The first Christmas party invitations have arrived and family emails about the organisation of breakfasts, lunches and dinners are circulating. It’s like a hawk circling its target as another year begins closing down. Even the gardening column is no escape, depending on how you look at it. It’s your last chance to get the garden looking gorgeous and to have fresh herbs and a few sweet and cheerful gifts ready in time for Christmas. Here’s a countdown to getting your garden in order for the big day.
JUST UNDER FOUR WEEKS TO GO…
If you want fresh greens on Christmas Day, plant seedlings now. Think lettuce in bulk, parsley, mint, coriander and basil. A weekly foliage feed with a seaweed fertiliser will help accelerate growth. If you sow the seed now, you may still be able to have baby leaf spinach for Christmas Day, but check the germination time on the packet to see if you have a variety that’s fast growing. A seven-day germination will give you three more weeks’ growth. By now, your beans should be starting, so keep picking them to encourage production for the Christmas table.
With the vegetables organised, concentrate on the rest of the garden. First, clear away the junk – all those objects that accumulated over the year, including uncollected weed piles, abandoned plants (the ones you swore you’d plant but never got to), old pots and broken stakes. Spread the tired soil from old pots evenly across the back of garden beds, ensuring younger plants are not buried in the process. Remove extraneous plants, but don’t be too heavy-handed. It’s easy to get overenthusiastic and turn a rough and rambling garden into something resembling a hasty buzz-cut. Small gaps can be quickly filled, but don’t create larger gaps until the New Year.
It’s time to compost the garden beds, cut the hedges and tidy the lawn edges. A good waterblast over patios, paths and – if appropriate – garden furniture (but not the lemon tree or the cat) will freshen things up and deal with slippery growth. (If you can arrange for this to be done by someone else while you are at the garden centre, all the better.) You will have to sweep or hose it down again after you plant and mulch, but it is good to get the heavy work out of the way.
Now the planting. With a tidy-up revealing the holes in even the best-planned garden, you need to plug them. For instant gratification, your best bets are colour or structure, but it all depends on the style of your garden. Structure can be anything from two or three wooden troughs planted with lavender around a patio and some crisp buxus balls to lift a flat-looking garden bed (although they might also flatten your Christmas budget) to a specimen nikau or tree fern for some upward lift. Corokia and coprosma are always great value.
The gardening elite may cringe, but potted colour is not to be sneered at, especially with only three weeks to go. Although potted colour is often regarded as garish, it can be used tastefully. The key is a simple colour scheme and bulk-buying, especially if you aren’t confident with colour. If you have $20 to spend, blow it on 10 plants of the same species rather than single plants from different species. If you want to match your colours but also have variety, play around with colour schemes while you have the plants on your garden-centre trolley. My most reliable potted colour options are Salvia farinacea (deep blue) and cosmos (tall or dwarf white), but a mix of white petunias and alyssum is also beautiful. Keep up the deadheading, as this will ensure plants are ready to push out new flower buds in time for your visitors’ arrival. Don’t forget to water, too.
First, touch up the hedges and edges, then give the garden a good drink. Sprinkle with blood and bone before finishing with a layer of mulch, which will also help keep the flies away from the blood and bone. Don’t heap the mulch too high around the plant stems. Cover the bare soil generously rather than deeply. Keep an eye on the vegetable garden. Watering is becoming increasingly important at this time of year and bug invasions could become more prevalent. Another liquid feed on the salad greens is a good idea if the growth is a little slow.
Check the progress of crops to see what will be available for Christmas Day and what you need to supplement from the supermarket. It should be clear which ones are likely to miss the deadline. Mow the lawns and check the edges are still looking good. Continue deadheading to increase the longevity of the flower garden. If you have time, fill some small terracotta pots with herbs for last-minute Christmas gifts or table decorations.
If it’s not raining, give your garden a big soak on Christmas Eve, as you’ll be preoccupied for the next few days. Then sit down with a glass of tonic with lemon, mint and borage ice cubes and admire the view. However, if you’re exhausted by the end of this column, call Student Job Search and start on the tonic much earlier, preferably with a slug of gin.