December: from the sublime to the recycled

Okay - I can finally bring myself to say the C- word. Here in Hampshire, the street lights are on, the daft jumpers are out and the junk mail has built up a head of steam.

There are always ways of making the festive season a little less trashy.

For starters, if you can get your compost and recycling bins organized before the brandy-soaked pudding kicks in and if you can buy wrapping paper from responsibly sourced suppliers, you will at least be a few steps along the path of recycling redemption. There are also an ever expanding range of festive goodies made from sustainable sources. 

A quick pause to think about how you are going to get rid of 'stuff' you don't want or need, as well as how you are going to shop for it, can go a long way.

A useful tip for when you buy a Christmas tree: choose a Pine (Pinus) or a Fir (Abies) species as the needles remain longer than the classic Norway Spruce (Picea abies) - unless you enjoy vacuuming around fairy light cables and catching falling Christmas trees.

When you buy a tree, cut off the bottom 5-7 cms and place the tree in a bucket of water away from a radiator: this will help to keep it hydrated. Stabilizing the bucket with bricks or stones will lessen the chance of an accident.

If the TV/shopping/relatives/barking dog/sugar-high youngsters get too much, there are several jobs to do outside:

  • Share the surfeit of food with the wildlife, especially the birds who are now beginning the hard work of surviving the winter.
  • Keep raking off the leaves and adding to the compost heap with a layer of soil every 30 cms or so.
  • Check tree and climber ties: high winds can blow these around until they work their way loose.
  • Acers, birches and vines can all be pruned now as their sap has stopped rising and so they will not "bleed".
  • Overgrown apples and pears can be pruned too but look for further advice on the RHS website if you are not sure how to tackle this.
  • Avoid pruning ornamental cherries, plums and almonds: that is for the spring/end of winter.
  • Simply cutting back your faded herbaceous plants and tidying up any debris can create a really nice sense of order in your garden.
  • If you are keen to get stuck into something challenging, now is the time to start spreading and digging in horse manure and composts to improve the structure of your soil. The better the structure, the better it will drain and hold onto the life-giving humus.
  • Remember - it is water rather than cold that will often kill a plant in winter, so be alert as to where there may be flooding. Leap into action with the fork to deal with this problem. 

Watch out if you try to sneak out for a swift one when there is a frost on the ground: frosty grass has the unfortunate habit of leaving tell-tale footprints for a long time. Not very good when they aren't in a straight line either.

Wishing you all a very, very Happy Christmas!