At the time of writing I have just recovered from the first cold snap of the winter. It only lasted a few days but perhaps it is a gentle nudge to remind us that, despite the mild temperatures throughout December and into early January, the cold, the frost and the snow can arrive suddenly and with very little warning.
Although the sight of bare branches and twigs bristling with standing needles of frost was very evocative of the season, I know that I am not one for the colder months. I constantly long to get back to long hours of daylight and to feel the warmth of the sun upon me.
It is still a comforting thought however that despite what Winter may yet have to throw at us, we are only 8-10 weeks away from Spring being upon us! Now that does excite me! I am also comforted by the fact that I already have an increasing stream of seed catalogues dropping through the letterbox. This allows me to dream of better days ahead and of course to plan my seed and “plug plant” purchases from my favourite suppliers. For those of you not familiar with plug plants, they are simply small cuttings or seedlings that arrive already in growth in their own little phial or plug of compost, they may be flowers, vegetables or herbs. You then just pot them on and grow them further, under cover, before planting out in your desired position as soon as weather and temperatures allow.
There is much to do to prepare myself for the arrival of seeds and plug plants. I have the outside of the growing tunnel and the greenhouse to wash down with a mild solution of warm soapy water to ensure that all surfaces are clean and free from all dirt, debris and algae accumulation from last year. By doing this task I know that light penetration will increase by at least 10 percent, which will be of enormous benefit to seedlings in the short daylight hours in the days ahead before the clocks go forward.
Perhaps the more important task, however, is the cleaning down of the inside of the growing tunnel and the greenhouse. This is vital to ensure that all traces of bacterial and fungal residues are removed prior to introducing new plants and seedlings. You should also remember to clean down all staging, pots, seed trays and hand tools.
I prefer to use an organic cleaning agent for the inside as I can then be assured that the cleaning agent itself will not be harmful to plant material or soil. There are many suitable products available from good garden centres and nurseries. My favourite one is organic and based on citrus oils, it has the added benefit of a clean and fresh lemony smell left in the air long after application.
Having done all of this I will then be ready and able to proceed with my seed sowing and planting as soon as my orders arrive from my various suppliers.
Outside in the garden I have identified a selection of herbaceous perennials that have either outgrown their planting area or have become choked and need splitting into smaller clumps. Throughout the summer and autumn months, I make endless notes in a pocketbook and take pictures with my smart phone to remind me of plants that need attention. I will now use these reference aids to take the necessary action to ensure that my herbaceous plantings will be prepared and made ready to have a vibrant growing season with renewed health and vigour.
After splitting and replanting I will then top dress the beds with two or three inches of very well rotted horse manure to complete my preparation. The rest of the work will then be done by the gardener’s best friend, the humble earthworm! The activity of the worms will, slowly but surely, incorporate much of the top dressing into the top soil below. This will improve the structure of the soil and increase its nutritional value for the months ahead, thereby allowing the plants to perform to their ultimate capacity.
One personal benefit that I do gain from the winter period is particular to me as a garden designer. Having obviously designed my own garden, the Winter allows me to look at the garden when it is largely bereft of leaf, colour and content. The bare bones of my original design are there for me to see and consider afresh. Every garden design is created from the initial layout that you decide upon. There are, of course, many influencing factors in deciding upon a layout, but having created it, it is mainly in the Winter that I can see the garden pared back to its basic structure and shape. This allows me to implement any advantageous changes or amendments that may have crossed my mind, or indeed to leave it alone, satisfied in the knowledge that the structure and layout of the space is still relevant and appropriate.
Having said all of this, I have already confessed to being more of a lizard than a polar bear, so my dearest wish is for Winter to move on apace so that I can look back at it from my preferred seasons of Spring and then Summer.
In the meantime I will carry on with my preparations!
Happy Potting, Cleaning, Planning and Gardening!
Images by Allan Pollak-Morris and Richard Lucas