“I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.

‘We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,’
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.”
–   Oliver Herford (1863-1935) I Heard a Bird Sing

By Gordon the Gardener

We are nearer to spring, now that’s a noble thought to hold on to, in this the last month of our gardening year.

And in that vein now is a good time to think about what you are going to grow in the New Year.

Taking a look at seed catalogues would be a start, followed by a nursery’s brochure of plants and rooted cuttings to see what’s on offer.

Prices have risen for plants so it’s worth remembering that seeds and plugs can be had at much better value at that stage than larger specimens later on. Plants do sell out – dahlias in particular – so get your orders in early.

Tasks to do in winter. Outdoor grapevines need to be pruned whilst still dormant. Prune back to three or four eyes, and prune to keep the stems open.

The same principle applies to apples and pears. Try and thin them out creating space between the branches.

If branches have got too long take about a third of the length off. Don’t prune too hard, as hard pruning will produce a lot of green growth and nothing else.

Leeks can be harvested, parsnips and other root crops. Brussels sprouts will now have been frosted, producing a fine taste.

Talking of the cost of things, shrubs are now getting expensive. At this time of year ‘hardwood’ cuttings are your ways to save, and to get quick results. Nothing could be easier.

Simply go out into the garden and find the shrub of your choosing. Look for ‘pencil thickness’ stems. Cut below a node (a leaf joint) at the base and around 12 inches (30cm) at the top.

You now have a hardwood cutting ready to root. Take a spade and make a cut in the open land about half the depth of the spade. After this put a little bit of sharp sand down into the hole, and put the hardwood cutting in to a third their length 5 inches to 6 inches (152mm to 154mm) apart then firm in with your boot. Alternatively, they can be inserted in pots.

Hardwood cuttings that can be rooted in this way are buddleia, cornus, ribes, forsythia and ceanothus and most deciduous shrubs.

So the message is become a real gardener and grow your own. On the subject of flowering shrubs, butterflies this summer have been very few. Probably due to the cold snaps of last winter.

With the hard weather we are experiencing, it is essential to give plants that are a bit tender some protection. Wrapping a protective membrane around the plant will give it the shelter it needs.

My joyful tour of gardens starting at the wonderful Harewood House gardens in July was followed quickly by a tour of Waddesdon Manor gardens, Buckinghamshire, of the Rothschild fame. The gardens were both in tip top condition.

The next stop on my tour of great tour of British gardens was Wrest Park in Bedfordshire (it’s great to use the names of the proud Shire counties in full and not just a postcode). English Heritage do a fantastic job in looking after the house and gardens.

The gardens date from 1658; the parterre gardens are joy to behold. There is colour at every curve of the symmetric design.

The gardens which contain woodlands, lakes as well as French gardens are spread over 92 acres (37ha). They open in spring when masses of spring bulbs will be out in their glory – that’s a thought to take us into spring!

Main image: The French garden at Wrest Park.

READ MORE: Catch up on Gordon’s monthly blogs HERE