Gardens: Garden works with Jo Whittingham

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There is so little daylight this month that most people out at work all day will hardly see their garden, let alone get out to enjoy it. But I can really recommend it as a place for a little peace and relaxation when the party planning, frantic shopping and volume of mince pies gets a bit much.

One thing to mention that might induce a little extra pre-Christmas panic buying is that after this summer’s poor potato harvest, stocks of seed potatoes are sure to be lower than usual. Keen vegetable gardeners looking to grow particular varieties next year would do well to get their orders in as soon as possible to make sure they don’t miss out on 
their favourites.

Apart from that, the real pleasure of gardening in winter is that things rarely need to be done to a tight deadline. Even the lawn and weeds should hardly be growing now, so when you step outside in 
December it can just be to potter; collecting up the last fallen leaves, cutting back the odd faded stem, uprooting a stray dandelion or fixing a broken tree tie.

Of course, for those of us looking for an excuse to escape outside, there are many bigger jobs to get under way too. My favourite is pruning the leafless branches of my apple and pear trees, which has become a major undertaking as they have grown.

The main aim of such pruning on mature trees is to keep their centre open by removing overcrowded and crossing branches, along with any dead or diseased wood. It is important to make clean cuts, using sharp loppers or a pruning saw, to allow the tree to heal quickly and prevent disease entering through the wounds. Bear in mind that heavy pruning encourages leafy growth rather than fruiting, so be careful not to overdo it.

Another important task is to give the garden tools a well-earned scrub. Like me, you may have read that tools should be cleaned with an oily rag after every use, but with the best will in the world, if the baby’s crying or the phone’s ringing, the muddy spade and sap-covered secateurs just get slung in 
the shed. Take some time now to remove debris with a wire brush, wipe them over with that oily rag to keep rust at bay, and 
sharpen spades, hoes and cutting tools, to extend their life and make gardening a breeze for months 
to come.