of the raised bed, where the snowdrops will be showing in a few week’s time, and eyed me through the window, as though to say, “I know you’re talking about me”.
As the mucky season is well and truly upon us, what better time to talk about the very best kind of muck – homemade compost?
Beautiful garden blooms are thin on the ground at this time of year, so this week I thought we might consider one of the most unusual of them – the Christmas rose. Not a rose in the usual sense, it’s a member of the hellebore family, and its botanical name is Helleborus niger. Many keen gardeners will be familiar with its cousin, Helleborus orientalis, whose speckled, drooping flowers are amongst the earliest to bloom in January and February, and which is commonly known as the Lenten Rose. While the Lenten Rose typically has petals from cream and yellow to pink, purple and dusky plum, the Christmas rose’s flowers are usually pure white, beautifully set off by golden stamens and large, sturdy leaves of deepest green.
I’ve noticed when discussing garden plans with clients that there’s a lot of confusion about mulch – what is it, do you need it and how much do you need? It’s not that hard really, and it makes sense when you consider what mulch is for and what it does.
Fancy some flaming autumn colour in the garden? This is a good time to choose trees and shrubs for autumn leaf colour. The hot, sunny summer and mostly dry autumn have allowed deciduous plants to appear at their best this year, and you can view them in all their blazing glory till the leaves come down and they nod off to sleep for winter. Here are a few of my favourite picks for a bonfire blaze at this time of year, with something included for all garden sizes:
At an apple tasting in Cheshire recently, my eleven year old couldn’t get enough of the heritage varieties of apple being offered to visitors by a group of National Trust volunteers. Although delighted he was packing in his five a day in as many minutes, I couldn’t hide my surprise, as when offered an apple at home, he typically reacts as though I were trying to poison him. The difference, I suspected, was in the taste – confirmed when I nibbled a few samples myself.
The Acer palmatum, or Japanese maple, seems to be high on the wish list of trees for gardens and often when I meet clients to discuss their garden plans it’s one of the plants they’d like included. I’m not surprised as it’s such a pretty, elegant tree – but if you’d like to grow one there are a few things it’s useful to know.
A few weeks ago we spoke about the tiny, early spring bulbs that flower in late winter and at the very start of spring. This week let’s consider narcissi – known to most of us as daffodils. As a rule of thumb, the smaller the bulb and the earlier it flowers, the sooner you need to get it in the ground to allow root and shoot formation in time for the main event – blooming. It’s still a bit early for tulips as current advice is to plant them when it gets really cold – November or December is fine and you can even get away with planting them in January, as all but the early ones don’t flower till April or May.
If I asked you to name shrubs that flower in autumn, I wonder how many you could think of? I’d imagine many of us would struggle as a lot of our favourite garden shrubs tend to flower in spring and summer. Then you have the wonderfully scented winter blooming shrubs, daphnes, witch hazels and lots of other gorgeous things, but we tend to associate the autumn months with fruiting and berrying plants and those whose foliage gives us the spectacular display of gold, scarlet and copper. There are some shrubs that will offer you flower colour at this time of year though and its well worth finding room for one or three in your garden, to keep the flowering season going just that little bit longer. These three will look super alongside bright autumn foliage too. Here are a few to consider: