Whilst winter is often the time when gardeners begin to set their sights on plans for spring, Head Gardener Sallie is reminding us all that the shorter days are also a wonderful time to simply sit back and appreciate another calendar year in your gardens.
As the balance in the garden shifts from directing energy into sustaining growth, the creation of flowers and seeds, the garden scales tilt towards restoration, regeneration, and renewal. Seeds get fat, fruits fill out, leaves build an intensity of warm russet and gold as all things green begin to slow down for winter dormancy.
Gardening time is devoted to the big tidy up, clearing fallen leaves in what can seem like a never-ending task, clearing paths and stuffing composts and leaf cages for creating useful leaf mulch to use in a years’ time. Dividing herbaceous plants, bulb planting and seed collecting. Harvesting, pickling, making herbal infusions, vinegars, oils, chutney, preserving and jamming, bletting fruit and jelly making, pressing, juicing and enjoying! Bountiful harvesting deserves some creativity in the kitchen and sharing with friends and family. Here in the NSIU patients have been enjoying harvesting the strawberries, plums, apples and pears and making up tasty recipes in hand therapy, when there were enough left to do so! Once again, russet apple wedges and toffee sauce was my favourite recipe traditionally a bonfire night favourite in our family it has become a favourite here too and is always made well before that date! There is something about the russet apple that sits perfectly with the sweet toffee flavour!
Increasing biodiversity of the garden was one of my aims in 2020. The garden is now moving into its fifth year and sustaining the Scotland garden for the future has been at the forefront of my mind. As a woodland and courtyard garden it’s been wonderful to see the wildlife using the garden increase year on year. Apart from creating extra interest for patients, visitors and staff, the garden plants have benefited too.
Being ‘not too tidy’ in a garden helps to increase soil structure and nutrients, so don’t treat the garden like an indoor space, your plants will benefit from it greatly. This means leaving some leaves where they fall or placing them somewhere out of sight such as at the backs of borders, or bury a few in the soil as you plant your bulbs or make divisions (key garden tasks for this time of year). Focus on keeping pathways clear to prevent them getting slippery, rake leaves off the lawn to maintain the quality of the grass and clear thick heavy blankets off hedges and favoured shrubs. But leave what you can as a protective mulch and for the worms to pull into the soil for you. A good tip is to raise up the lawnmower and ‘mow’ leaves up off the lawn which shreds them too allowing them to compost much quicker.
Worms, beetles, and all manner of bugs will thank you for becoming a messier gardener, messier but clever! Our gardens can be so much more biodiversity rich by slightly changing our gardening habits. Leaving the deadheading until the spring creates winter interest and food for birds, building logpiles/bug hotels and leaf piles creates habitats for wintering beneficial bugs. Garden designers have come up with wonderful ways to include habitats in even the smallest of gardens. Do some research and see what you find. This year as part of the redesigning of the lower woodland we have been able to create discreet log piles in the top woodland which I hope will attract more beneficial insects, especially the rain beetle that can help to supress the viburnum beetle that decimated the viburnums this year.
As a gardener, I like to take time to make moments of ‘slow down’ at this time of year, a spot of mindfulness if you like. Gardeners are always thinking ahead to the next season, the next year and years ahead but now is the right time to resist and think about now and the growing year just coming to a close. Making time to revisit what worked well, celebrate in the planting successes and learning from the failures means that in the here and now you can relive some of the year. Then and only then, when days become even shorter, plans for a new year will come a lot easier. I use a garden notebook to note down what I grow and when, it lets me set the balance in the planting schemes, hopefully towards a better garden in the following year.
Another favourite winter pastime is when I can savour the enjoyable process of looking through seed catalogues. If I can, I choose a cold wet day, make a perfect cup of coffee, sit in a comfy seat by the fire and paw through inspirational catalogue photos. Immediately I am transported to another world of perfect planting schemes, sunny days and laughter in the garden!
Roll on 2021!
We couldn’t have put it better ourselves!