‘O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, Much pleasure doth thou bring me!‘
– Author unknown
I think the saddest part of the Christmas holidays is when it’s time to take down the Christmas tree. It signals the end of the festive season and all that Christmas means to us. But it doesn’t have to be so sad! For little more than the cost of a plastic or fresh-cut tree, you can buy a live evergreen, either container grown or balled and wrapped in sacking, and plant it for posterity after the holidays. It’s a great way to remember an extra special Christmas, such as the first in a new home or a new-born addition to the family!
It’s best to select a small tree because it will be cheaper, easier to move, and easier to plant. Look for a good shape and run your hands through the needles. If any drop off, look for another tree. Make sure the root ball is solid, free of cracks and doesn’t move independently of the stem. Try to position the tree in a cool spot indoors over the Christmas period.
As I write, occasionally glancing out over the garden, I can see the tree that heralded our first Christmas here. But now it’s 10 foot tall in spite of having the height pruned occasionally over the last ten years or so.
It might seem early to start planning in December for next year’s vegetable garden, but that’s exactly what old Ernie, a gardening friend of mine, does. Rather than sending an old Christmas tree to the tip, he sets it up in his yard to serve as a bird haven for the winter. When spring comes, Ernie cuts off the twiggy bits of growth, getting down to the “bones” of the tree. Then he props it in his vegetable garden, where he plants his cucumbers. He trains the cucumbers up the tree, and when they’re fruiting, they hang from the branches like ornaments. Who says you can’t have Christmas in July?
Just when you’re thinking of the approach of winter, the pansies arrive at the garden centre. Their cheerful faces in all sorts of colours can improve anyone’s mood in a hurry.
It’s still not too late to plant pansies. Worried about frost killing them? No problem. They’ll bloom even through an occasional snowstorm! Pansies love cool weather, and they are so versatile.
Pansies are at home in a container, massed as bedding plants or mixed into a border.
With a range of colour rivalled only by a 64-pack of crayons, pansies are king. They boast every colour of the rainbow and several shades in between. And each flower doesn’t have just one colour. Take a look at all of the variations in your garden centre.
When you’re shopping for pansies at the garden centre, it’s often easiest to find mixes rather than single colours. Look for bi-coloured pansies. These are the ones you’ll see with upper and lower petals of different colours. Pansies are hybrids, and breeders are always coming up with more colour combinations. If you want a single colour, seeds are probably the way to go. You’ll have more selection shopping from a catalogue. Of course you’ll need to do a little more planning ahead if you want to grow your pansies from seed. But it isn’t hard.
Plant pansies along a border or a path to help lighten your step each time you pass by. For the most impact in a massed planting, choose pansies with clear faces (single colour). Yellow pansies soften the edges of a path. Simple yellow by itself is nice, but throw in some other colours and you’ll have a real spring show-stopper.
As if there weren’t enough good things to do with pansies, you can even eat them, garnish a cake with the flowers or add them to a salad.
Pansies work well in containers, too. For pots, pick just about any colour pansy that takes your fancy. Have you a favourite, frost hardy, coloured pot or ceramic dish in which you would like to grow them? Take it with you to your garden centre so you can test drive different colour combinations. Containers are great because you can move them around to get the pansies to perform at their peak.
When it comes time to pinch back your pansies have a glass of water nearby to fill with the flowers, they make charming bouquets. That way you won’t have to waste the blooms. To make them last, change the water daily and keep the stem ends freshly cut, just like you do with other cut flowers.
Winter is the time to examine your gardening equipment.
I have to admit that over the years I haven’t always treated my garden tools as well as I should have. I’ve been guilty of leaving them outside when I’m finished. In the past, I’ve often bought the cheapest tools I could find. Eventually, I realised that buying quality tools and caring for them meant they didn’t need to be replaced so often. Working in the garden is easier with good, sharp, well-maintained equipment. After you find just the right equipment, it really does make sense to take care of it. After all, a high-quality tool can last for many years, especially with a little care.
Rather than just propping the spade and hoe in the corner of the shed, where their edges get knocked about, I now have a special place for each tool. I’ve hung hooks for everything from rakes to the old knife I use for dividing perennials. Hanging tools protects the blades and keeps the shed tidy so I can find a tool when I need it.
After working in the garden, do a quick examination and cleaning of your tools as you put them away. I find that keeping an old plastic spatula by the door of my garden shed works well to scrape off dirt and mud. Don’t use a metal trowel for scraping, you could end up dulling both tools. You don’t need to clean them as if you’re getting ready to store them for winter, but at least remove the loose dirt.
When you do forget and the mud has dried like concrete, the sharp spray from a hose and a nylon scrubber will clean it all off. After you wash the tool, make sure to dry it thoroughly with a rag. Tools put away wet will rust, making the surface rough. Examine the blade edge as you put each tool away. If you find large nicks or see that the edge is dull, it’s time to get it sharpened.
Remember that the most important tool in the garden is you. When you’re feeling dull or not too sharp, you should take care of yourself. The same is true of your garden tools. They’ll be more productive if they’re well cared for.
Finally, when you plant those pansies, remember, Green Side Up!