Short days and long nights mean that December is not a great month for gardening. It is, however, a good time for reflection and promise. Reflection on what worked well this year, and promise for the gardening year ahead. So, when the weather confines you indoors, use the time to sort through any leftover seed packets and plan what to order for the year ahead. Why not try some exciting new vegetable seed varieties, or perhaps select something from our heritage range?
December is a good time to prune fruit trees and, on dry days, do some digging ahead of the winter frosts. A cold and frosty world looks wonderful from the warmth of a house, but do spare a thought for the garden birds. They’ll be seeking shelter in your shrubs and bushes and will depend on you putting out food and fresh water.
Evergreens really come into their own this month, not only giving structure and form to the garden but also providing foliage and berries to decorate your home. Ivy is perfect for draping over pictures or twining round bannisters, and boughs of holly are a must. Just check for unwanted guests before you bring any cuttings indoors!
Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle … a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to the light, a bud straining to unfurl. And the anticipation nurtures our dream.
– Barbara Winkler
My top tasks for December include:
- Cut autumn raspberries back to ground level.
- Have you ordered your seed potatoes yet?
- Plant out bare root shrubs, roses and trees.
- If you’ve been forcing bulbs for an indoor display, now is the time to bring them inside to a well-lit, cool spot.
- Parsnips and Brussels sprouts will have been frosted by now and so will be perfect for your Christmas lunch. Do stake your sprouts to prevent wind rock damage.
- Keep raking up any remaining fallen leaves and bag them to make leaf mould. It’s a wonderful soil conditioner and it’s free!
- It’s too late to prune plum trees, but your apple trees will appreciate a tidy-up.
- Carefully brush any snow from shrubs and plants as the frozen weight can otherwise cause breakage and damage.
- Keep off the grass in frosty weather. Those black footprints won’t do it any good!
- Check through to ensure that you have all the vegetable seeds that you want to sow next year and place a Dobies order. Be brave and try at least one new variety – new often means improved.
Here are some of the delicious crops I harvest in December:
- Cranberries: These jewel coloured fruits are easy to grow and come into their own when brought to the festive table. The plants are hardy, suitable for containers and borders and are smothered in pink flowers prior to the berries forming. When grown commercially, the fields are flooded at harvest time. This loosens the berries from the bushes and they are then scooped up once they’ve floated to the surface. But you can just pick the berries as required or leave them to provide a splash of bright colour through the winter months. Cranberries are full of a natural preservative and so will store in the fridge for a couple of months or they can be frozen or dried. They’re a very versatile ingredient and, apart from cranberry sauce you could also try them in biscuits, pies, cheesecakes, jellies and sorbets.
- Red cabbage: Tasting every bit as good as it looks, there are several varieties of red cabbage including pointed and round heads. Perfect in salads and stir fries, the deep red colour looks fabulous on the plate. Red cabbage can be cooked in many ways but is perhaps at its best gently braised until softened and caramelised. Or, combined with white cabbage and coarsely grated mixed root veg, your red cabbage will help to create a rainbow winter coleslaw.
- Brussels sprouts: The most bitter of the brassica family, Brussels sprouts are usually loved or loathed. Even if you loathe them, perhaps they’re worth just one more try? The trick is to contrast their bitterness with sweetness or acidity. The worst thing you can do to a sprout is boil it to death. It’s far better to steam until just tender and serve tossed in butter and seasoning. Or, slice and fry with some bacon lardons, a splash of double cream and perhaps a little flaked chilli. Sprouts also roast well. Coat them in olive oil and roast in a hot oven until tender. Then just add butter or a splash of balsamic vinegar and serve. For a festive twist, add a few dried cranberries and toasted almonds. And do make sure that you cook too many, so you can make tasty bubble-and-squeak on Boxing Day!
Ann’s Mulled Wine Red Cabbage Recipe
This perfect, jewel coloured side-dish can be made a couple of days in advance and then just gently reheated.
You will need:
- 1 small red cabbage – finely shredded
- 1 orange – juice and zest
- ½ lemon – juice and zest
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 8 cloves
- ½ tsp nutmeg
- 2 tbsp soft brown sugar
- 250ml red wine
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Heat the olive oil then add the spices and stir for 1 minute.
- Add the cabbage, orange zest and juice, lemon zest and juice, sugar and half of the wine.
- Stir and then cover and simmer over a low heat for an hour or until softened. Stir every now and again to prevent sticking and add more wine if needed.
- Uncover, increase the heat and gradually add the rest of the wine until the cabbage is dark and glossy.
- Season to taste.
Fancy growing something new?
We all have our favourites – tried and trusted varieties of fruit and veg that we grow each and every year. But it’s also fun to try something new. Here’s my suggestion:
For a maincrop variety with high disease resistance, Potato ‘Java’ stands up well to blight, scab and eelworm. Producing a high yield of red tubers that are suitable for all-round use, this is the potato to try if you’ve had trouble in the past. Growing them in potato bags helps to avoid soil-borne diseases while giving you a good crop.