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Monday, 19 November 2012

Gardening Through the Dark Months



Georgie from CommonFarm Flowers is back with her next instalment of her guest blog for us, this time about gardening through the winter months. With her positive outlook towards looking forward to spring and ideas on what to plant now, it really is a great read for any gardening fans....

I find that the more I garden the less I notice the winter.  Not because the days are any longer or the nights any lighter, but because I never stop planting for the next light season, and the promise of next year is always there.  From September when I clear the still-flowering sweet peas out of their beds and compost them, to October when the rest of the annuals are ripped out and the bare beds mulched with well-rotted horse manure, and on through November when the cold nights have me reaching for the kindling, the matches, and a fire, here at Common Farm Flowers there’s always planting to be done, and often there are signs of the spring to come.

In September we plant daffs where the sweet peas were, and my first crop of paperwhites, brought on in the house for an early few posies are about to flower now, their scent rich and honeyed.  We plant hyacinths too, for forcing later, and all the nice big plants that have come from the seed we put in in June are planted out in sheltered beds for flowering in the early spring: white wall flowers, sweet william, californian poppies, honesty, sweet rocket, all have time to settle in and send down deep roots before the cold weather sets in.

We plant a lot of seed in September too: though overwintering hardy annuals is a labour of love in my opinion, for me, it is a labour well worth devoting myself to.  The sight of the tiny marigold, sweet pea and cornflower shoots just curling out of their compost in early October, gives me heart. The days are getting shorter, and suddenly there’s a bite of frost, but these strong little friends battle on through the cold.  Though with this weekend’s cold snap forecast I will take pity on them and move them into the poly tunnel. 

So through October the bulb planting continues: camassia, a lovely tall spiked blue prairie plant from the USA loves our thick clay and naturalises happily in the long grass under the acers.  We planted a mix of them, black tulips (a little early – usually tulips are planted in November, but I’m a great believer in doing something when the mood takes me), and my favourite pheasant eye narcissi together under the field maples behind the wild dogwood hedge: so long as the mice and rabbits don’t mow the lot they’ll make a marvellous show in the spring.  I imagine the bulbs fattening up in the damp clay soil, shooting lemon yellow spikes towards the rough grass mat they must work their way through and another wintry day of threatening gloom is gone.

In November the tulips go in: here not that many (for a flower farm), about 1,400, lots of different colours, shapes and moods.  Some of them are in the long grass, some in beds for cropping, and some will go in crates for forcing in the poly tunnel when they’ve had a good few weeks of cold.  I’ll make space for them in there tunnel next to the anemones and ranunculus which are just sprouting through the compost in which I planted them after ripping out the tomatoes about a month ago.  You see how we work here: rip out one crop, make room for another, mulch, water, feed the soil and plant again.  It is the tiniest shoots forcing themselves through compost which give me the most pleasure at this time of year.  Yes, I’m cutting chrysanthemums, and narcissi, gorgeously coloured autumn folliage and berries, but those green shoots sprouting promise me spring, and I’ll nurse them through the winter with fleece and bubble wrap, night lights in jam-jars, parafin burners, anything I have in my armoury so that we’ll have a good crop come springtime and I won’t have had time to notice the dark.

To plant now:

  • Sweet pea seed: soak overnight in warm water before planting into deep post of good seed compost.  Leave outside to sprout but do protect from mice who love a swelling sweet pea seed more than you do chocolate.
  • Tulips: a splash of early spring colour brings joy to any garden.  Close plant some in terracotta pots and when they’re about to flower bring them into the house as living flower arrangements.  Pots of tulips are great because you can move them about to wherever they’ll give you most pleasure. 
  • If you have room: plant a bare root tree or order bare root roses.  Plant these into slit trenches having dipped them into rooting gel easily available from garden centres.  Mulch them (so that the manure doesn’t touch the stems) with well rotted horse manure and stand back to watch them shoot.
  • Take hard wood cuttings: a pot filled with s sand cut compost and struck with a circle of cuttings of spring flowering viburnum or a rose that you love will inspire you to plan a newly arranged border, give you plants to give to friends, but most of all give you hope through the winter as you watch, in amazement, the first white curl of root peeping out from the bottom of the pot. 

And:

  • When you dig over your borders watch out for rooted plantlets coming away from established plants: sedum, helleniums and wild daisies will happily give you little rooted cuttings from the edge of a clump to pot up and save for the spring.  Equally watch out for self-seeded perennials which mustn’t be wasted: pot up alcamilla and aquilegia (columbine or grannies’ bonnets) seedlings and give to friends or save for a rearranged border. 
  • Make heaps of seed heads and garden detritus: just knowing that there’s probably a nest inside a heap of horticultural debris in which  gardening team mates like toads, hedgehogs and beneficial insects might be over-wintering is enough to cheer this gardener on even the grimmest of wet winter days.
  • The garden may look, from a distance, as though it’s sleeping through the winter, but watch it closely and you’ll see that barely a day passes without something moving on towards spring.

Make sure you keep a look out for our next guest blog.We have many more on the way about all kinds of interesting subjects.  So watch this space!

1 comment:

  1. Gorgeous blog post. I'm inspired as usual by the Flower Farmer's lovely words.

    My garlic is already popping its shoots above the soil outside the kitchen window and this weekend I'm going to sow tons of broad beans in a raised bed..... even if I drown in the rain! (They'll be well watered in)

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