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Scent and flowers for the festive season – Grow-How Tips for December

Elaine

What with the weather being very regularly…..meh in December, some of my tips this week have a somewhat ‘indoorsy’ feel – herbs in window-sill pots, and bringing in bulbs to flower for Christmas, for instance, amongst such hardier pursuits as compost-heaps and mulching the Agapanthus………And don’t forget to click on to our Shop Page at the bottom of this blog……..

Pots of loveliness

When you buy ‘prepared’ bulbs like narcissi or hyacinths, it generally means that they have already been given their required period of cold and dormancy, so that you can just grow them on indoors to enjoy their colours and fragrance. But pots of spring-flowering bulbs that have been outside and have therefore had that cooling treatment (which ensure that the buds develop properly), can now be brought inside to be ‘forced’ into flower for the festive season.

Potted narcissi – flowers and scent for your festivities

If you bring in a number of pots at weekly intervals, you may be able to orchestrate a pretty succession of flowers. Try not to put them too close to radiators, which can make them weak and floppy.  Twigs make attractive supports for tall narcissus stems.

Hearty Herbs for Winter Cookery

My cookery-loving husband (in the words of the old pop-song ‘That’s why you’ll always find him in the kitchen at parties!’) has a herb-garden JUST outside the kitchen door, and is always nipping out there during the summer to pick sprigs of this and that for his dishes.

It’s possible to create that same ease of ‘herb-availability’ during the winter but it requires a little more effort. There are loads of herbs that can be grown indoors in pots – parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme (Oh, I’m clearly feeling VERY tuneful today!), basil, chervil, chives, tarragon, oregano, even bay……

A window-sill herb garden is just the thing for a cook over the winter!

You need to find them as sunny a windowsill as you can, to give them at least 6 hours of sun on a good day.  Any less, as you might find that they go spindly and flavourless.  Heat-wise, they are happy in the same temperatures that we are indoors, and being on the windowsill behind the curtains at night will be okay too.

I would suggest that you go for decent-sized pots if you have the space, so that you can pick and snip at will.  The pots must have drainage holes (try to remember to water sparingly to increase the herb’s flavour) but sit the pots on saucers etc. to save the window-sill surfaces.

If you dig up clumps of chives, oregano or parsley from the garden to grow in a pot indoors, acclimatise them first by leaving the pots in a very cool indoor spot for a few days before they get the full-sun treatment.  Otherwise, buy pots of things at garden-centres, supermarkets etc. Seed is cheaper but takes much longer, of course.

They won’t need much in the way of feeding, but benefit from a general fertiliser once or twice a month.  And keep using them!  Once the herbs are about 6” high, snip them off regularly to keep them bushy and healthy.  If they do start to look stressed and unhappy, you may have to replace them – remember things like basil and dill are only annuals anyway!

Compost-heap Calling!

Have you been piling your autumn prunings and clear-up material on to the compost-heap?  I do hope so. But (as in most of life!) the result is only as good as your commitment to it.

Heaping it full of green stuff like weeds, spent flower blossoms, grass clippings, non-meat kitchen waste, and not much else, will yield you a soggy and smelly mass which is fairly useless for your borders.  So remember to mix in some browner woodier material as well – shredded or chopped-up prunings, straw, leaves, shredded cardboard………turned over with the soft stuff on about a 50/50 ratio, they will keep the heap aerated, open and working well. (A good old stir with a garden fork will speed up the composting process).

Turn the compost with a cheery smile in the murky December weather!

Make sure the heap stays moist (no problem at the moment for most of us!), and you should have lovely crumbly (the fancy word is ‘friable’) compost to make your garden plants sing next year or definitely the year after.

If, like me, you’re pretty sure that your compost heap doesn’t get up to a high enough temperature to kill ALL the weed seeds and roots, then don’t put in:

  1. Pernicious things like couch grass, oxalis, buttercups, docks, nettle roots – take it from me, they can often survive the composting process! Also avoid garden plants that grow from runners like mint, or that grow from little bulbs or cormlets like Crocosmia crocosmiiflora or the weedier alliums.
  2. Any weeds that have gone to seed – the scenario here is that you have prided yourself of digging out the few dandelions in your flowerbeds, bunged them with their seedclocks on to your compost heap, and then 18 months later, you spread a trillion more potential dandelions on to the same bed!

Alstroemeria would appreciate a comfy blanket of mulch over its roots now

Gardening Shorts

  • Keep taking hardwood cuttings – Ribes, Cornus, Rosa glauca, Lonicera fragrantissima …. It’s simplicity itself to cut off lengths of stem the length of a long pencil, and stick them up to half their length into a trench of soil. Leave them to root. End of story. If you want a little more detail, check out an earlier post I wrote on this very topic.
  • Less hardy plants like Alstroemeria and Agapanthus would deeply appreciate a thick mulch – as a protection from penetrating frosts.
  • Snails will have crept into pots, trays and other garden paraphernalia to hibernate – now’s a good time to go round and find them, before they re-start the devastation of your garden next spring!
Seek out snails while they hibernate among your pots and trays

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2 Comments

  1. Dear Three
    As ever, great blog. Thank you. Perfect Saturday morning reading. But a quick plea re your item on compost heaps – please don’t turn your heap now for fear of disturbing overwintering hedgehogs!

    I did this a few years ago, knowing I shouldn’t but couldn’t resist. I felt the bristles of a hedgehog (I knew instantly what it was) brush against my cornish shovel and then spent the rest of the winter thinking I had killed it. I couldn’t bear to look until early spring, when joy! I found the little chap curled up fast asleep in the middle of the heap exactly as the nature books say. I must have just missed him.
    A narrow escape for him and now I NEVER turn my heap in winter.

    Sue

    1. Ah, thank you for writing in, Sue! Elaine here. Yes, you make an excellent point about not disturbing hibernating hedgehogs – we MUST do everything we can to look after the wildlife that we still have in this country. I think I’ll tiptoe away from mine and leave it until the spring now……………

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