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Garden Notes 29 Nov 2023 Days are shortening, nights are colder, but there's still plenty to do!

Garden Notes:

At last everything calms down, and, for the real fanatics, catalogues and dreaming of next spring are the order of the day. The last lettuce has bolted, the first frosts have nobbled the dahlias, and at least/at last the lawn mower can be cleaned and put away for quite a while.

You may think it’s too late to plant spring bulbs, but, as long as the soil isn’t frozen stiff or soggily wet, many should be fine. In the past, I’ve planted daffodils and tulips as late as January, and they still came up on time and flowered a treat. Whatever you do, don’t plant them in lines, but in randomised clumps: grab a handful, throw them in the air, and plant them where they land, three times the depth of each bulb. With daffs, it really does look better not to plant mixtures, but rather a lot of one sort, and, in many gardens, small varieties like “Tête-à-Tête” or “Minnow” work better than the big trumpety ones. I’m also not convinced that “mixes” don’t contain bulbs not good enough to be planted otherwise. For a change try some little species tulips, like Tulipa clusiana (white) or kaufmanniana (red). All these small bulbs look especially good in amongst other plants, herbaceous or shrubby, in your garden beds. After flowering let their leaves die down naturally (please don’t tie up daffodil leaves in little knots, it looks hideous!). The rapid growth of other things during spring will soon hide them as they fade away, and, in any case, the leaves need to die off naturally to help feed the bulb before it becomes dormant in the summer.

Now is the classic time to plant bare root roses. It takes a bit more care than planting pot-grown bushes, but bare root are cheaper. I’ve just planted a bush of “Scent from Heaven”, an apricot-orange short climber (to about 8ft/2.5m), which has a long flowering season as well as its wonderful perfume: it was “Rose of the Year” in 2017. Next summer it will grow up through a viticella clematis and clash very nicely with that climber’s small purple flowers. (My entire front garden is a clash of colours but nobody’s died of it yet!) Although everything else is looking droopy after recent frosts, Salvia “Royal Bumble” is still going strong – it’s been flowering since June, despite last winter’s frost killing more than half of it. The deep scarlet flowers just go on and on, and it doesn’t simper, unlike that ubiquitous “Hot Lips”.

December is also a good month for planting winter broad beans (to harvest next May), onions, garlic, and some tough varieties of lettuce such as “Winter Gem”, specially bred to cope with low temperatures, can be sown now (preferably in a cold frame). If you have a heated propagator, this is also as good a time as any to get chillies and aubergines going. Greenhouse or indoor warmth will also help with seeds of sweet peas (preferably sown in cardboard tubes to minimise root disturbance when planting out in the spring), things like bedding snapdragons (antirrhinum), and the half-hardy geraniums we should call pelargoniums. With the latter you can also keep this year’s plants going through the winter in a frost-free place (mine survive in the garage), watered very sparingly. They look pathetic by the spring, but recover amazingly.

In spite of all the above, winter is the time to do lots of thinking about next year’s garden and/or allotment. Plot, dream, scour catalogues and the internet, accompanied, of course, by suitable amounts of tea or something stronger. Above all, have a rest!

[article by committee member Nick Clapton]

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