Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Season’s greetings!

D-e –c-e-m-b-e- r say it slowly, because it has come round so quickly! Can’t believe it – is it my age? (no, cheeky!), probably because there has been so much to do in the garden and last month’s weather lurching from waterlogging to freezing then back, hasn’t helped at all. The most aggravating disruption has been caused by an infestation of rats, which started when nearby fields were harvested and rapidly became worse, (where’s the Pied Piper when you need him?). They have tunnelled into the raised vegetable beds, undermining the Leeks and devouring the ‘Nero de Toscana’. Just to worsen my mood, they’ve have burrowed into the house behind by the best specimen of Echium wildpretii, a rare Canarian endemic plant, that has ever grown in the garden; there was no alternative – it had to be removed, so the entrance hole could be filled. Nurtured carefully for a year, it had built up a huge rosette and the prospect of a glorious flower spike, much larger than the previous effort, shown in the attached picture. I was so excited about the prospect; now, it’s gone! Despite the pleasures, gardening can be full of frustrations, too!

I’m lifting plants from my tropical border, now the foliage is blackened by frost. They are planted in free draining soil under a thick mulch, several inches deep, which has protected canna’s and dahlias from the colder weather. They will be stored in the greenhouse over winter, above freezing; labels must always stay with stored plants – losing them can be disastrous!

The sap of some plants starts to rise remarkably early, in the New Year, from late winter to early spring. They need pruning now, so I’ll be round the garden with my secateurs. If they are pruned at the wrong time of year, they bleed; notably ‘Birches’ – prune from early autumn to mid winter; ‘Vines’ – between leaf fall and Christmas; (Christmas and New Year at the latest) and Japanese Maples – leaf fall to January.

Christmas houseplants bring good cheer. Start Amaryllis or Hippeastrum into growth by watering sparingly at first; just a trickle of tepid water around the bulb, increasing the volume as more growth appears. Once they are growing strongly, keep them moist but not waterlogged and take care not wet the growth tip. A bright window sill is ideal; err on the cool side to prolong the flowering period (15-18 C (60-65F) is ideal – this applies to ‘Indian Azalea’s’, ‘Poinsettia’ and ‘Christmas cactus’ too. Stake the flowering stems carefully to prevent them from falling over, rotate the pot a quarter of a turn each day, then sit back and enjoy the display. Don’t forget to remove any of your houseplants from the windowsill over night, as they can be damaged by low temperatures. Happy Christmas and a Peaceful, prosperous New Year – particularly in the garden. Good Gardening and thanks for reading my diary!

Take care, Matt