Posts Tagged ‘winter garden’

Changing opinions on a winter wonder

December 14th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

White-stemmed raspberry has lovely winter stems plus tasty berries

With gardening a rather soggy business recently, interest continues in The Floricultural Cabinet and Florists’ Magazine for December 1852, “conducted by” Joseph Harrison.

Each month, the good Mr Harrison includes Notes On New Or Rare Plants, details of which he unashamedly, and with appropriate credits, borrows from other titles. It’s a little like Amateur Gardening magazine quoting from a piece on new plants in Gardeners’ World magazine.

One of those discussed in December 1852, Rubus biflorus, catches my attention and so I’m continuing in the tradition of Mr Harrison by quoting details from his magazine here:

“This very handsome Bramble has been obtained from Nepaul by Mssrs. Veitch. It is quite hardy and very ornamental. The stems spring from the ground on clusters, like our common Raspberry, and attains a height of ten or twelve feet, erect, branched. The stems are very white, appearing as if they had been whitewashed. The flowers are produced in profusion, white, each blossom nearly an inch across; they are succeeded by well-flavoured fruit, as large as a usual-sized Raspberry, and of a beautiful orange or deep amber colour. It is not valuable for an ornament for the shrubbery, but would be a handsome agreeable-flavoured fruit for the table.” Thank you to the Botanical Magazine, from whom The Floricultural Cabinet sourced their information.

Problem is…. Firstly, “not valuable for an ornament for the shrubbery”? No. Rubus biflorus, and the related Rubus cockburnianus, are superb shrubs whose white stems provide invaluable bright winter colour.

But there’s a conundrum. I’ve never seen the amber fruits on R. biflorus because to produce the best display of white stems, and to keep the plants well below the mature height of 3-4m, the plants are cut down to the ground in early spring. And the stems you cut down are the ones that carry the berries.

So if you grow Rubus biflorus, or the black fruited R. cockburnianus – leave a few stems unpruned and check out the flavour.

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.



What to do in the garden in December

December 1st, 2016 | The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

December bulbs

December is traditionally one of the quieter months in the flower and vegetable garden. Winter vegetables really come into their own now, especially once parsnips and brussels sprouts have had a frost or two to improve their flavour. While most spring-flowering bulbs should already be in the ground, there is still time to plant tulips, which actually benefit from this later planting. Many are well suited to growing in containers too.

Remove all plant debris from round the garden or on the allotment, as fallen foliage and the like encourage pests and diseases to over-winter and cause us problems next spring and summer. This is particularly important if you grow roses.


December - Sweet PeasIf you made a sowing of sweet pea seeds back in October and have them in the greenhouse or a cold frame, pinch out the growing tip after two pairs of leaves have formed; this will encourage the development of side-shoots and bushy growth through the winter, and stop the young plants becoming ‘leggy’. They will then make steady progress and be ready for planting out early next spring.

House plants make attractive features through the dark winter months. The compost of azaleas should be kept wet, but never saturated. Poinsettias, on the other hand, should have compost which is only just moist. If you are yet to buy these Christmas favourites, always choose plants from stock which has been kept in warm spot indoors in a shop; never buy plants from outside, as they will not thrive when you get them home, and may well die.

Where containers planted for winter displays are close to the house or other buildings, check them regularly to see whether they are receiving enough moisture from rainfall. If not, water them to prevent the compost drying out. It can be easy to forget them at this time of year because they tend not to need as much watering as summer containers.

Keep a look-out for pale blotches and grey mould on the foliage of violas and pansies, as these are the symptoms of downy mildew. The affected leaves will gradually die. Unfortunately, there is no chemical treatment. Remove infected leaves as soon as the discolouration appears.December - Pansy 'Cool Wave Mixed'

If the weather remains relatively mild this month, you may see that some spring-flowering bulbs start to show above ground already. In fact we have noticed this happening already! There is no need to be concerned about this, because as the weather becomes colder their rate of growth will slow accordingly and they will still flower when we expect them to.


December - First early potato DivaaMay we remind you that it is not too early to order seed potatoes, especially if you are keen to grow particular varieties. We begin despatch from January 2017 onwards. Please have a look at our new varieties. Elfe is a second-early with yellow flesh and a rich, almost buttery flavour; it’s really great for making mash or for baking. Gemson is another second-early, and we recommend this for its large crop of smaller tubers. It boasts the famed Maris peer as one of its parents, and has excellent disease resistance. The tubers have a firm, creamy flesh, and are perfect for steaming, boiling and as a salad potato. White and pink-skinned Pink Gypsy is a maincrop, and this one is particularly versatile, being superb for mashing, baking and roasting.

If you enjoy growing large onions, whether for the kitchen or for the showbench, do consider trying our new variety called, simply, Exhibition; this splendid strain was bred in East Anglia from The Kelsae, the most famous of all onions. It produces large, flask-shaped bulbs with a golden skin colour and a deliciously mild, sweet flavour. It can reach 454gm (1lb) in weight with very little care, but considerably larger specimens are achievable with a little ‘TLC’. Seed of Exhibition can be sown in gentle warmth from December through to February. It’s well worth growing!

Now is a good time to dig over any part of the vegetable garden or allotment which is not in production. This is best done when the soil is not too wet and certainly never when it is frozen. Dig to a spade’s depth (a spit), and leave the soil in clods as it falls to be broken up by frost and rain action in the weeks ahead.


December - Raspberry Polka canes from Mr Fothergill'sAutumn-fruiting raspberries can now be pruned back virtually to ground-level. This will allow next spring’s new shoots to develop strongly, allowing them to flower and fruit next autumn. If you like the idea of some summer raspberries from the same plants, leave two or three of the strongest canes tied into the framework, and these will provide you with some tasty summer berries ahead of the autumn harvest.

This is the best time to give fruit trees and bushes that have been subject to attacks by pests such as aphids a spray with a ‘winter wash’; this should see off any over-wintering pests and their eggs. Modern winter washes use surfactants and natural oils, rather than being tar-based like the old-fashioned remedies. This treatment should mean a healthy start to next year’s growing season. Winter washes are available from good garden centres.

Nation of Gardeners December planting update: Who needs the shops at Christmas when you have Mr Fothergill’s?

January 15th, 2014 | Nation of Gardeners, The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

The Nation of Gardeners' gardens are getting very fullAs we enter 2014 and pass the three month mark, it is safe to say that the Nation of Gardeners project is well and truly underway.  The gardens, coldframes and greenhouses of our gardeners are starting to get very full, and so in December, Mr Fothergill’s decided to fill up their windowsills for them as well!

December is a good month for sowing herbs and salad leaves for growing on a sunny windowsill.  Fresh leaves can be picked for up to 4 cuts in as little as 6 – 8 weeks.  Mr Fothergill’s were very interested to know if this could be achieved successfully in all parts of the country.  During milder months it is expected that the first cut can be taken at 6 – 8 weeks, and so this growing task was to test how long they take ‘out of season’ when light levels and ambient temperatures inside and outside are low.


A round up of December’s planting tasks

With the winter weather setting in, the December parcel took our gardeners indoors for windowsill sowings of basil, coriander and four types of salad leaves; mild, spicy, red and green.

The salad leaf varieties were as follows and were suggested to be sown in 25cm pots and to then be placed in a sunny position either indoors on a windowsill or outside in a frost-free greenhouse or coldframe:

It was the salad leaves that surprised many of the gardeners and had them racing for the quickest results. Some salads were seen to be germinated within 48 hours, and all gardeners had sturdy seedlings within a couple of weeks of sowing.

Our Pontypridd gardener decided to test indoor versus outdoor sowing in a frost-free greenhouse in this trial across each of the seeds he was sent.  He reported back that his outdoor salads looked sturdier and less leggy than their indoor sown counterparts.   Our Devon gardener also tested the Spicy Salad Leaves in a coldframe outside – whilst sowing the other three varieties inside – and she too reported back that the outdoor sowings looked much healthier than her indoor specimens.

The ‘legginess’ of the indoor sown seedlings was widely reported back – due to lack of good quality, long periods of daylight perhaps – and so time will tell if the salads respond well to the lengthening of the days now we are past the winter solstice.

Salads grown in December 2013

Two varieties of herbs, Basil Piccolino and Coriander Calypso, were also sent out in the December parcel.  Both of which were suggested to be sown and grown in 9cm pots and then placed on a sunny windowsill and kept moist.

The ambient temperatures both inside and outside was recorded by the gardeners at time of sowing and the gardeners were also asked to record the aspect of windowsill the pots were placed to gauge the effects of the low light levels of winter on the seedlings’ progress.

Coriander seedlings in Scotland

Temperature seems to have been a deciding factor in getting the basil to germinate successfully.  Although some basil sowings for some did germinate within 3 days.  For others it took decidedly longer, with radiator heat being used to warm things up a bit where windowsill temperature could not provide.   Subsequent successful sowing into heated or even just covered non-electric propagators from the same batch of seeds seemed to prove the point that basil needs heat to get going.

Coriander showed itself to be slightly less fussy about temperature, though for some was slow in coming.  Our gardeners with the ‘quickest’ Coriander were in Surrey, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire with a 7 day germination rate, although our Pontypridd gardener reported back germination in 6 days.  Otherwise the general germination rate for Coriander showed itself to be 10 to 14 days.

A new dimension to the trials project emerged over Christmas, when the Mr Fothergill’s parcel became a Mr Fothergill’s festive food parcel, when many of the gardeners were able to use their first Fothergill’s batch of produce to garnish their meals over the festive period.  One gardener used their salad leaf micro-greens sprinkled over a prawn and smoked salmon salad on New Year’s Day, and another chopped their baby spicy salad leaves to use in a tomato salad and used their mild leaves as a garnish on top of egg mayonnaise.   The salad leaves had the gardeners discussing recipes and uses from sandwiches to salads, which led one gardener to question “who needs shops”!

October and November planting update

Autumn-sown garlic in DevonOctober and November’s plantings have now fully established and the gardeners have been noting some significant progress lately.   Least magnificently – but most significantly for our group of gardeners perhaps –  is visible progress with the Garlic Solent Wight which was received in the first packages sent out in October.  Many of the gardeners were reporting no movement on their garlic plantings all through October and November, but now the colder weather has arrived most are seeing shoots of green emerging, which has been welcomed with some relief.

The bare root perennials planted in November have shown variable results depending on the variety.  Varieties such as the Papaver  have settled into their new homes very well with lots of new top growth, and the planted Sedums are also looking well settled.  For some, the Astrantia and Eryngium still have top growth intact, but for others the leaves have faded away, leaving a patch of bare ground with a marker the only evidence that something is planted there.  For most, the Cimicifuga appears to have all but disappeared entirely, although this shy-to-show-itself plant is showing minuscule evidences of growth for some observant gardeners who have seen slight growth of only millimetres, or a change in colouration of the growing tip just poking above ground level.

October and November plants for Nation of Gardeners

By far the most robust performers in the trials so far are the autumn planted Broad Beans, the Strawberry Buddy and the  Strawberry Sweetheart, and the Blackberry Reuben.  All gardeners are reporting back strong and healthy growth of these varieties.

Storm damaged blackberry plant in Scotland

Some plants, such as the Broad Beans planted in more southerly areas are continuing to grow right through the winter without check, to the extent that their caretakers are worried they are growing too far, too soon.  In early January, the first flower buds have also started to form on the strawberry plants for our gardener in Devon.  She has nipped these off to strengthen the plant.

Sadly, the storms that have ravaged the country have created plant casualties for the Nation of Gardeners, with both the Renfrewshire and Peak District gardeners losing their Blackberry plants to the high winds.  The stump shown in the picture to the right here is our Scottish gardener’s blackberry plant, which due to where it has snapped, may never recover.


To follow the results of our gardeners in more detail, take a look at our table of stats for each of the varieties:

December 2013′s planting

November 2013′s planting

October 2013′s planting


Looking forward into January

The next package has just been sent out to the group of gardeners who will be receiving their parcels within the couple of days.  For this task, we give them some more crops to grow and a new variety of flower that will be introduced in 2014 for general sale to see how they fare with this new variety.

Have you prepared your garden for winter?

December 20th, 2013 | The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

You should already have made a start on your winter tidy up.  With the days short and the weathers inclement, you should grab every opportunity you can to get your garden in good order for the coming Spring.