December 9-16

Wisterias are amongst the most beautiful of all flowering climbers, producing masses of long fragrant racemes of flowers in late spring through early summer, when they are established and growing well.

t Wisterias are amongst the most beautiful of all flowering climbers, producing masses of long fragrant racemes of flowers in late spring through early summer, when they are established and growing well. However, they cause a lot of impatient gardeners to despair as they make lots of new lush growth and few or no flowers at all.

Wisteria will not flower until they are over five years' old and often only flower after eight or even 10 years so you will need to be patient. There are a few things that can be done to encourage them to flower well. Throughout the life of the wisteria practice good pruning, this should be done twice a year, as with most shrubs it is good to prune after flowering and again in late autumn or winter. Summer pruning of established plants involves shortening the lateral growths after flowering to 15-30cm from their base on the main frame work branches, this will help encourage the formation of flowering spurs, and then in winter cut them right back to just two or three buds.

This type of spur pruning needs to be done through the life of the wisteria and it should reward you with a mass of blooms each year.

There are other things to keep in mind if you want to make sure your plant flowers well. Wisterias will grow on almost any aspect; they will flower best if grown on a warm wall in full sun. Avoid nitrogen-rich fertilisers, as this will give lots of leafy growth and no flowers. Another method of encouraging plants to flower is to restrict its root run. This can be done by planting it in a large sunken pot or putting a box structure made of concrete slabs in the ground.


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t Christmas is approaching - the one time you must eat Brussels sprouts! These always taste better if they have been frosted. As they grow so tall they can be blown around so it is a good idea to check and firm the soil around the base and it may even be necessary to stake, to protect against wind damage. Tall kale and sprouting broccoli should be treated in the same way. Protect the developing curds of cauliflowers from possible frost damage by folding the inner leaves over them.

Pick Brussels sprouts when they are the size of walnuts and nice and firm. Leave the tops on the plants until all the sprouts have been harvested and then they can be eaten in the same way as cabbage.

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t I recently visited Anglesey Abbey, a National Trust property near Cambridge. I was very impressed with the winter garden, and although it was a cold and foggy day it was full of delights. There are many trees and shrubs that flower during winter, for example Prunus subhirtella 'Autumnalis Rosea', Chimonanthus praecox, Mahonia 'Charity', Lonicera standishii, Viburnum 'Deben' and Daphne mezereum. There are also a large range of trees with interesting bark, for example, Prunus serrula, Acer griseum, and Betula utilis 'Jaquemoontii'.

t When it's cold and wet outside it is the time of year to set about the potting shed clearing out all the things you have been just to busy to do over the past year. Clear out any old plant material that may be harbouring diseases, clean and repair tools, any inefficient or badly worn ones should be replaced. Storing your tools in a clean and dry condition will help extend their working life. Take this opportunity to have your lawn mower serviced.

t Continue to prepare the ground for planting next spring or if the weather is reasonable it is possible for you to carry on planting fruit trees and bushes now. Avoid working on the ground if it is frozen or overly wet.

t I was talking to some colleagues about flowers that are out on their birthdays. They had some real favourites. When it came to my turn I had to think long and hard as December is the month of my birth and the number of plants in flower is fairly limited. However, there are many plants in flower now, Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn' must be my favourite closely followed by Clematis armandii 'Apple Blossom'. Other plants that are worth considering at this time of year are Cyclamen coum these are good indoors and outdoors, thriving in a shaded spot. Jasminum nudiflorum with masses of yellow flowers on bare stems, this is a plant that can be wall trained for best effect. The list of December flowers would not be complete with out Mahonia x media 'Charity' this is a superb evergreen with masses of yellow flowers, very sweetly scented.

t Reduce the watering of indoor plants over winter, once a month will be sufficient, try and use rainwater, as this is better for the plants. Over watering plants in the greenhouse over winter can cause them to rot. Take particular care of pot plants over winter to ensure they give a good display for Christmas and the New Year.

t Start sowing seeds of alpines in cold frames and sow Pelargonium seeds under cover in a heated green house or propagator to get them early for next year.

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