Prepping for the year ahead

Outdoor Living

LOOK SHARP After being in use all summer and autumn long, your trusty but sometimes-neglected secateurs will need sharpening to stay in good cutting condition.

Twelve tasks that every gardener needs to think about in the run up to the New Year

Frank Steffens

It’s coming towards Christmas and grocery shops are starting to stock-pile Easter eggs, and although we have no interest, Wham are telling us what they gave away last Christmas.
For many professional gardeners it is finally time to drop down on the couch and say ‘never again’. But after a short rethink, perhaps it’s a good idea to follow the 12 steps. The other ‘12 steps’ may be needed after the excesses of the festive season, but these gardening 12 steps will ensure that you and your outdoor patch are set up well for the coming year.

1 Flower seeds
The first seed catalogues will be arriving, and if you haven’t ordered your flower seeds yet, it’s time to do so now.
I used to get a lot of my flower seeds from England, but due to an event that hit Britain suddenly and unexpected, this is not possible anymore.
However, most basic flower seeds can thankfully be bought in Ireland and our friends from ‘Seedaholic’ have a nice selection. Every package of seed comes with a little information leaflet about how to grow the particular plant and additional background information about it.
For more exotic or special seeds I go back to my German roots and order from there.

2 Veg seeds
When it comes to vegetables, it makes more sense to source them in Ireland. Not everything that does well in other European countries will do as well in our climate. In my opinion, vegetables should be as care-free as possible. Some experimentation is always interesting, but what we want in the end is something that tastes good and doesn’t require all of our attention. After all they’re vegetables and not Tamagotchis.
Luckily, we do have good suppliers in Ireland. The Organic Centre, Irish Seed Savers, Fruit Hill Farms or Green Vegetable Seeds would be some of the ones we use the most, the last of which is run by Klaus Laitenberger, who is well known in the organic gardening world. If you are still looking for a nice Christmas present for a keen gardener, he has published a number of worthwhile books on vegetable growing in Ireland.

3 Bulbs
At this stage of the year your bulbs should be planted. Everything that will surface in Spring needs to go in now.

4 Tools
All tools should be cleaned and oiled. This is vital for longevity of your tools and to keep everything in good working order, ready for next year.

5 Secateurs
Secateurs should be sharpened to keep them in tip-top condition and ready for jobs in the coming months.

6 Trees, shrubs
If you decide to plant some bare-rooted trees or shrubs, now and up to early March is the time to do that. Most hedges would be planted that way, and 25 Beech, Whitethorn, Hornbeam or Ligustrum wouldn’t cost more than €2 apiece.
Living in the west of Ireland, I prefer to plant bare-rooted plants rather than the root-balled version. The former tend to establish and quickly grow a better root system, and that is important in the windy west. Besides, you don’t have to dig massive holes when planting them. The downside is that they tend to be smaller, and although you invest less money in the purchase, you have to invest more time in the growing process.

7 Staking
When planting bigger trees, some need staking. For this job, I dig a hole and put the stake in in the position of the main wind direction and then plant the tree. I recommend mixing some compost in with the soil to give the tree the best possible start.

8 Watering prep
To make watering easier, put in a piece of drainage pipe that will go straight to the root system and leave it sticking out only a few centimetres. In the last couple of years we’ve had very dry early springs and late summers and most certainly we don’t want to lose any plants.

9 Pruning
Another tasks that awaits us is pruning, which I usually leave until February and which would require a longer article.

10 Go shopping
If you’re in the market for bare rooted plants the time to purchase them is now as the best places to buy them are, naturally, tree nurseries, local tree nurseries.
As I am based in Tourmakeady, I mainly use Shaw’s, Turlough Nursery and Moneen in Castlebar, or Morleys in Ballinrobe. All of these places will supply you with plants and, as importantly, information about those plants.

11 Pamper
Book a massage to get those back aches treated.

12 Enjoy
Have a very happy, peaceful and relaxing Christmas time and hope that we all see each other in one or another garden next year.

Frank Steffens is head gardener at Drimbawn Garden in Tourmakeady. Drimbawn is a member of the Clew Bay Garden Trail, a chain of beautiful and unique private gardens that open to the public during summer to raise funds for charity (see www.clewbaygardentrail.ie for more). Each month an article by a trail member appears in these pages.