PUBLISHED: 00:16 16 November 2011 | UPDATED: 20:18 20 February 2013
Please don't make me come back as a poor houseplant, tied to a radiator or forced to live in baking sunlight
December is the month for assessing the amount of pleasure your garden gives you in the depths of winter. The inclusion of winter interest additions are often overlooked when the garden is planned originally. That is human nature. It is understandable why the mind drifts on to scent and colour for the warmer months but gardens must have something to say for themselves at this time of year as well.
The eye must be able to be attracted by a group of Christmas roses (Helleborus niger) for instance, or even a group of bergenias, many species of which having the ability to maintain good-looking foliage.
We do not want a repetition of last December which was so cold that many of the famous winter-flowering plants like Prunus x subhirtella Autumnalis and Mahonia x Charity found it too cold to produce as much as a petal. A way of brightening up a wall or fence is to plant the winter-flowering jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) within a few feet of a Cotoneaster horizontalis so that the yellow flowers of the former are all mixed up with the red berries of the latter. Individually, these are quite ugly plants, but together they sing a merry tune.
Some people say we should leave the remains of dead grasses and assorted seed heads in the garden because they look so beautiful when they sparkle after a frost on a sunny day. But what they dont seem to take into consideration that all such dead plants look pretty nasty during milder, damp and grey spells and lose their point completely once flattened by the snow. There is something very depressing about winter flowering heathers in a domestic garden. These, surely, are plants for wild moorland.
I dont want to show off but my vegetable garden is groaning with produce this winter. My leeks, which needed to be watered a lot this season, are surprisingly large considering the summer proved so dry. My parsnips always do well because the bottom section of my raised beds is filled with farmyard manure which encourages the roots to explore deep down where the soil is rich and damp.
I am growing a little white turnip called Snowball with a round root roughly the size of a golf ball. I will end up with about a dozen or so roots the art is to sow them about six inches (15cm) apart which will prove the perfect amount as an interesting addition to the Christmas feast. Tania is planning to cook them in milk and butter. My late successive sowings of radish have also proved very successful. Theres little better than a fresh radish sandwich with a pinch of salt for lunch.
I would hate to be a so-called houseplant at this time of year in Britain. If I believed in the afterlife I would spend my whole time worrying about what sort of indoor plant I would return as, and what sort of treatment I was going to be given. I would be having terrible nightmares about being a plant from the semi-tropics made to sit close to a hot, dry radiator or forced to live in baking hot, direct sunlight every day. The other two tortures that humans might inflict on me are either being under or over-watered resulting in either dying slowly of dehydration or being drowned in prolonged agony.
Christmas is a popular time to give plants as presents, but just like puppies, they can suffer horribly through maltreatment. People who fail with the real thing can always buy realistic-looking but expensive fake plants made of silk and wax. Why not? I know that I am supposed to encourage people to grow plants on this page but I have seen so many post-Christmas fatalities by this time that I feel I have to speak out against such torture.
All spring bulbs forced to flower early indoors can easily be planted out in the garden the minute their flowers have faded. During milder spells over the Christmas period I am seen with my secateurs clipped to my belt and a foldable saw in my pocket, ready to pounce on misshapen or damaged growth on deciduous trees or shrubs. Wayward growth on recently planted formal hedges can be dealt with similarly as can plants suffering from wind rock in more exposed parts of the garden.
Christmas is a popular time to give plants as presents, but just like puppies, they can suffer horribly through maltreatment.