For gardeners, failing to prepare is preparing to fail

The November 2015 edition of Garden News.
The November 2015 edition of Garden News.

A friend sets great store by the dictum that failing to plan is planning to fail, and that’s never more true for gardeners than in the run-up to Christmas.

Is there an adequate supply of fresh winter vegetables lined up in the garden?

Have you more than enough summer fruits stored in the freezer? And have you thought about ornamental displays for indoors?

If you can tick each of those boxes you’re well on the way to being organised for the fast-approaching festivities.

This year, we have stood by cold-weather brassicas that have served us well in the past – the leeks Musselburgh and Lyon Prize-taker, the Brussels sprout Trafalgar and purple-sprouting broccoli.

The one exception is a Savoy cabbage Jade, whose description sounded so good that I couldn’t resist trying it. This is a drumhead type, always capable of standing up to severe frost, yet the hearts are so tender and sweet that they can be chopped up to make coleslaw. We are harvesting it now.

Bags of peas and assorted beans, picked fresh in summer and stored in the freezer, are on standby to add an element of change.

Also on ice are plums, blackcurrants, redcurrants, blackberries, gooseberries and raspberries, all of which have a habit of ripening at the same time.

The apple crop from summer past is also easily accessible. Culinary types Howgate Wonder, Lord Derby and Bramleys store well in open trays, filling the air with fragrance. We can tell at a glance if any show signs of disease and do daily inspections to stop any rot.

Visual feasts come in the form of large containers with golden conifers and variegated hollies, the latter under-planted with red-flowering hardy cyclamen.

Troughs of viola, pansies, polyanthus, and winter heathers add to the festive spirit as traditional hardy shrubs perform in the background.

Indoor Christmas cheer comes partly from the flowers, foliage and stems brought in from the cold and arranged in vases.

These are complemented by favourite plants – cyclamen, poinsettia and solanum – all of which demand a little consideration if you want them to last the course.

A fairly constant temperature of 15C and good light conditions will keep them happy enough, and although they do require water, try not to overdo it.

The best plan is to put a layer of small pebbles at the bottom of the cache pot or tray they stand on and just cover it with water to encourage absorption from below.

When irrigating from above, you run the risk of waterlogged compost and damage to stems or corms.

Bulbs are also an important feature in festive displays. If you placed bowls of treated hyacinths in a cold, dark environment several weeks ago to encourage root development, now’s the time to wean them into the daylight and have them blooming for Christmas. The cooler the room they’re in, the longer they’ll flower for.