Deck the halls: Getting ready for Christmas - in and out of the garden
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With Christmas round the corner, gardening columnist Debbie McMorran is thinking poinsettias, holly, ivy… and greenhouse makeovers…
Have you bought a poinsettia yet? They have been in the shops for weeks now. When they first appeared, I wondered whether it would be too early to buy one. I decided that as it was the end of October at the time that it was just a little too early.
They are one of the plants that I don't seem to get on very well with - so the chance of me keeping one alive between October and Christmas was highly unlikely! Christmas, more than any other time of the year, has certain plants which seem inexplicably linked with it - through tradition, and through depiction in books, on cards, even in Christmas carols!
The majority of us bring a tree into our homes for the month of December - many people now prefer to buy an artificial tree, but still it is symbolic of the real plant that it represents. Holly and ivy seem synonymous with the festive season, and long before the manmade decorations of tinsel, and glittering beads were available, these plants were used to brighten up homes in the long dark days of winter.
I always love to see holly wreaths appearing on people's doors in the run up to Christmas - sometimes I do wonder how the postmen navigate the prickly adornments, but I think they always make homes look so much more welcoming, and add a little personality to doorways which otherwise give away very little about the people who live behind them.
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At one time, a popular tradition was to have advent rings in the home - with four candles around the outside (one to be lit for each Sunday during advent) and a central candle to be lit on Christmas Day.
These older traditions seem to be making a comeback, with florists and garden centres now offering a much wider array of foliage to be used inside over the festive period. For those of us with pets and small children, we must be careful with what plants we bring into the home - for us, plants with small red berries which otherwise look so pretty, will be relegated from our house for the next few years at least!
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When we get to the end of this month, and we remove all of the extra adornments to our homes, the rooms seem so bare - the paintings in our sitting room look far less beautiful without the boughs of greenery which nestle along their frames over the Christmas period.
The poinsettia (normally my third or fourth by that point), is always the last thing to go - if I can keep it alive until Twelfth Night and beyond.
It always makes me wonder why we don't have more greenery and plants inside the house throughout the rest of the year - but then I suppose it wouldn't feel as special at Christmas if it became the norm throughout the other seasons!
Whether you will be going all out with your festive use of greenery and plants, or sticking to the bare minimum, I hope you enjoy the season, and make the most of any days where you can get outside in the garden.
Focus on greenhouse makeovers
Giving your greenhouse a good once-over now will see you reap rewards in the New Year when you come to plan your seedlings. Putting off doing this will almost always lead to regret when spring comes and you realise how dirty it is.
Here's how to revamp your greenhouse:
1. Give the glass a good wash down (inside and out) with warm, soapy water or a disinfectant (you can buy specific horticultural ones).
2. Clean down the floors and any staging - these are all possible places for pests and diseases to gather.
3. Have a look through all of the pots you have accumulated. I always find that it's good to give these a thorough sort through at this time of year, as they always multiply far faster than you realise! Get rid of any that are damaged, or that you won't use - and of course recycle any that you can.
4. If we have particularly bad weather or snow, make sure you keep an eye on your greenhouse. Heavy snow left lying on top of the glass needs to be removed regularly before it leads to cracks or weakening.
Things to do in the garden this month
- Make sure you are keeping bird feeders topped up so that our feathered friends don't struggle throughout the winter. It is also difficult for birds to get access to fresh water when the temperatures drop and cause bird baths to freeze, so try to have some available.
- If you have any wisteria in your garden, now is the time to prune back any summer side shoots. It's a good time to look at any other shrubs which might need pruning too - roses are a good example - and take out any damaged or diseased growth.
- Give any soil areas a good digging over whilst they are relatively empty. This will help to prepare the soil for planting next year.
- If you have any areas of vegetable garden, it's a good time to put manure on top of the soil that you have dug over, letting the nutrients break down into the soil over the coming months.