by Jane Solomon
Christmas will be here in a few days, but where’s winter? I packed up most of my gardening tools over a month ago, declared “That’s that,” and have tried to turn my attention to the holidays and indoor pursuits. Still the warm weather and sunshine have refused to quit [Editor’s note: A Christmas Eve forecast of 72 degrees? Really?!?] and I actually have roses in bloom.
So I’ve been taking advantage of the opportunity to get back out there and make sure I’m ready for winter when it does arrive, a gardener’s work being never done. If you haven’t done so already, here are a few things to double-check while enjoying the unseasonable warmth:
• Disconnect any hoses and preferably bring them indoors
• Cut back perennials to just above the ground.
• Heel in any plants that might be sitting around in nursery pots.
• Clean and refill your bird feeders.
• Gather up the last of the fall leaves for compost.
• Search for tools that you may have left out.
• Protect less hardy plants with an extra layer of mulch.
• Prune back broadleaf evergreens, e.g., hollies, boxwood.
Regarding this last advice, I’m sure it’s no accident that hollies, boxwood and other evergreens became traditional Christmas decorations. December is the ideal time to prune them as they’re now (usually…) dormant. Needle evergreens, on the other hand, are better pruned in early spring, though cutting a bit for the holidays certainly won’t hurt.
I can imagine how the knowledge of generations of English gardeners evolved into our idealized holiday setting of a fireplace mantle laden with glossy greenery.
My other favorites cuttings are magnolia, skip laurel and variegated Japanese acuba, which brings some brightness and contrast to the mix.
I love holly berries but find they darken after a while and tend to fall off the branches. My favorite berries by far are the grape-like clusters of nandina.
Their bright orangey-red looks beautiful for weeks and the berries never drop. (assorted photos: magnolia, boxwood, laurel, holly, variegated acuba and nandina berries)
Speaking of pretty red berries, I picked a bowl of strawberries a few days ago. These tiny little gems are Alpine strawberries, an impulse seed purchase at Ace Hardware by my son last year.
We tossed the seeds in a pot and largely forgot about them. This spring the pot was packed. I dumped it out and separated at least 20 little plants, having neglected to thin them after they sprouted. Now I have a dozen foot-wide plants that flower and fruit nonstop. I’d never heard of Alpine strawberries before and while they don’t look like much, the flavor is divine and intense, like strawberry jam.
Here’s what Renee’s Seeds has to say about them. This year the critters ate more than we did, but next spring I’ll put netting over the plants so we can enjoy the continuous bounty.
Winter will arrive eventually and bring an end to my strawberry harvest. The new climate accord gives me hope for the distant future but we should expect the unexpected for a long time to come.
Meanwhile, we may as well enjoy the mild temperatures and stop to smell the roses. Happy holidays!