Christmas gardening jobs

December is a quiet time in the garden caught between the clear-up of autumn and the busy seed-sowing of spring.

Yet there are still some things that need to be done and what better way to escape the festive frenzy than to ‘disappear’ outside for a while.

Here are some gardening jobs that will while away a few hours over the Christmas break.

Look sharp

Now’s a good time to overhaul your gardening tools – and the potting shed. Make sure trowels, forks, spades and secateurs are cleaned of last season’s grime, blades are sharpened and wooden handles treated with linseed oil for protection.

gardening jobs
Now’s the time to get tools ready

It’s worth putting up some hooks or shelves for storage; there’s nothing worse than wasting time hunting for something.

Check you’ve got enough twine, labels and other gardening bits and pieces now rather than waiting until you need them in the spring.

Plan ahead

If you’re anything like me, you have boxes stuffed with seed packets. Some empty, some half-full. Sorting it out is one of those gardening jobs that pays dividends. Go through and check the sow-by dates; quite a lot will keep but some things – notoriously parsnip, sweetcorn and lettuce – rarely germinate well a second year.

gardening jobs
Get your seeds sorted

Be ruthless. It’s so easy to hang on to something you are never likely to grow (often a ‘free gift’ from a gardening mag). If the seed is still good, why not donate it to a local school, swap it at a garden club or allotment group, or see if there is a Seedy Saturday event near you?

Make a list of what you want to grow and what you need to buy – make sure you include something new. Experimenting is one of the joys of gardening.

Don’t be caught out

British winters are notoriously hard to predict. One year we could be inches deep in snow, the next basking in balmy temperatures. Either way, don’t get caught out.

In the midst of Christmas, it’s easy to neglect those ‘out of sight, out of mind’ plants but it pays to keep a close eye on things in greenhouses and cold frames.

gardening jobs
Keep an eye on things that are seeing out the winter under cover

Make sure heaters are working and that lagging is sufficient. Check that overwintering plants don’t need watering; the recent warm spell has seen things in my greenhouse near wilting. Remove any dying leaves to prevent the spread of disease.

On warmer days, open up the cold frame or greenhouse door for a while to allow air to circulate.

Don’t forget to check for other residents: snails love the shelter of greenhouses and it’s a good idea to regularly check staging and corners.

Look out for pots

If you’ve got pots of bulbs tucked away waiting for their moment of glory in spring, make sure they are in top condition. Lag them with bubble wrap, or move into a more sheltered spot if temperatures drop. Standing them on ‘feet’ will ensure good drainage and help them shrug off winter wet and frost.

gardening jobs
Pots of bulbs are already showing signs of life

I grow mine – including tulips, Iris reticulata and hyacinths, in a corner of the garden and move them into the ‘spotlight’ just as they start to flower. Some are already starting to appear through the soil and will need regular checks to make sure I don’t miss the right moment to show them off.

Help your friends

Keep putting out food for the birds and they will repay you by helping to clear up pests later in the year.

gardening jobs
Old sunflower heads have been feeding the birds

Make sure there is fresh water and disinfect bird tables every so often to help prevent disease.

Bring the outdoors in

If you have one of the wonderfully scented winter shrubs, why not cut a small piece to bring indoors? The winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima), mahonia and winter box will all scent a room.

gardening jobs
Winter honeysuckle has a wonderful lemon fragrance

Alternatively, if you haven’t planted early hyacinths or ‘Paperwhite’ narcissi, pick up a pot from a local nursery or garden centre and make a note to plant some yourself next autumn. They are the best antidote to the January blues and help to solve that suddenly bare look when the Christmas decorations come down.

Take time out

One of the hardest things for a gardener to do is to stop and appreciate what they have. It is so easy to see what needs doing – weeding, pruning, digging – rather than what you have achieved.

gardening jobs
Fat hellebore buds are full of promise

So as well as the gardening jobs, take the time to walk around your garden and see what’s already on the move. Snowdrops, hellebores and crocus are just some of the things that are starting to appear in my garden. 2017 is already full of promise.

gardening jobs
It won’t be long before the snowdrops are in bloom

• Enjoyed this? Do leave me a comment and share this post via Twitter, Facebook or email. 

Westonbirt creates an Enchanted Christmas

Walking through a wood at night isn’t an obvious crowd-pleaser but the Enchanted Christmas light show at Westonbirt is different. In fact, it’s become so popular this year sees advanced booking only and timed tickets.

The annual display is now in its 20th year and for many families seeing hundreds of lights transforming the National Arboretum is a traditional start to their Christmas.

Last year, more than 35,000 people visited the 12-day event, which runs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings from the end of November until just before Christmas.

It’s the increasingly popularity that has led to the change in ticketing, explains arboretum spokeswoman Emily Pryor.

enchanted christmas
Coloured lights highlight the trees

“We’re striving always to improve the quality of visitors’ experience. We want it to be the best we can give.”

As a result, there will no longer be the option to pay at the gate and all tickets to the route will be issued in one-hour time slots, although people can enter the arboretum any time after 5pm to visit the restaurant and shop.

And Emily stresses that once on the illuminated trail there is no pressure to get around in a given time.

“Visitors can take as long as they need,” she says.

As well as new arrangements for tickets, the display in the Enchanted Christmas has also seen some changes with a complete overhaul of the equipment used to ensure an even brighter and more dazzling show.

enchanted forest
The lights create a magical world

This includes a more powerful machine to pump bubbles out into one part of the trail where they will be picked out by UV lights.

“It looks quite amazing in the dark,” says Emily.

Meanwhile, an ‘elf village’ for Santa’s helpers will have tiny houses lit up among the trees, while Father Christmas – dressed in the original, traditional green – will be taking Christmas requests and Mrs Christmas will be telling stories.

Although the one-mile trail follows a different route through the Old Arboretum each year, the concept remains the same. Lights in every shade from red, blue and white to green, purple and orange transform Westonbirt’s trees, picking out twisted limbs, fissures in bark or the graceful shape of weeping specimens.

Enchanted christmas
The Enchanted Christmas is a popular annual event

Some trees are lit with a steady spotlight, others are part of an ever-changing display as lights go on and off with timers.

Among the most popular elements are those that involve audience participation. The ‘singing tree’ has lights that are sound sensitive and visitors are encouraged to sing or shout to illuminate it. Elsewhere, a sequence of lights is triggered by visitors beating on drums.

And there is the chance to light up the Enchanted Christmas with pedal power by riding on a bicycle.

“It’s a huge hit with kids.”

There’s even a touch of disco with a huge mirror ball that reflects back onto the trees.

The Enchanted Christmas opens on Friday November 25 and runs on every Friday, Saturday and Sunday until Sunday December 18th.

The trail is pushchair and wheelchair friendly. Stout shoes, warm clothing and a torch are recommended.

For more details and booking information, visit Westonbirt

• Enjoyed this? Do leave me a comment and share this post via Twitter, Facebook or email. 

Please, Santa, can I have . . .

Unlike some of my nearest and dearest, gardening friends and family are easy when it comes to buying presents. Newcomers to the joys of growing can be given starter kits of forks, trowels and fool-proof seeds while there are unusual plants and top quality tools for seasoned campaigners. And everyone loves a book.

But what of the professionals for whom gardening is not a hobby but a way of life? I’ve been talking to the head gardeners at some of the Cotswolds’ best known plots and asking them to share their letters to Santa.

At Barnsley House, home of the late Rosemary Verey, head gardener Richard Gatenby is hoping for new tools, but not just any old fork and spade. He has his eye on some traditionally made items from Holland.

“Dutch tools do it for me,” he explains. “I’d love the DeWit planting spade. It has a beautiful curve to the shaft and not too big a blade. But I’d need boot protectors!”

Richard Gatenby
Richard Gatenby at Barnsley House

Richard, who worked with Mrs Verey on the world famous garden, is also hoping for a Great Dixter Tickling Fork. Designed by another horticultural giant, the late Christopher Lloyd, and made by Sneeboer, it is ideal for working the soil in tightly planted beds.

“I like the sound of it and again it just looks perfect.”

At Batsford Arboretum, head gardener Matthew Hall is in charge of 56 acres of woodland and garden that include the National Collection of Japanese flowering cherries. The wide-ranging arboretum has around 1,300 different trees, shrubs and bamboo, and more than 2,850 labelled specimens.

Matthew Hall
Matthew Hall wants help keeping track of the trees

Unsurprisingly, top of his Christmas list is something to make keeping a track of everything a little easier.

“If someone was to hand me a GPS system to map the arboretum and catalogue the plant collection, I would be very happy!” he says.

Sezincote
The Indian Garden at Sezincote

It’s not trees but vegetables that are on Greg Power’s mind this Christmas with a wish list that encompasses something that’s practical and beautiful.

Greg Power
Greg Power

Greg, who took over as head gardener at Sezincote earlier this year is hoping to see some forcing pots under the tree.

“I’d like some that are a modern design and some old 19th century ones,” he says. “I want them for my sea kale.”

One of the Cotswolds’ newest head gardeners is Vicky Cody, who took over as Gardener in Charge at Snowshill Manor in April. She’s hoping for an old-fashioned scythe to use in Snowshill’s orchard, a quieter alternative to a flail mower and strimmer.

Snowshill Manor
Snowshill Manor

“I also think it’s good to keep old techniques and practices alive,” says Vicky, “and it’s much more in the spirit of Snowshill and would be kinder to the environment to boot.

“If Poldark happened to come along with the scythe – even better!” she adds.

Vicky Cody
Vicky and Cookie, who is looking for a coat

And after a wet autumn, she has also looking for a fleecy, lined, waterproof jacket for her spaniel, Cookie.

Meanwhile, Vicky’s former boss Glyn Jones at Hidcote Manor Garden is after beauty and creature comforts.

Top of his list are some mohair socks, such as those sold by former TV presenter Selina Scott.

Glyn Jones
Glyn is hoping for a ready to flower wisteria

“I already have one pair and they are so toasty,” explains Glyn, who is Garden and Countryside Manager at Hidcote. “Having spent many years with cold feet these are simply fantastic.”

Plants are also welcome, particularly a dark blue wisteria – “Grafted as I don’t want to wait ten-plus years to see its first flower” – and a pink clematis, such as C. x vedrariensis ‘Hidcote’, to climb through it.

“It’s a classic pink and blue combination and would screen a fence in my back garden at home.

“So, something to warm the heart and something to warm the toes!” adds Glyn.

At Colesbourne Park, home of Sir Henry and Lady Elwes, head gardener Chris Horsfall has his eye on a set of grading riddles for sorting seed.

Chris Horsfall
Chris Horsfall selling snowdrops at Colesbourne Park

“It’s loads of fun and pretty important when planting a garden,” he explains, “but seeds vary so much that one riddle simply won’t do.”

A new Silky Fox pruning saw is another request: “They’re one of the best saws, so convenient and sharp. They are as necessary as your secateurs when you’re out and about in the garden.”

Finally, he wants something to combat the cold in this garden famous for its snowdrops: “Above all, I would love a wood-burning stove for the potting shed. It’s a long winter and autumn, and spring can be challenging too. A wood-burner turns a damp shed into salvation. Yes please, Santa!”

Christmas turns copper

Innovative Gloucestershire florist Hans Haverkamp is predicting a move away from the traditional when it comes to Christmas colours this year.

While the familiar red and green will still be in evidence, Twyning-based Hans believes turquoise, copper and striking black-and-white will also be on display.

“There are a few trends coming along that are going to be popular in the UK,” he says.

Top of his list for 2015 is white and gold, although he stresses this is likely to be soft gold and champagne colours rather than anything brassy.

Christmas flowers
Copper is used as an accent colour this year

“I’ve already seen snowy white coloured trees with gold decorations, maybe some silver,” says Hans, who last month won Best in Show at the NAFAS national competition and has previously come top at Chelsea and the World Flower Arranging Show.

Copper is also likely to be a dominant colour, particularly in baubles.

“A very big trend statement this year will be the use of copper as a real accent colour.”

Pastels in the form of pinks, mint, turquoises and blues are likely to be another popular choice as is the ‘natural look’ with cones, acorns, bark and driftwood.

“Cones are a fairly big feature with oversized cone ornaments.”

A more niche trend is black and white: “It’s for those who want to make strong statement.”

Christmas flowers
Chunky candles are set in felt-wrapped holders

Hans, who trained as a Master Florist in Holland, is using some of these ideas in this season’s workshops, which will cover festive floral decorations including table decorations and door wreaths.

“I’m picking and mixing them a bit. I try to look at the trends and then try to work them into something that’s exciting but not scary.”

His ‘Twinned Candles’, an arrangement using chunky Scandinavian candles, will mix white, taupe, browns, cinnamon and chocolate tones and is wrapped in felt.

Door wreaths this year draw on the cone theme with natural and white-sprayed cones and twigs giving a textured finish.

His party arrangements will be in white and grey with the copper accent, while the table arrangements will feature white, natural wood, greys, champagne and natural tones.

Christmas flowers
Texture is an important element in Hans’ work

When it comes to flowers, he is planning to use white spray roses, copper carnations, nerines and kochia.

“It’s like a little, grey Christmas tree,” he explains.

Yet, he says despite these new trends there will always be a place for the traditional.

Hans Haverkamp
Hans Haverkamp

“You will always have reds and golds because that is the traditional colour. But slowly people are looking to make more of a personal statement with what they do. They are daring to leave the golds and the reds behind.”

Workshops, priced from £55, run from December 2 to 22 and are held in Twyning. To book and for more information, call 07818 040312 or visit www.hansflowers.co.uk