Balmy days, fiery autumn colours and sunshine extend this most extraordinary year and it is hard to believe that winter is upon us.
Bright red berries of Hawthorn (Crataegus), Rose, Sorbus and Cotoneaster festoon hedgerows and gardens alike indicating, if old tales are to be believed, we are in for a hard winter.
Field boundaries and parklands are set alight by the flaming foliage of trees and shrubs in yellow, russet, plum and scarlet. The heart shaped leaves of Boston ivy glow red against my house wall in the morning light and toadstools are popping up in the woods.
Autumn winds have brought down not only our grape vine, which has required careful pruning before being re-secured, but also a wealth of timber; use fallen branches to make homes for over-wintering hedgehogs and to create a log pile for insects and invertebrates.
Don’t forget to clean and replenish bird feeders and to top up water bowls at the same time.
There are always so many tasks to do in the garden at this time of year but if the pull of festive preparations is just too much, start thinking about what wonderful treats can be created from garden produce for your family and friends as a change from the usual gifts of socks and a bottle of wine!
We have already been busy in the kitchen making the most of the bountiful harvest of fruits from the orchard. We have made jars of plum jam, hot plum sauce and spiced pickled pears, which will be delicious with biscuits and cheese. Decorated with labels and ribbons they make perfect Christmas gifts. If culinary skills are not your forte, cut stems of fresh herbs such as Tarragon and Rosemary adding them to decorative glass bottles filled with vinegar, allowing herbs to infuse for some weeks. Before Christmas, strain and refresh the infused vinegar with fresh herbs then label and add to your homemade gift pile.
Once again, with holly, Pittosporum, ivy and fir I will be demonstrating to several groups of friends how to make festive wreaths; no doubt I will have some surplus wreaths which will end up gracing the doors of a friend or two.
Plants are always welcomed by garden lovers. My children liked Amaryllis bulbs when they were young; plant them in either a pretty container of soil or in one of glass filled with glass beads and water and wait for the magic to begin. For a simple gift, plant-up a beautiful flowering Hellebore or primula from the garden. My mother has been regenerating an old rose bed at her home with help from her gardening friend Sarah. As my local nursery was having a clear-out of roses recently, she has had her Christmas present early, ten lovely roses in fabulous condition, still flowering and which have already been planted out. I hope they will produce a few late blooms on Christmas Day.
Books and garden tools are wonderful but, for a change, wrap up a plant brochure with a note attached requesting the lucky recipient to choose something they would like for the garden.
Whatever you decide to do, enjoy the festive fun and have a wonderful New Year.
By Sally Cunis – Garden Designer