December Gardening Advice

December 2nd, 2017 | News | 0 Comments

December is the month where we swap our garden wellies for festive frocks and a glass of something bubbly. As well as looking ahead to 2018, we should also take a moment to reflect over this year’s gardening achievements. What worked, what didn’t, and what could you do better next year?

Frost in Winter


Now is the time to retreat to a cosy nook, or settle down in front of a warm fire and armed with a laptop, seed catalogues, and pen and paper, start drawing up lists, and make seed orders for next year. Maybe think about re-designing your garden, building a greenhouse, or growing something new on the vegetable patch?

As the days get shorter, the temperature drops further. But remember, this month sees the shortest day of the year (Thursday 21st December), and after that, the days get longer, with the promise of spring on the horizon.


In the flower garden


If you haven’t done so already, there’s still time to move those pots and containers. If you don’t have a greenhouse, polytunnel, or shed, then group them together in a protected area of the garden. Also, try to keep them raised and off the frozen ground. If your containers are too heavy, think about wrapping horticultural fleece around your treasured shrub. Bubble plastic is another option, a wrapped potted plant won’t only benefit from the added warmth, but your expensive pot won’t crack from the frost.

Dahlia 'Karma Choc'Storing tubers

It’s not too late to lift and store dahlia tubers. By cutting the foliage to a couple of cms above the tuber, any foliage dieback won’t reach and damage the tuber. Before storing them in a cool, dark place, let them dry-out upside down for a few days in the greenhouse, to drain the last of the moisture. Brush off the excess dirt, and place them carefully into a protected box or crate. Sand or old newspaper makes good insulation, but ensure the tubers aren’t touching. Check them regularly for any sign of rot. Dispose of those accordingly.


As December rumbles on, you may want to consider pruning deciduous trees. With leaves now fallen the tree’s structure is clearly visible. Think about the three ‘Ds’: dead, damaged and diseased. Prune any branches that fall under these categories, but remember overall structure, and try not to prune too hard. As winter is a time of dormancy, many ‘sap’ based shrubs and trees, such as vines and acers, can also be pruned. It’s also time to start winter pruning wisteria. Ensure you cut summer side shoots back to no more than three buds.


New Chelsea roses 2017: 'Simple Yellow' (left), 'Margaret Greville' and 'Vanessa Bell'


Another plant that will benefit pruning now is bush roses. Bare root varieties can now be planted up. Ensure all climbing roses are sufficiently tied-back, as winter winds can cause damage. A fresh supply of mulch around your garden plants will help protect them from the cold.

Root cuttings

Consider taking root cuttings from herbaceous perennials. This will increase your flower border supplies, and save you the expense of having to buy new plants next season.

Leaf mould

Continue to keep borders and paths clear; debris and foliage can make paths slippery as well as harbouring slugs, snails and other pests. If you have the space, why not create a large bin for leaves to break down naturally.  Four posts, forming a square, pegged into the ground, and surrounded with chicken wire is an easy and cheap solution. Twelve months from now, you’ll be looking at a wonderfully rich leaf mould that can be spread across the garden.

Christmas trees

With the festive season upon us, like many, you’ll be considering buying a Christmas tree. With so many pine varieties to choose from, it’s worth thinking about a pine tree that can be planted after the festive period. The potted Christmas tree has been steadily increasing in demand as consumers have become more environmentally conscious. Ten years from now that small tree you bought could be happily maturing in your garden, giving you and your family, not to mention the garden wildlife, great pleasure.

Failing that, don’t be so quick to throw away your tree. It can be chopped up, and used as mulch for acidic plants, such as blueberries. The branches could also find use as support canes for growing peas on your allotment.

Christmas wreath

If you’ve been growing ivy or holly, then you might want to consider creating your very own Christmas wreath. By using cuttings of evergreen, or branches of crab apples, and pyracantha berries, this is the time to let your creativity go wild.

Garden wildlife

Ensure all bird-feeding stations are clean and replenished regularly. A fresh water supply will also help our feathered friends at this time of year. Check all water features, including ponds, don’t freeze over, as this can damage the structures as well as being harmful to the fish and garden wildlife.

Freezing temperatures

Keep an eye on the weather reports and overnight temperatures. If you have plants in the greenhouse, then a heater might make all the difference on a cold night. If there is a snowfall, ensure all snow is removed from the greenhouse exterior, as any plants growing in the greenhouse, will need all the warmth they can get. However, a warm greenhouse does increase the risk of pests and diseases, so regularly check all plants, pots and trays.


On the veg patch

Winter veg carrots

Winter veg

With the festive season upon us, it’s time for your winter veg to play their part on the Christmas day menu. Continue to check crops for pests and diseases, removing any fallen, yellowing or rotten foliage. The later you can leave digging up the veg, the fresher it’ll be on the big day. However, take into account the possibility of the ground being hard or frozen. If you haven’t started growing your veg yet, have a look at our range, which includes salsify, kale, squash, broccoli, cabbage and much more!

Primary cultivation

As winter veg gets dug up, and plots start becoming bare, remove old debris and add to the compost heap. If the ground’s not too hard, turn over the soil to expose dozing pests and to aerate the soil. If you can, spread a thick layer of compost, or well-rotted manure over the plot. If you have a compost heap, turn it over, as this will help it break down.

Bare root strawberriesFruit

If you’re growing currants or gooseberries, take hardwood cuttings. If you’ve been growing rhubarb for some years, dig up the crowns. Split them, top to bottom, with a spade, and then re-plant. If you’ve purchased new varieties, get them into the ground also. Remember, leave a newly planted crown untouched for a year, that way it can become established, and produce quality stalks.

This is a good time of the year to plant bare root fruit bushes and trees, such as gooseberry and currant bushes or apple, fig and cherry trees. Again, if you have established fruit trees, these can now be pruned. Think about the three ‘Ds’, as mentioned earlier. Check all staked fruit trees. If not securely tied-in, windrock can cause damage, and potentially kill the plant.

Winter salad

Winter salad

Continue to successional sow winter salads; check leaves for any slugs and pests. And if not grown in a greenhouse or polytunnel, ensure they are protected with a cold frame, cloche or horticultural fleece.

Prepping tools

If the weather has taken a turn for the worse, retreat to the potting shed. Once warm, set about cleaning and sharpening all hand tools. Service all power tools, including the lawn mower. Thoroughly clean all empty pots and trays, in hot water and diluted washing up liquid. Carrying out these tasks now will ensure your tools last for years to come.



Indoor plants

Add colour to the home with poinsettias, hyacinths or cyclamen persicum. However, keep watering to a minimum, and place them in a draught-free environment, out of direct sunlight.

Finally, rather than buying decorations from the shop, why not bring the outside in. Cuttings of evergreen, and sprigs of holly, can make excellent mantle and table displays. Of course, with mistletoe hanging from a doorway, it’s a great way to make friends and share the spirit of the season. And for the ones that simply can’t get enough of gardening, we have a little indoor option: the herb grow kit, which may be the perfect Christmas present for a loved one.



Fascinating Facts: Cranberries

December 1st, 2017 | News | 0 Comments



Botanical name: Vaccinium oxycoccos, Vaccinium macrocarpon
Origins: The common cranberry, Vaccinium oxycoccos, can be found growing wild in the marshlands of northern and central Europe, but its larger, American cousin, Vaccinium macrocarpon, is the species that is more commonly cultivated.

First cultivated Captain Henry Hall became the first person to commercially cultivate cranberries in Dennis, Massachusetts in 1816.

Types: Popular varieties to grow in the UK include Early Black, Pilgrim, Redstar and Stevens. Similar to the Lingonberry plant.

Skill level:  Easy to grow.  These hardy plants require very little attention once established.

Preferred location and conditions: Cranberries require moist, acidic, lime-free soil, ideally at pH level 4.5. They prefer a sunny site and thrive beside a river or pond but can also grow well in pots.

Good for containers: Yes, particularly the Pilgrim and Redstar varieties.

Harvest time: Plants should start to fruit prolifically from the third year. They are ready to harvest from September and should be picked before the first frost.

Possible problems:  Cranberries are resistant to virus diseases and are seldom attacked by pests, most problems are caused by incorrect moisture levels or the pH level of the soil. Where birds are a problem, netting can be used to protect the plants.


Health benefits:  Cranberries are considered a superfood, thanks to their high nutritional content and wide-ranging health benefits. They’re particularly high in disease-fighting antioxidants, outranking almost every other fruit and vegetable (including spinach and broccoli). They’re rich in vitamins C, A and K as well as flavonoids, which help lower the risk of heart problems.

Most commonly known as a popular remedy for cystitis, they are also anti-inflammatory, helping to prevent arthritis, cardiovascular disease and strokes. They contribute to good cholesterol and can help lower blood pressure.

Cranberries are naturally low in calories, fat and sodium.


Potted history:  Cranberries were widely used as food and medicine by the Native Americans who ate them fresh, ground, mashed, baked into bread as well as making tea from the leaves. By mashing them with deer meat they made ‘pemmican’, a survival food for fur traders during the winter months.

The Native Americans introduced the first European settlers to the cranberry, who initially named them crane-berries, as the flowers reminded them of the head, neck and bill of a crane.

In 1667, the New Englanders sent a gift to appease King Charles II, which included ten barrels of the berries.

The high vitamin C content provided a natural remedy for scurvy and barrels of the berries were once stored on American sailing ships to maintain the health of the crew.

In 1796, cranberries were served at the first celebration of the landing of the Pilgrims, and Cranberry sauce has remained a staple of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner ever since.

Captain Henry Hall was the first person to commercially grow cranberries in East Dennis, Massachusetts on Cape Cod in 1816, and the state remains one of the largest cranberry producers in the USA.


Why grow cranberries: For year-round colour in the garden, the cranberry takes some beating. The green foliage transforms into rich yellows and reds during the autumn months, while the delicate, pink flowers of summer give way to the glossy, red berries that have become synonymous with Christmas. A traditional turkey Christmas dinner wouldn’t be quite the same without cranberry sauce, and the berries add a splash of festive colour to wreaths and natural table decorations.

Cranberries can last for weeks in the fridge, and they also freeze well so can be enjoyed at any time of year, adding a tart, fruity note to cakes, biscuits and muffins. Crammed full of vitamins and nutrients, these plump, juicy berries are exceptionally good for you.


Planting and growing: Plant from October to December or in March and April. Dig a trench 90 cm wide by 30 cm deep and line it with heavy-duty polythene punched with drainage holes. Fill with ericaceous compost, a handful of bone meal and soak with rainwater before planting. Alternatively, plant in a large container.

Keep the soil well-watered with rainwater rather than hard tap water, but ensure it doesn’t become waterlogged.

Trailing stems can be pegged down and a light pruning of the plant after harvesting is recommended.


To browse all our varieties of soft fruits just follow this link to the fruit section of our website.

Royal Horticultural Society

This article was first published on the RHS website November 2017. 

Read more on the RHS website about growing your own cranberries.


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First Year Flowering Perennials: All-summer achilleas

December 1st, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Achillea 'Summer Berries'

I first raised seedlings of Achillea ‘Summer Pastels’ way back in 1990, twenty seven years ago, when it first came on the scene. I’d being trying some new achilleas from Germany that were propagated by division or cuttings and had been very impressed so I was interested to try these new achilleas from seed.

‘Summer Pastels’ proved really excellent, with more colours and much more economical. But in recent years it’s been supplanted by a sister variety, ‘Summer Berries’ (above), in richer shades than the pale ‘Summer Pastels’ mix.

This summer on the Mr Fothergill’s trial ground I appreciated for the first time the depth of colour in ‘Summer Berries’: burgundy, deep reds (some with a white or yellow eye), deep golden shades, brick orange, rich raspberry pink with a few paler pinks and lemony shades for a little extra spark. One colour, the deep cherry red ‘Cassis’ is available separately.

Sown in March, they’ll flower after four months, continue into the autumn (dead heading is a big help) and are guaranteed to sail happily through the winter and begin flowering earlier, late May perhaps, the following year.

These are lovely plants for a sunny perennial border and make clumps quickly and they’re very pretty when cut for the house. But don’t cut too soon, or the flower heads will droop: wait until almost all the florets are open and you can see a little pollen in the centre of each one. It also helps to place the stems in warm water immediately they’re cut and to strip off lower leaves and side shoots.

And, while you’re about it, why not try the double white buttons of ‘Double Diamond’?

First year flowering perennials: gorgeous gaillardias

November 24th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Gaillardia 'Firewheels'

In hot and sunny summers, gaillardias are amongst the most colourful flowers you can grow but on the Mr Fothergill’s trial ground, this summer, they looked good even after a downpour. And they flowered prolifically in their first summer from a March sowing.

‘Sundance Red’ (below) was outstanding. My notes say: “Tight and compact. More or less self-supporting. Double flowers strawberry scarlet with faint orange flashes, fluted and flared, very prolific even after rain.” Well worth growing, but short at about 30cm.

Gaillardia 'Sundance Red'Also excellent was ‘Firewheels’ (above), a taller single flowered variety reaching about 60cm and so much for suitable for cutting.

I also liked the two of the three varieties in the Arizona Series that were trialled this summer (the third was mysteriously omitted). I’ve been noticing ‘Arizona Apricot’ and the red-and-yellow bicolour ‘Arizona Sun’ since they were first introduced ten years ago. These are short, too, but I found this summer in my own trial garden that they produce so many stems that cutting some with a few embryonic buds below the opening flowers doesn’t seem to ruin the display.

‘Goblin’ is similar to ‘Arizona Sun’, but taller at 45cm and the red colouring is perhaps a little less vivid.

All need full sun, and are best in well-drained soil. In heavy clay the crowns stay too wet in winter and shoots not may emerge in spring.

For the house, cut gaillardias just as the flowers have opened; they should last at least a week, longer if you use flower food and change the water every day.

If you’ve not grown gaillardias before, give them a go.

First year flowering perennials: prolific penstemons

November 17th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Penstemon 'Mixed Colours'

The penstemons raised from seed were so bright on the Mr Fothergill’s trial ground this summer that they caught my eye from the other side of the field. And this from a plant that’s usually grown from cuttings and bought as plants in pots.

They really dazzled but when you look at the price of the seeds and how easy they are to raise you wonder why they’re not grown from seed more often. Five hundred seeds for £2.29, half the price of a single plant in a garden centre, seems like a bargain to me. And, sown inside in March, they’ll flower prolifically in their first year.

The upright 75cm stems carry pairs of glossy leaves topped with large, flared flowers in a very wide range of colours and bicolours and once they start the flowers just keep coming. Best in a sunny spot in rich but well-drained soil, I’ve found that they respond especially well to regular dead heading and I’ve seen dead-headed plants still flowering well at the end of October in their first year after a July start.

Penstemon 'Scarlet Queen'‘Mixed Colours’ is the aptly descriptive name for the variety with the widest range of shades including a lovely pure white, some pretty pink and white bicolours and others with attractive lacing in the throat. If there’s one from the mix that you especially like, it’s easy to propagate it from cuttings in spring or summer. ‘Scarlet Queen’ (right) is the most striking single colour available, in bright red with a contrasting clean white throat.

‘Humming Bells’ is a much shorter blend so ideal for the front of the border or containers and, while the flowers are smaller than those of ‘Mixed Colours’, they’re tightly packed on 20cm stems.

Sowing? March is the ideal time. Give them some heat to start with then keep move the individual seedlings into cells in April and harden off in May before planting out. The plants are quite vigorous and can also be sown in the open ground in May but probably won’t flower till the following year.

But alert your friends: you’ll probably have more than enough young plants to give away.