Get ready for the festive season
THERE are two scenarios that face the gardener at this time of year. For those staying at home it means getting the garden into shape so that it is a gorgeous backdrop for the festivities. For those going away it is about putting the basics in place so that the garden survives with minimal care.
For those staying at home there is still time to plant containers, fill hanging baskets and generally give the outdoor living areas a touch of glamour.
Red is not only the colour of Christmas, it is a lively, energising colour that gets the party going. If red clashes with the garden’s colour scheme a container or hanging basket is the answer because it can be redone later.
There is quite a range of quickgrowing, showy annuals to choose from; salvia, impatiens, celosia, zinnias and tuberous begonias.
Fire-engine-red salvia splendens is the dwarf annual bedding salvia that always makes a statement. It grows equally well in the garden or in a container. Vista is a tried and tested variety and there is also a new range — reddy — that grows 20cm to 25cm high and remains compact. Do not overwater once established.
A nice combination for Christmas is a mix of red and white New Guinea impatiens. Impatiens divine is a New Guinea impatiens that acts like a bedding plant, producing masses of low-growing colour. It grows 25cm to 35cm high and there is both cherry red and scarlet red in the range, as well as white and a scarlet red- and-white mix. It can take some sun but must be well watered and not allowed to dry out.
A particularly festive plant is the plume celosia. The plumes look like tiny, flaming candles and the best effect comes from planting a mix of colours massed together. Kimono is the super-dwarf variety, only reaching a garden height of 15cm. The plumes are plump, and the colours bright and non-fading. It is available in a mix of nine fiery colours. The slightly taller glow is particularly heat tolerant and performs best in very hot conditions.
It comes in individual shades of carmine, pink or red.
Scarlet, fire (orange-red), yellow and cherry are the festive colours of the new zinnia zahara range. This dwarf variety is nothing like the old-fashioned zinnias. The blooms are single or double, they are low, growing, compact plants and are more rust resistant. They don’t need huge amounts of water, and their leathery leaves and sturdy flower heads withstand the blazing sun when so many other flowers are inclined to wilt.
Finally, don’t forget begonia tuberosa, which is quite different from the bedding variety and has very showy, double flowers. Begonia nonstop has masses of deep red double blooms and low, compact growth good for borders, containers or window boxes. Plant it in rich, well-drained soil. Once established, don’t overwater.
If you are going away from home here are some tips to help your garden to survive:
If you don’t have an automatic watering system put a thick layer of mulch (10cm) around the plants (flowers and vegetables). It keeps the soil cool and moist longer.
Arrange for the garden to be watered at least twice a week, unless it rains heavily. Delay fertilising until you return.
Don’t put in any new plants because in December’s heat they will need regular watering to get established. Rather let the garden rest until you return.
Plants in pots and hanging baskets should be moved out of the direct sun if possible. Extend or set up an automatic irrigation system for them. If you can’t do that, place the pots in saucers filled with gravel so that water doesn’t drain away. Incorporating water-retaining products like Swell Gel into the potting soil will help, but they still need to be watered regularly while you are away.
Roses should be sprayed with Chronos just before you go on holiday. It will protect them against black spot for up to a month. Cut off all buds that are likely to flower while you are away, along with two or three leaves, and you can expect a super show in January.
Check the irrigation system for blocked nozzles and ensure automatic systems are set correctly.