Don’t waste the winter
WHILE some of us shiver through the coldest months of the year, other regions in our vast country hardly experience winter at all: a respite from heat and humidity is the welcome sign of winter in the Top End.
In southern parts the colours of autumn are long gone, and trees are bare. Frost settles on plants each morning, creating crystal sculptures, and days are short. We are in the grip of winter. There are chores to be completed in the garden, however, no matter how much the warm indoors may beckon.
Any leaves remaining on the ground should be raked up and added to the compost bin or, once mown over, can be employed as a mulch. Don’t be tempted to leave them lying decoratively on the ground as they will prevent your lawn from breathing.
It’s time to plant and to transplant. You can order bare-rooted roses now, when prices are lower and the range of varieties on offer is vast: heel them in somewhere until you are ready to plant them out, soaking them well first.
David Austin Roses, so popular with Australian gardeners, releases several new varieties each year. All have the blowsy, relaxed form and intense fragrance that we love. This year the cream ‘Claire Austin’, named for Austin’s daughter, and ‘Princess Alexandra of Kent’, a deep pink, are among the offerings.
Many readers in warm temperate and subtropical climates struggle with roses. Tea-roses, with their DNA from southern China, may be the answer, among them the luscious cream-flushed-with-pink ‘Marie van Houtte’, the shell-pink ‘New Dawn’ and the cream ‘Devoniensis’. Support these climbers on a high pergola, perhaps, to ensure the good air circulation that roses love.
Winter is the time to transplant, also, when most trees and shrubs are dormant. Move fruit trees after harvest, evergreen plants after flowering. Weeks in advance, start to warn your plant that moving day is nigh by circling it with a wide trench. Transport the plant to a large, wellprepared hole, taking as big a root ball as possible. Trim off excess roots, and compensate by pruning the foliage. Take care not to bury the plant: be guided by the soil marks on the trunk, and re-place it to that level. Water the plant in well with a seaweed conditioner. Mulch, but avoid bringing the mulch flush with the plant’s trunk, which would encourage collar rot.
Winter is the time for re-potting, also. Tease out the roots of the plant and remove any damaged sections: re-pot into fresh potting mix.
If you didn’t do so in late autumn, crowns of rhubarb can be planted now in compost-rich, slightly acid soil, where they can remain for several years. Rhubarb, full of vitamins, demands sunshine and regular water, and dislikes being moved; it does not do so well in pots. While rhubarb does best in cool climates, where the stems take on the deepest red colours, the hybrid ‘Glaskins Perpetual’, with its heavy green stalks, grows well in warm temperate climates. Harvest two to three-year-old plants in summer through to autumn by grasping a stalk near the base of the plant and twisting; do not cut stalks, as this encourages disease. As you probably know, the leaves are poisonous because they contain oxalic acid; they can be boiled, however, to create an insect spray.
It’s not too late to order potatoes, and you can plant them now. Keep up the worm tea and liquid fertiliser to keep winter vegies growing.
Winter is the time to erect worm farms and compost bins, tidy sheds, sharpen tools, clean and paint outdoor furniture and fences.
It’s a time for creating new garden beds, erecting espaliers and step-over hedges for training low-growing fruit trees: for planning and dreaming.
It’s time also to simply sit and enjoy the winter garden: to appreciate the sculptural form of bare branches that provide a tracery against the sky, to notice seed heads glowing in the golden evening light as the sun sets early each day.
And, as spring bulbs start to push through the cold soil, to remember that the seasons will indeed go full circle and that warm weather will come again. Readers have asked, following the column on Kenroku-en Gardens in Kanazawa, the names of the other two gardens among the three great gardens of Japan. They are Koraku-en, in Okayama (where you can change trains for Naoshima Island) and Kairaku-en in Mito, in Ibaraki prefecture. If you can’t get to these, however, there are dozens of other extraordinary gardens in Japan, from tiny jewels you might glimpse as you wander past an ancient wooden fence to large stroll gardens created for warlords and emperors. Follow daily garden tips and tricks on twitter.com/hollykerforsyth. Holly Kerr Forsyth’s new book, Seasons in My House and Garden, is out now.
Building a vegie garden is among the outdoor tasks possible in the cold season