THE weather in December has been decidedly chillier than November, which feels more like the weather we expect in the run up to Christmas!
The relatively mild and dry spell last month enabled a lot of jobs that might be delayed until spring to be completed in a timely manner this side of the new year.
It seems our winters are happening later and cold spells can push out into the springtime over the last few years. We have to learn to live with what nature throws at us and adapt to doing jobs in the garden when the weather allows.
As preparations for the festive season get into full swing, there is still plenty to get on with in the garden. Jobs done now will ease the pressure come the springtime.
Cover any empty vegetable beds with a mulch of garden compost and cardboard or black plastic now, and when these beds are uncovered in the spring, beautiful, crumbly compost will have been incorporated into the top soil, making an excellent growing medium with minimum effort, excellent for growing more vegetables next year. Doing this now will allow plenty of time for the compost to be drawn down into the top soil layer by earthworms and other insect life before next spring.
Removing any perennial weeds like nettles, dandelions and dock roots now and applying a mulch on beds and borders will keep them looking good and ready for action next spring.
Mulching is a great way of weed control, soil improvement, retaining water and feeding plants. Just be careful not to smother plants by applying too thick a layer. Before application of mulch, be sure to plant any remaining spring flowering bulbs that need to go into the ground.
Staggering the annual cutting down of herbaceous perennials ensures some of these natural bug hotels are left in situ for insects to take refuge during the winter months.
Some perennials look good with their seed heads intact and birds are glad of the food source too. A totally tidy garden is no longer the thing, leave some mess for biodiversity to thrive and survive.
Most of the deciduous leaves have fallen to the ground at this stage. A warm November meant they were slow to shed this year and in some sheltered spots in the garden you can still find some trees bearing autumn coloured leaves, particularly Japanese maples as they require good protection from the wind to establish and do well. The multi-coloured leaves in the low winter sunlight produce spectacular effects in the morning sun. There are still plenty of leaves to be raked up and these can be bagged separately, added to the compost heap or raked into beds and borders, where they will create a mulch suppressing weeds and gradually breaking down.
A recent visit to Airfield Gardens in Dundrum, Dublin, revealed lots of preparations underway for Santa’s imminent arrival. A unique setting at the heart of a built-up urban environment, it is 38 acres of rolling farmland with sheep grazing in the fields, hens clucking and a herd of jersey cows casually sauntering in the paddocks, while apartment blocks and new housing schemes are under construction all around.
The gardens at Airfield comprise more than six acres and are made up of ornamental and food production areas. Education is at the heart of what they do at Airfield and it is a very dynamic garden with different areas being developed and redesigned all of the time under the watchful eye of head gardener Colm O Driscoll.
Walking around the gardens provides much planting inspiration with a wide range of both ornamental and edibles grown beautifully.
The two acres of food production goes towards providing seasonal fruit and vegetables of the Overends Kitchen on site and some of the produce is also sold at the weekly Farmers Markets’ which currently runs on Friday and Saturday each week from 9am until 2.30pm.
The gardens here work in conjunction with Irish Seed Savers in Co. Clare to trial and produce seeds of different vegetable varieties each year. The farm, gardens and restaurant provide a unique recreational and educational resource for the school children and residents in the area where many visit on a regular basis to learn about where food comes from and to enjoy the surroundings.
See www.airfield.ie for more details about events and opening times.