Hartley Magazine

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

What – its December already? I can’t believe it!

What – its December already? I can’t believe it!  It seems that time passes more rapidly every year. Perhaps it’s my age – surely not; it’s just that there is so much to do and so little time! November was an extraordinary month, with bouts of unseasonal temperatures, which made it feel like spring. I spoke to several people who were harvesting tomatoes until late in the month. The climate has gone haywire. There are oaks in full leaf, yet this time last year, temperatures plummeted and the garden was about to be covered in snow, yet there’s barely been any frost!

Milder weather means that there are still ‘mushrooms’ in my lawn. There are ‘white one’s’, some that look like orange peel and ‘little brown jobs’ – I’m not much of an expert! Most live on the ‘thatch’ or decaying plant material on the lawn and don’t cause any damage. Even though I scarified during lawn maintenance in September, they feed on decaying lawn clippings or ‘thatch’ and however careful you are, there is always something left for them to feed on. It is probably the same on your lawn, but don’t worry, improving the drainage by spiking or hollow tining and if necessary, reducing shade or increasing air circulation helps control most fungi – few cause major problems and are easily controlled this way. The only cause for concern would be the appearance of ‘Honey Fungus’; clusters of honey coloured mushrooms where old stumps or decaying roots are buried below ground. It is essential to remove any affected material immediately by digging out roots or stumps.

Regular leaf raking is the perfect job for cold days, letting leaves lie, causes the grass underneath to die and ‘little and often’ is a good mantra. While it is still warm, annuals like ‘Chickweed’ and ‘Bittercress’ germinate, flower and seed rapidly, building up a seed-bank that will cause problems next year, so keep weeding, too.

Remove leaves from cushion alpines, so they don’t rot and cover Helleborus niger, the ‘Christmas Rose’ to prevent the soil from splashing onto the flowers during heavy rain. I have several self seeded Echium wildprettii in a border by the kitchen window that need covering with panes of glass Perspex or horticultural fleece (see picture). They tolerate low temperatures but dislike damp and protecting them is essential for their survival. I have only managed to grow them singly in the past; if this group survives it will be fantastic!

The long, dark nights before Christmas are the ideal time for thumbing through catalogues to order plants for next year – it is a great morale booster and ensures that you are well ahead for next year!

All of the above show that I am expecting a mild winter – surely we can’t have three cold winters in succession. As we are discovering, climate change means unpredictability – by the end of the month we could be enjoying a white Christmas! I’m still dreaming of one and I am sure that you are, too! Happy Christmas and a very Happy Gardening New Year!

Take care of yourself, Matt