December is an interesting month in the gardening calendar. Almost all the garden societies I am a member of are offering tips or even seminars on making those vital Christmas decorations – surely the children's show 'Blue Peter' is the best place for such things?
In the garden usually the frosts have bitten hard by this time, and lets not forget it is now not unusual to have had the first heavy snows. But the main question I ask myself is, should all the perennials and grasses be cut back hard, as so many gardeners are want to do? I suggest some should be kept tall. I have noticed plants such as Amaranthus, Helianthus, Michaelmas Daisies, Helenium and Rudbekia are excellent sources of food for the finches and sparrows. A client of mine is trying to structure their entire garden along the lines of William Robinson, that not-so-gentle Irishman who kick-started the cottage garden movement in the UK. It is an exciting place to work as the borders are always alive.
However, the winter aspect has been a little harsh - the previous gardener had been cutting everything hard in November, leaving nothing but short stumps and next years buds showing. This year, I have left some of the spent flowers and have noticed the large number of birds enjoying the bounty. With the decline in garden birds approaching worrying levels, I am always overjoyed to see Bullfinches or Yellowhammers -that little burst of colour on a wintry morning exciting the senses and making me realise in my centrally heated ivory tower, life is hard for those literally on the bread-line. So whilst gardening, I suggest you not only leave the now standard nuts and seeds, but leave the plants as well. It can only bring benefits.
-- Guy Deakins