Jo Whittingham on gardens: Birds and beasts will feed on plant pests throughout the year

There's so little daylight this month and so much else going on I always think it's no bad thing that the garden doesn't demand too much attention. Although, when the festive mayhem gets too much, I can often be found barricaded into the shed trying to clean and organise pots, canes, labels and tools for next year, or rifling through my box of seeds making a list of what to buy in for spring. I'm sure I'm not the only gardener who uses it as escapism from something...

Whether you use it as a distraction from Christmas shopping or not, start thinking about ordering flower and vegetable seeds now, before the popular varieties sell out. Seed potatoes in particular seem to disappear fast and you'll want to start chitting early varieties in February, so begin studying the catalogues soon. For those who like the purple potatoes that have recently hit the supermarket shelves, why not try growing your own? Varieties such as "Shetland Black" and "Salad Blue" boast the exotic-coloured flesh, while "Edzell Blue" and "Edgecote Purple" have only coloured skins and conventional pale flesh.

If the weather is forecast to turn really cold, as it did around this time last year, then do what you can to keep plants snug. Plants in pots are particularly vulnerable to frost, so move anything that might be damaged into a greenhouse, insulated with bubble wrap if possible. If not, package the pot in bubble wrap instead and lift it off the ground using feet to improve drainage, in the hope of stopping the compost freezing solid. A simple covering of horticultural fleece over plants can be enough to stop brief cold snaps getting the better of them.

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Remember the wildlife in your patch too and put food out for the birds, as well

as a shallow dish of unfrozen water for them and other creatures in need of a drink. It's worth encouraging wildlife into your garden because birds and beasts will feed on plant pests throughout the year.

A bit of frost isn't always a bad thing though, because I'm sure it sweetens and intensifies the flavour of parsnips waiting in the ground to be harvested. Although they take up quite a bit of space, it's great to have a couple of beds packed with winter roots, leeks, kale, Brussels sprouts and cabbage to keep you in hearty soups and healthy greens at this time of year. Most of them do best given an early start sown in February or March, so make plans now for growing next year's Christmas dinner veg.

This article was first published in The Scotsman on December 4, 2010