Moe's Winter Newsletter
“Winter is a season of recovery and preparation” Paul Theroux
As much as we all love working in the garden, we do need time to rest and recover and so do our plants. As photosynthesis and respiration slows, growth in plants will stop in winter and they will live off the food stores in their roots to get them through the coldest weather. The opposite seems to be true for a considerably proportion of the population who appear intent on going at full speed throughout the whole year. They never take time out to keep their bodies and minds in good health!
It’s no secret that winter isn’t my favourite time of the year but as it is here to stay for a while, the least I can do is to enjoy the enforced slow down! Of course there will be a few gardening tasks to undertake over the winter months. The fruit trees (apples and pears) will need pruning and so will the blackcurrants and autumn fruiting raspberries. These fruits need to be pruned when dormant. I always start pruning the trees by removing any damaged or dead growth. Congested branches are taken out next to allow for air circulation, important for good fruit production. Finally, I cut the growing laterals by about one half. With the heavy rain we have suffered over the last couple of months, growth has been excessive and the laterals on all trees have become very long. Wind damage is kept to a minimum if I try to prune in early winter rather than later. The greengage tree I can see from my window won’t be pruned yet. If it is pruned in winter it is prone to silver leaf, a disease caused by a fungal infection so it will have to wait until March. Whilst the tree doesn’t fruit anymore it does provide shade where I need it in the garden. The raspberries are straightforward to do because autumn fruiting raspberries fruit on new growth. I simply cut all the spent canes down to ground level and cover the whole bed with manure. Older branches from the blackcurrant bushes will be cut out to make room for new growth which will crop in a year’s time. These will also be mulched with manure as they are greedy feeders and dependent upon this to produce the abundant crop of good sized fruit I desire.
I love blackcurrants! They are very good for the immune system as are all dark fruits. I have a recipe for a favourite dessert that I enjoy making with them. I start by lining a loaf tin with foil. I then slice trifle sponges (long ways) and line the tin (base and outside) with them. I cook the blackcurrants (adding other soft fruit if it is available) with a drop of water and sweeten to taste. The resulting hot syrup full of fruit is ladled onto the trifle sponges which are then layered with more syrup in the loaf tin. A final layer of syrup covers the last layer of sponge. The whole lot is covered with foil, weighted down and allowed to go cold. It is easy to plate up and slice when it is cold from the fridge and freezes so well it is a good standby dessert for the winter months. It is delicious with cream, or yoghurt. . Ah! The pleasures of the summer harvest!!
Frozen soft fruits make wonderfully indulgent coolies and ice- creams too. Blackcurrant ice- cream is delicious and well worth making but it takes a tad longer than the dessert because the fruit syrup needs straining – I don’t want seeds in my ice cream! Busying oneself in a warm kitchen out of the winter cold and wet is always something to be enjoyed during the run – up to Christmas.
Out in the garden, raking up the last of the leaves in the garden is an easy task as long as the weather’s fine. By mid - December I will have filled my leaf bin so I have to put any excess in black bin liners which need to be pierced with a few holes to enable the leaves to rot down. A few leaves can go in the compost bins to be mixed with the other garden waste.
Planning ahead, I will be replanting the mixed borders in spring next year because they have become horribly infested with bind weed. Having dug over the soil and removed all the roots of this pernicious weed in preparation I have decided to add a few new shrubs to give the border some permanence throughout the year. I’ve been visiting garden centres and nurseries in late season to pick up a bargain or two. As climate change extends the autumn season and temperatures remain well above freezing for longer there seems to be plenty of them to be had. I have made some good finds because many people don’t want to buy a plant without its flowers. As long as the plants aren’t on their last legs (dying) they will be perfectly fine in a cold greenhouse until the spring when they can be planted to ‘get away’ well. The greenhouse is chock - a - block with plants now in readiness. Why not go looking for your bargains in the late autumn and early winter? You might find some too.
The shrubs I am using are:
Choisya dewitteana ‘White Dazzler’. This is a good shrub for the back of a border. It is easy to care for and will cope with all types of soil. It has thin, very elegant dark green leaves that are aromatic. Its’ fragrant flowers are borne in April / May and again in September
Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile’ AGM – This is a member of the mock orange family. It is a deciduous upright shrub and has big, beautifully perfumed white flowers in early summer. I had this shrub for many years in my long border. I removed it when it outgrew it space and I decided to change things around a bit! Now I want it back….
Senecio Brachyglottis ‘Walberton’s Silver Dormouse’ AGM This shrub is much more silver than the more common ‘Sunshine’. It is a good, small (1m height and spread) shrub to set off very brightly coloured flowers. I’m putting mine with Geranium ‘Patricia’ which has shocking pink blooms so profuse it is difficult to see the foliage when in full flower.
Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Stargazer’ being a small form (1.2m x 1.2m) is perfect for the front or middle of the border. It is very decorative and deserves to be admired at close quarters. A neighbour gave me a small cutting last year which has done very well and is now big enough to plant out. This is just as well as late season is the best time to plant Hydrangeas.
Other tasks to do in winter
Cover ponds with netting after scooping out leaves that may have fallen in
Feed the birds
Plant hellebores in shady places in the garden
Prune evergreen shrubs
Continue to cut down perennials if the weather is clement
Order seeds from the catalogues. Take time to look at different varieties and grow something new next year.
When I’m done preparing for what will happen in my garden next year I like to find time to enjoy looking at someone else’s. As long as the rain holds off I’ll get out and about at a leisurely pace. Taking a walk in the clear crisp air of a sunny winter’s day visiting a lovely winter garden is a most exhilarating and refreshingly enjoyable experience. If it’s a National Trust property I’ll be able to do a bit of leisurely shopping and have a nice drink when I visit as well.
An evening visit to club on December 17th will encourage our bodies to slow down when we partake in the Jacob’s Join at our annual Christmas meeting(not adding to our food(fat) stores too much) Our minds will be active though trying to solve all the quiz questions and puzzles that the committee will have lined up for us! This, I’m sure will be an enjoyable evening so make a note of the date in your diaries and come along. Our New Year programme starts on January 21st with the AGM (and hot pot supper). Our first speaker of 2020 on February 18th will be Gordon Malt, a retired tree surgeon and finalist in the Daily Mail gardening competition 2015, who will be talking about climbers for walls and fences. You’ll need a new diary to make a note of these dates but I’m sure it will be filling up quickly when I tell you that we have another packed programme of very good speakers again next year. There is plenty to look forward to and something for everyone. All will be revealed on our website in the coming weeks so have those diaries at the ready! Before all that, there’s Christmas to look forward to, so take time out to enjoy the season with family, put your slippers on, have a drink and REST and RECOVER. The plants will look after themselves for a couple of months!
I wish all our members a Happy Christmas and happy gardening New Year.