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December & January in the Garden

December and January are a time for reflection and planning. What worked well in the last year, what failed, what can be improved, and what will need to change? For our garden, the beech hedge, still struggling after several years, is a failure and it is difficult to know how to improve it. The box trees, on the other hand, simply need to be removed and replaced. The RHS has trialled alternatives and suggests being adventurous, considering shrubs unlike box, with colour or variegation, even flowering shrubs for more biodiversity. I have cuttings from a rosemary with dark blue flowers, a shrubby teucrium with grey leaves and pale blue flowers, and a shrubby lonicera with small dark leaves, which I am thinking of using. As the RHS says, no box alternative has all its attributes. Research is underway into blight-resistant box cultivars and biological and other organic controls for box caterpillar. 

The long grass patch was a success, not only aesthetically, but also in attracting many insects and will be repeated next year, with more wild flowers. Next year I want to add a small path through a deep flower bed, giving our granddaughters more routes to run around the garden. I also plan to replace some of the herbaceous perennials which struggled with the weather conditions, although that will be difficult, due to the great variability we now ‘enjoy’. 

Meanwhile there is still work to do, removing fallen leaves, which I pile at the back of the flower beds, hoping a hedgehog might again hibernate in them, mulching beds (I use spent mushroom compost and with the warm, damp weather have enjoyed a variety of fungi this year), insulating outdoor taps and pots, pruning free-growing apple and pear trees, and acers, birches and vines to avoid bleeding. I have taken hardwood cuttings of shrubs, to increase stock, and of more tender plants in case they suffer in the winter, having lost some fuchsias and salvias in the frost. Then, as days lengthen, we look forward to the new growing season, planning and preparing, cleaning pots, tools and greenhouses, digging over vacant plots not already done, checking stored tubers, ordering new plants and seeds, ready to sow some indoors to give them an early start.  

At this time of year, houseplants come into their own and benefit from attention. As days shorten, watering and feeding should be reduced. They benefit from a sunny windowsill until March, to ensure sufficient light levels, away from draughts. I intend to finally create a terrarium! I am hoping for a hibernating hedgehog, but other creatures also need support in winter. Like many of you, I enjoy seeing the birds in the garden, at the feeders and splashing in the pond. Now to plant the last of the bulbs, for next years display! Enjoy the winter, 



This article is reproduced from the St Mary’s church, Godmanchester parish magazine with kind permission of the gardener, Josephine Becker