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Last Month in My Garden, December 2016

Meteorologists consider December 1st to be the first day of winter. Here, winter started at the very end of November so that December 1st saw frost which, in the shade, had lasted for three nights without thaw. There were no left-over summer flowers. Instead, my eyes were drawn to the tracery of bare trees against blue sky and evergreens below. The latter provide colour in the winter garden from leaves, flowers and fruits. The last do not stay long when the birds get hungry; the many suggestions books give for berries do not work in rural areas. However, yellow-variegated shrubs brighten the scene and the stems of deciduous cornus add splashes of red.


Yucca gloriosa

Brockamin, facing South

Mahonia x media ‘Charity’

The Old Hills

In winter, the borrowed landscape becomes more important because there are fewer leaves to block the view and less within the garden to distract. The silver birch in the photo above is growing at the boundary; ground beyond that is common land and the wood in the background is across a road. The other photo shows the view further west.

When the temperature improved, I was able to continue the winter clear-up; I was desperate to tidy snowdrop areas before the flowers came up and I knocked them off. There are snowdrops (Galanthus reginae-olgae) that flower in October but I have had no success with them, possibly because they need better drainage and more open ground than I have given them. Early G. elwesii do persist, starting in mid-November each year. A favourite of mine is G. plicatus ‘Three Ships’, so named because it is in flower for Christmas. It has always been reliable and this year opened in mid-December. My original clump, which is planted in sight of the kitchen sink, came from Lallie Cox, who had a wonderful snowdrop collection at Woodpeckers, Warwickshire; she has recently died. By the end of the month, ‘Faringdon Double’ was flowering and many others showing white buds; the photo below shows ‘Ophelia’.

The welcome sight of a tidy border

this one with Jasminum nudiflorum

One I have yet to tackle

My summer raspberries have been disappointing in recent years and were particularly bad this year: many of the berries did not develop properly. They were dug up and in November I planted fifty new canes. These occupied half the area of the old ones, filling one of two slightly raised beds. In December, I cut my autumn raspberries to the ground. There were plants which had strayed beyond their bounds over the last few years and these were dug up and replanted in the bed left empty by the summer-fruiting canes. I now have half the original area of summer fruits and twice as many autumn fruits. The old summer fruits, ‘Malling Jewel’ and ‘Malling Promise’, had excellent flavour but when they were cropping heavily it was difficult to cope with the picking. I shall have to wait until 2018 before I can taste the new ones, ‘Glen Ample’ and ‘Glen Lyon’. The autumn fruits were given to me unnamed but I think they are ‘Autumn Bliss’; the flavour is not as sharp as the summer ones were but they ripen in small quantities over a much longer time (late July to early November) and the large fruits last longer so they are easier to manage. The new canes that grow in spring fruit the same year so I am hoping for plenty in 2017.

Many experts give opinions on how to attract animals to your garden; I should like to repel some! Rabbits have been occasional visitors over the years but, fortunately never stayed long – until this year. They have been in residence for a few months and I am hoping that as I clear the borders I shall find out whereabouts they are coming in and out, so that I can block the holes. I usually see them looking very innocent as they nibble grass but in late summer they browsed some rudbeckia and a newly-planted geranium. Recently they have annoyed me by biting the leaves off a saxifrage and heuchera, both of which were providing useful evergreen colour. They have not eaten the leaves – just left them lying in a circle around each plant; if they wanted to try something new, one leaf would have been sufficient to find out that they did not like them! Fortunately, I have not had a resident pheasant for a few years because they behave similarly, biting the flowers off snowdrops, hellebores and celandines (not the common ones) but not eating them. At one time I had a neighbour who kept chickens; when the fox came (usually in the afternoon), one chicken would fly into my garden to escape and be reluctant to return. Anyone watching might have found my antics amusing but I did not: I wasted a lot of time chasing that chicken and trying to shoo it away. It was destructive and a particular nuisance because it would pull out plant labels. One winter there were mysterious diggings around some snowdrops, which I decided were due to a badger. A friend told me that bottles, partially filled with water, were supposed to repel them; it may be the way they reflected moonlight. I tried it and it seemed to work! (or was it coincidence?) Then the animal (or another badger) returned in the spring when I had just replanted a lot of Geranium sanguineum which were part of my Plant Heritage National Collection; precious plants were pulled out overnight (presumably because the badger was looking for food in my nicely composted and watered planting-holes). I surrounded the plants by increasingly tall and robust wire fences until they gave up and am pleased that it was a one-off problem. Now I have a new one. Walking around the garden on a wonderfully mild Christmas Day, I disturbed an animal that turned out to be a muntjac deer. I knew they had been seen half a mile away but I have never had one in the garden before. It left but I am wondering if it will return in 2017; what will it damage? On the RHS website, I found out that muntjac particularly like hardy geraniums!

Posted by Margaret Stone

1 Comments To "Last Month in My Garden, December 2016"

Elizabeth Hope On 19.01.2017
Deer are also frustratingly fond of strawberryand beetroot leaves! Reply to this comment
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