A win­ter’s tale

Sort the com­post, raise the pots, turn leaves into rich leaf mould and get some out­side fairy lights

Evening Standard - West End Final Extra - ES Homes and Property - - Outdoors -

GAR­DENS can look soggy and de­press­ing at this time of year but that’s a great ex­cuse to have a good tidy. There is some­thing sat­is­fy­ing about clear­ing away the slimy leaves and prep­ping the place for spring.

It is the lit­tle things that count. Get your pots off the ground, oth­er­wise the com­post will get water­logged and any plants or bulbs in it could rot and die. Even a pot with a hole in the base can’t drain if it’s on a solid sur­face such as a ta­ble or paving.

Re­move any saucers un­der out­side pots, be­cause what was help­ful in the heat of sum­mer is a death trap now. You can use any­thing that will raise pots slightly off the ground. There are ter­ra­cotta or plas­tic pot feet de­signed just for the job — see Amei “planter’s feet” from con­nox.co.uk, 12 for £16, or Home­base’s pack of three pot feet in ter­ra­cotta for £1.97. I used to use bricks but get­ting the pot level can be tricky. The bud­get op­tion is to use corks from empty wine bot­tles, which works quite well.

City gar­den­ers with pots of­ten won­der what to do with the old com­post once they have thrown out the an­nu­als. But do you re­ally have to throw it all out and buy fresh ev­ery year? Bags of com­post are heavy to lug up steps and through houses in Lon­don.

Rather than re­plac­ing all the com­post in your pots ev­ery year, Jenny Bow­den of the Royal Hor­ti­cul­tural So­ci­ety rec­om­mends tip­ping out half — re­mov­ing as many old roots as you can — and top­ping up with new stuff. The old can be chucked into a com­post bin or on the bor­ders.

Then plant cy­cla­men, calo­cephalus, heather and tulips in the pots to trans­form the scene. There’s no point in stor­ing open bags of com­post from last sum­mer ei­ther, as mul­tipur­pose com­post runs out of nu­tri­ents after six weeks, and will lose its struc­ture after a year.

If you have trees in your gar­den or over­hang­ing it, the leaves they have been drop­ping over the past few weeks are not just slimy things to slip on, they’re a po­ten­tial trea­sure trove. Leave the ones un­der hedges for hi­ber­nat­ing hedge­hogs — you never know — then fill bin bags with the rest, poke a few holes in the sides, tie them up and sling them some­where you can’t see them, per­haps be­hind a shed or hedge. In a year you will have lovely, sweet-smelling leaf mould that you can spread on your gar­den beds. It’ll be crumbly, well-drained and healthy. Speed up the gath­er­ing process with a Bin Bag Loader, priced £6.95 from lit­tle­fields­farm.com. It’s a nifty rigid plas­tic tube that keeps the bag open so you have both hands free for load­ing.

Au­tumn is tra­di­tion­ally the time to cut back old brown stems on your plants so that the gar­den goes into win­ter pared down and tidy. The fash­ion for now is a more re­laxed ap­proach. Leav­ing a few dead stems and seed­heads is not only help­ful to win­ter wildlife, they can look fab­u­lous frosted, or back­lit by low win­ter sun.

Ten­der plants such as tree ferns and ba­nanas should be wrapped in hes­sian or fleece just about now. But if you grow herbs, this doesn’t have to be the end of the sea­son. If pos­si­ble bring pot­ted basil, tar­ragon, chives and mint in­side to a win­dowsill and they will con­tinue to grow. Other Mediter­ranean herbs such as rose­mary, thyme, sage and oregano can be left out­side, but if they’re in pots move them close to the house so they don’t get too much rain.

AS CHRIST­MAS is com­ing, add a touch of joy to the gar­den with some sim­ple out­side lights. Just a string of fairy or fes­toon lights draped on a fence or a shed, or be­tween trees or posts is all you need to cre­ate a mag­i­cal win­ter scene. Check out Ikea’s well-priced range or try Fes­toon Out­door Line Lights from John Lewis at £60 for a line of 10 bulbs. Fairy lights wrapped all the way up the trunk of a small tree or threaded through ever­green shrubs will lift ev­ery­one’s spir­its on a murky win­ter’s evening.

Rope in the fam­ily: even teenagers can help to clear the decks ready for spring

Help hedge­hogs: they hi­ber­nate in leaf piles un­der hedges

Sweep clean: bag up slimy leaves and give pots some TLC

Stripped-back and strik­ing: Turk­ish sage seed­heads

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.