Lillys Pets - A Mouse Called Monty

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The incredible growth and changes in May means that it is hard to keep up with the garden — go away for a few days and it can run away from you. On the one hand this is all part of the joy of the season — nature is rampant and we should celebrate that. However keep on top of weeding if at all possible. Hoe vegetables and hand weed borders and if you have not done so yet then it is not too late to mulch. By the middle of the month tender annuals such as tithonias, zinnias, cosmos and sunflowers can be safely planted out in all southern parts and the tender vegetables such as squashes, sweetcorn, beans and.

These are tender plants that will be knocked right back by a touch of frost and will survive but not grow if the temperature drop below about 10 degrees and then become fair game for slugs and snails. Sow dwarf beans in rows in well manured soil a with each bean spaced 6 inches apart and the rows inches apart. Unlike herbaceous perrenials, grasses are best divided once they have started to grow vigorously. Lift the clump and divide into fairly substantial sections — they grow slowly so do not cut them up into too small pieces.

Replant them at the same level they were in before and water in well. Keep watering them weekly until they are growing strongly. Some grasses seed themselves freely and form crowded clumps and these can be thinned and moved by lifting entire young plants and repositioning with more space around them. The beginning of May is a good time to lay turf as the ground is warm and the grass is beginning to grow vigorously so will establish quickly.

A lawn is only as good as the soil it grows on. Rather than hiding imperfections, turf tends to accentuate them whilst making it much harder to fix, so get it right before the turf goes down. Dig over the area, breaking up any compaction and removing all and visible weeds.

Rotovate it well and then rake it thoroughly so that the surface is smooth and level. Then tread over every inch, keeping the weight on your heels. Only cut when you have to and keep any shorter sections away from the edges so that they will dry out more easily than longer sections. When you are happy that it is done, water it well. Do not tread on it at all until the grass is visibly growing — which will be around 10 days. If you have tulips growing in borders, deadhead them once they are past their best. The best way to deadhead them is simply to snap off the spent flower with the growing seed pod using your fingers.

Do not cut back the stem or any of the foliage as this will all contribute to the growing bulbs as they slowly die back. As the young plants grow they form shoots between the leaves and the stem and these are known as side-shoots. They grow with extra vigour and although they do bear trusses of fruit, they take energy from the plant and reduce the overall harvest as well as making a cordon plant straggly.

So they should be removed as they appear. The best way to do this is in the morning when the plant is turgid, simply breaking them off with finger and thumb. However in the evening they will be limper and may tear the plant so should be cut off with a knife. Hardening off is important and will means much faster growing and longer-lasting flowers — so if you buy any of these annuals from a garden centre over the coming weeks, do not plant them out immediately but put them in a sheltered place for a week to acclimatise to your garden, as they will probably have been kept sheltered for best retail display.

I like to use tender annuals both in containers and borders and in the latter I do not use them as bedding but to enrich the general tapestry of the overall planting. So I place them in groups so they make drifts and clumps rather than straight lines. Space them about 12 — 18 inches apart in a sunny situation that is sheltered from strong winds and water them in well.

As long as the temperature does not drop below 5 degrees they should grow strongly and flower well into autumn. The reason for doing this is to delay flowering and to encourage bushier, stronger and more floriferous plants later in summer. Plants such as heleniums, sedums, lysimachia or solidago Golden Rod are particularly responsive to this. If you have several clumps of these plants then cut one of them about half way up the existing growth. If you have just one big clump then reduce just one third of the plant in this way. The result will be that the pruned section will produce side shoots bearing extra flowers which will bloom a few weeks later than the uncut growth and extend the display into autumn.

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The best time to prune early-flowering clematis such as c. Obviously the timing of this will vary considerably in different parts of the country but the principal remains constant and for many of us this occurs at the end of May. So cut back freely, not worrying about individual stems or the position of the cut. Then when you have finished, weed round the plant, water it well and mulch generously with garden compost or bark chippings. Now is the time to sow wallflowers, honesty, foxgloves, forget-me-nots or sweet rocket for a lovely display next spring and summer.

For most this means that they germinate and grow without flowering in summer and autumn, remaining dormant over winter, then have another burst of growth before flowering in Spring and early summer. The great advantage of biennials in our borders over annuals is that they are hardy enough to withstand a cold winter and quickly produce flowers in spring without having to wait for the plant to grow first. Sow the seed thinly in a seed tray, cover them with vermiculite and put to one side to germinate. They do not need heat but a sheltered spot or porch will help.

When the seedlings are large enough to handle prick them out into pots or plugs and grow them on so the young plants are ready to plant out in early autumn where you want them to flower next May. Lunch outside is the measure of good weather in Spring.

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The first day you can have lunch outside without freezing to death whilst simultaneously pretending that you having a great time and longing for a really hot fire to stand by, is either a freak of climate change or — April. You can also have snow, frost and heavy rain but it is a cruel year when there are not a few days of shirtsleeve sun in the middle of the day.

The garden responds to this extra light and heat by burgeoning. April is the month of growth. Only October can match it for transformation from the beginning to the end of the month. In a normal year and in truth this year has NOT been normal April begins dominated by bare brown branches and bare brown soil, the grass still a lustreless winter green and ends with the long days full of the billowing majesty of Spring, heavy with leaf and alight with flower and — really importantly for me — the sky traced by the great swooping arcs of the swallows that have come home for their summer season.

There is still more to come of course but perhaps that is why I love it so much. It delivers all you might possibly desire along with the absolute certainty of even better to follow. April is the busiest month. The round of jobs remains much the same from year to year but there are always more of them than hours in the day. For a gardener this is heaven as it means you can spend all the daylight hours you have out in the garden doing the work you love.

The important thing is to get on top of things. So cut the grass, weed as much as possible, get perennial plants in the ground, finish mulching, sow some seeds — but in a manageable, enjoyable way. Keep it simple. There is still time to spare. Either do them right now, a bit later than you should, or leave them till next winter. But having made the decision, act! Many of you will already have mown your lawns a few times already but a a word of advice for all of you as well as those that are yet to begin. Resist the temptation to scalp your grass down to its midsummer height.

Set the blades high and just trim the grass for the first few weeks as much to even it out as to reduce it. Then, as the weather gets warmer and the grass starts to grow more strongly, gradually reduce the height over a few weeks but always keeping it slightly on the long side. This will result in a much healthier, greener sward. Add all clippings to the compost heap but mix it well with dry, brown material like straw or cardboard which will stop it becoming a wet, green sludge.

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The time to plant out sweet peas into the garden is mid-April in the south and towards the end of the month further north. I like to grow mine up bean sticks arranged as a wigwam but any support will do from bamboo canes to chicken wire. I plant two or three plants to each stick or support and water them in very well, before mulching them thickly to keep them weed-free and to stop them drying out. One word of caution. The aim is to grow strong, healthy individual plants so if you buy a pot with lots of seedlings I think it better to divide each pot into two or three.

Whilst there is no rush to plant maincrop potatoes I have planted as late as June and still had a good crop the sooner you can plant seed for first earlies, the sooner you can enjoy that delicious harvest that always tastes so much better than any that you can buy. Make a V-shaped trench inches deep and place the seed potatoes about 12 inches apart along the bottom of it. Backfill the trench so that the soil forms a ridge along the length of it. Leave at least 3ft between rows to allow for earthing up — digging more soil onto emerging foliage to protect them from late frosts.

I also grow them in a raised bed simply pushing each seed potato in a 6 inch deep hole made with a dibber with each plant about 18 inches apart in a grid. However you plant them, always enrich soil for potatoes with plenty of well-rotted manure or compost. When the foliage has died back the bulbs can be stored in the pot, making sure they do not become too wet they can dry out completely and then replanted in autumn.

This is a very simple job but one which is often overlooked. To extend the rhododendron and Azalea season and ensure that the plant does not waste its energies into seed production, dead head as many faded flowers as you can. This is particularly relevant to the large-flowered varieties. Do not use secateurs as you risk injuring the fragile buds growing at the base of the flowers but gather the flower trusses between finger and thumb and snap them off.

As well as doing the plant good it also removes unsightly dead flowers that can hang onto the shrub for days or even weeks. It is not so much the absolute temperature as the variations between night and day that they must become used to. Plant lilies in pots for one of the best and most fragrant of summer displays.

Most lilies like an ericaceous soil but Madonna Lilies, which are one of the first to flower, prefers an alkaline soil and will return year after year given the right conditions. But you will not go wrong if you provide good drainage and a nice, loose compost. I achieve this by mixing in plenty of leafmould and grit into a bark-based general purpose compost but just adding perlite or vermiculite will help greatly.

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Plant the scaly bulbs with about 4 inches of compost above the crown and put them somewhere lightly shaded to grow. Keep them well watered and move them to their final position when the buds develop in May and June. In general lilies like shady roots and sunny flowers so a west or east facing sheltered spot is ideal for their flowering performance. The purpose of plant supports is to prevent any damage rather than to repair it, so the correct time to support any plant is before it needs to be done.

The best way to do this in a border is to establish a system of supports that you put into place just as the herbaceous plants are starting to grow strongly, so that within a few weeks the supports will be hidden but quietly doing their work with the tender but vigorous new growth contained within their gentle, protective embrace. I use a mixture of home-made metal supports, pea sticks essentially bushy prunings from the garden and canes with twine.

Whatever you choose try and anticipate the growth and make the support adjustable or flexible to adapt a little.

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If you can make it decorative so much the better. One clear idea done well works best. One design style, one overriding theme and a sense of relaxed unity. This applies to borders as well. Work out the effect you are trying to achieve, from a busy riot of herbaceous perennials, the cool sensuality of grasses or a working veg patch, and focus on that as the guiding theme. One of the most common mistakes people make when designing a small space is to think that everything in it must be small. The opposite is usually true. A few large plants make a space seem bigger whereas lots of small ones make it feel crowded.

Any outsized object or plant can look perfectly at home in a tiny space as long as you are ruthlessly selective about it. If it does not look absolutely right then get rid of it. There is literally no room for compromise. You must ask yourself about every individual plant, every paving stone, each pot, whether it is the best use of that particular space, whether it is the right thing in the wrong place. I would argue that small gardens should never have a lawn as a paved area will work in all weathers, is ideal for containers of all kinds and does not need mowing. Finally, plant for all four dimensions, height, breadth, depth — and time.

A small garden must work for you every day of the year. Use bulbs, annuals, climbers with good foliage as well as flowers — anything to extend the range of display within the garden and thus maximise the potential of the limited space. Of all the months of the year March is the most fickle. If it flatters, it does so only to deceive. If it threatens, it just as quickly cajoles. Last March, here at home we had snow, ice and a wind from the arctic that cut through every layer of clothing like a knife.

The garden cowered under the onslaught for weeks. This year we go into March after the warmest February ever recorded. But the garden adapts, resists and responds gently to the slow drift of the seasons regardless of day to day weather and the influence of the growing light is just as important as the weather. Here in the UK the clocks go forward on the 31st and we are presented with a glorious extra hour of daylight in the evenings on top of the effect of the seasonal lengthening of the days.

And whatever the weather decides to do, March is Spring. It may be a few brave bulbs peeking through the snow or a whole mass of daffodils, early blossom and even some tulips, but Spring is surely here.

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  • By mid March the sap is rising and the new surge of energy pulsing through the natural world flows in my veins too. Every day more new leaves break bud and the hedges start to glow with new green like stained glass. The garden takes on a substance, acquires body and fills out from the bony starkness of the winter months. When the new growth appears, filling the voids, rounding the edges and gradually smudging across bare lines against the sky it always does so with a flare of surprise, a gift that arrives, for all the predictability of the calendar, unexpected.

    Of course the weather can be vile.

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    Heavy snow, ice, biting east winds are all possible and even probable but no weather in March stays long. Everything about the month is predicated on change, even from hour to hour and this trend continues as the month progresses and moves from winter into the full tide of spring.

    But of all the changes the one that I love most is the dusk chorus. The Dawn chorus gets most attention — and rightly so — but it reaches its peak around the end of May. The chorus in March is much briefer, more limited and, because the light is sinking, more defiant as the garden dissolves into the dusk. Ponds are an essential component of the wildlife garden and no creature enjoys or uses them more fully than the common frog, Rana temporaria.

    In return they will eat slugs, caterpillars, mosquitos and flies. Frogs can be differentiated from toads by their smooth, olive coloured skin and longer back legs. Having spent winter submerged in mud and hidden in amongst piles of wood and leaves, frogs are drawn by smell of glycolic acid that is produced by algae in ponds in order to mate. They need still fresh water so garden ponds without a fountain are ideal. The female will lay up to three thousand eggs, usually at the shallow edge of a pond where the water will be warmer and receive more light.

    Each seed-sized egg is wrapped in a globule of jelly and the spawn of several frogs will join to form a gelatinous raft on the surface of the water. About three weeks later these hatch into tadpoles which will live in the pond as they develop into young frogs over the summer. They leave the water about 12 weeks after hatching, sometime between midsummer and early autumn, and you will find that your garden is suddenly full of small froglets, seeking out cool, shady spots.

    They will not return to the water until they are old enough to breed which is usually after about 2 years. If you have not done so already then now is the time to get on and mulch your borders. Mulching is very effective but very simple. All you have to do is spread a layer of organic material over any bare soil.

    This will do three important jobs simultaneously. The first is to suppress any annual weeds and weaken any perennial ones. The second is to reduce evaporation and therefore keep in moisture and the third is that it will be incorporated into the soil by worms and improve the structure and nutrition. The very best material to use is good home-made garden compost as this will be rich with the bacteria and fungi plants need to be healthy however, mushroom compost is excellent, as are bark chips or very well rotted manure.

    Whatever you use it is important to spread it thick enough — no less than 2 inches deep and twice that if you have enough material. It is better to to do half the garden properly than all of it with too thin a layer of mulch. I know that many people find February a difficult month. Winter had gone on too long and Spring seems too far. But I like February. I like the way that it opens out and releases the valves for Spring.

    I like the way that the days reach out, stretching, limbering up. February is the month of small but powerful things. Catkins, snowdrops, aconites, crocus, hellebores, violets, primroses, all resist snow, ice and scything east winds to blaze with jewel-like intensity. There is something entirely hopeful and brave about these harbingers of Spring that fills me full of cheer and whets my horticultural edge.

    If they can feel Spring around the corner, then so can I. There is an urgency to finish the planting of any deciduous trees and shrubs and the pruning of those already established. I also start to sow in earnest, beginning with the seeds of hardier vegetables like beetroot, spinach and winter lettuce varieties in plugs and seed trays so they can germinate and grow into strong seedlings in the protection of the greenhouse, before being hardened off and planted outside when the soil warms up in March or April. If it is not too wet or too frozen I will try and complete the mulching of the borders as well.

    Whereas up to Christmas I have a strong sense of laying the garden to rest for winter, all February work is about setting things ready for what is to come and feels like the household preparations for a party. Most people buy all their plants in a container from a garden centre. This means that they are raised in the ground and only lifted just before delivery.

    They will arrive with the roots wrapped in a bag of some kind but with no soil around them. I always try and buy bare-root trees and shrubs if I can. The advantages of these bare root plants for the gardener, is that they are invariably cheaper, usually better quality and there is always a much wider range of types and varieties of bare root plants to choose from as opposed to containerised ones.

    They also are more likely to get established and grow quicker in your garden than container grown ones. The only disadvantage is that, unlike a tree in a pot, you cannot put it to one side and plant it whenever you have the time or inclination. As soon as it arrives it should be placed in a bucket of water for an hour to give it a drink. Then either plant it immediately, taking it straight from the water to the planting hole so the roots do not dry out even for an instant, or heel it in until you are ready.

    It is best to put trees in at 45 degrees so they are not rocked by wind and if you have a number of hedging plants or young trees they will come in a bundle. This should be un-tied and the plants placed individually but closely spaced so the roots do not get entangled as they grow if they are left for a while and I have left such plants heeled in for more than a year with no apparent ill-effects.

    Leave potatoes at this time of year in the dark and they start to sprout long translucent, brittle shoots. But put them in a frost-free, brightly lit place and they slowly develop knobbly green or purple shoots which are ready to grow quickly when placed in the soil. This process is called chitting. Whilst chitting is not necessary for maincrop varieties, First or Second earlies benefit from being chitted by being ready to harvest at least a week, if not two, earlier than those planted unchitted — and an early harvest is always desirable for new potatoes and has the advantage of increasing the opportunities to lift the tubers before the risk of blight.

    Put the seed potatoes in a seed tray or egg box, placing each one upright to encourage a tuber to grow from the end. Place them in a sunny, frost-free place such as a cool windowsill for weeks so that when you are ready to plant them — usually around Easter — they will grow away fast. It is a good idea to stagger the sowing of tomatoes because a lot will depend upon the unknowable weather we will get in Spring and Summer — so having two or even three batches of plants covers most bases. Scattering the seed thinly on the surface of peat-free compost in a seed tray and then very lightly covering them either with a layer of more compost or of vermiculite.

    Water them well and put them in a warm spot to germinate. A window sill is fine. The increasing light levels in February mean that salad crops planted in a greenhouse in Autumn offer a generous supply of fresh leaves every day. I sow another batch of seed in early February which will be ready to replace this batch of plants in mid-March.

    At the same time I sow broad beans under cover in pots or root trainers so they can be planted out into a raised bed as healthy plants in early April. Raised beds do or should not need digging in winter but a top-dressing of an inch or two of garden compost spread over them will incorporate into the soil over the coming month or so whilst the soil warms up sufficiently to sow direct.

    I practice this, focussing mainly around roses, clematis and shrubs such as buddleia. There is no mystery to pruning roses and there is practically nothing you can do that the plant will not recover from. So relax and enjoy it! Any bud will do. First remove all damaged or crossing stems. Then cut back hard any stems that look too weak to support their own weight.

    Finally remove any old, woody stems that are crowding the shrub by cutting right down to their base. Most shrub roses do not need any other pruning but can be reduced by a third to encourage early budding and a more compact shape. Hybrid teas, Floribundas and China roses follow the same sort of remedial treatment and then have all remaining healthy shoots cut back by two thirds to leave a basic framework from which the new flowering shoots will grow.

    Climbing roses should be pruned to maintain a framework of long stems trained as laterally as possible with side branches breaking vertically all the way along them. These side branches will carry the flowers on new growth produced in Spring so can all be pruned back to a healthy bud — leaving no more than a couple of inches of growth.

    Ramblers differ from climbers, which tend to have large flowers, often appearing more than once in the summer and on, some continuously for months — Ramblers have clusters of smaller flowers that invariably flower just once in mid-summer. These need little pruning at all and never in winter or spring as the flowers are carried mostly on stems grown in late summer.

    Any pruning to train or restrict them should be done after flowering. So for early flowerers like C. The late flowering clematis i. If you leave them unpruned you end up with a mass of old, brown growth at the base of the plant and all the flowers at the top.

    So now is the time to cut them back hard. You cut right down to the bottom decent-sized bud although I like to leave a foot or two as an insurance against further really bad weather. In any event you can be very drastic, reducing a large clematis like C.

    However this will ensure healthy flowering later in the summer from low down on the plant right to the top. When you have cleared away the prunings, mulch the clematis very thickly with whatever organic material you have, this will feed the growing plant but more critically, help conserve moisture as clematis hate dry conditions. And if you are not sure what your clematis is or whether your rose is a climber or a rambler then leave it, let it flower and make a note for next year.

    Spring flowering shrubs such as Philadelphus, Deutzia, Weigela and Rubus all produce their flowers on shoots grown the previous summer so should not be pruned until after they have finished flowering. However shrubs such as Buddleia, Cornus, Salix, Spiraea, deciduous Ceonothus, Fuchsia fulgens and Magallinica, all flower on new wood, so can all be cut hard back very hard just like late-flowering clematis. The harder they are cut, the more they will flower. One of my breakfast treats at this time of year is stewed rhubarb and yoghurt. No combination has a cleaner, sharper and yet hauntingly sweet taste that is guaranteed to brighten the sleepiest head and set you up for the rigours of the day ahead.

    I grow a number of different varieties that provide a staggered harvest from the first fragile shoots that we pick to eat at Christmas to the last harvest at the beginning of July. Early and extra sweet rhubarb can be forced by excluding all light from the plant which in turn suppresses leaf growth down to a yellow flame at the end of a long pale pink stem whose sugars are greatly increased as a result. But if you do force rhubarb by blocking all light with an old chimney pot, or, if you are fortunate to find one, a proper terracotta rhubarb forcer with a lid, the later growth will be weakened so I suggest rotating the plants yearly for forcing duty to allow them to replenish their energy.

    This is not a glamorous job but an important one. Go around your garden checking all supports, wires, ties and structures that will be carrying climbing plants this year. Any that are damaged or a bit ropey should be repaired or replaced now before they need to be used and before new growth begins that might be damaged by such repair work or even your heavy footwork in a border. There is a hawthorn in the boundary hedge of my garden.

    It is a scrubby affair, not much more than a bush really, but every mid-January the sun lingers just over the top of it before dipping down over the horizon across the fields. This is an important day because that light shines straight down the main garden path and catches the panes of my greenhouses reflecting the blaze of sunset.

    The garden is literally lit up for the first time since October.

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    • The January days gradually lengthen and hope creeps back into my world. Throughout November and December I spend more time looking at the garden than working in it. This is no bad thing. Really looking hard as the leaves fall away and die back forms a kind of permanent image in your brain that can be clothed with plants throughout the rest of the year. But at some point looking is not enough. So in January I start gardening again in earnest. The weather has quite a lot to do with how much actually gets done.

      Although December is the gloomiest month, January can be very cold, snowy or very wet. Snow and rain severely limit what can be done so I cross my fingers and hope for a period of cold, dry weather when the ground will be hard enough to push a wheelbarrow without sinking to the axle in mud and — the greatest luxury of all and the failsafe measure of good winter weather — I can walk outside without having to put on wellington boots. Snowdrops, aconites, hellebores, catkins and most gloriously of all, the early irises are all coming into flower.

      The garden is coming alive again — and so am I. This is always my big January job and if nothing else this is something I like to have finished by the end of the month. Try to understand how something grows before pruning. Does it flower on new or old wood? Does it grow new shoots in a great post-flowering burst or do they steadily emerge over the season?

      Does a fruit tree need to achieve a certain maturity to create spurs that bear fruit or will they be produced in the first year of growth? Does the plant heal well or is it, like cherries and plums, a bleeder — and if so when does it produce least sap? You will never do harm by not pruning and patience in a garden is a great virtue.

      If you prune an apple tree hard each winter it will make a mass of new growth but no flowers — and therefore no fruit. This cycle is often perpetuated by even harder pruning the following year — to get rid of all that new, fruitless growth, which, having lots of lovely succulent sap, will attract aphids and fungal disease. So through over-zealous and mistimed pruning people often ruin their fruit trees. If you wish to curtail growth you leave the pruning to summer — July is ideal — when the foliage is fully grown and before the roots start to store food for winter.

      Do not prune plums, apricots, peaches or cherries these should be pruned in late Spring and only if absolutely necessary. The idea is to produce a tree that has plenty of light and air reaching the centre. I do this by imagining a pigeon flying straight at the tree and pruning it so it can fly right through it from any angle.

      In principle you are trying to make a goblet-shape or a cupped hand with the fingers making the branches around the empty palm. Start by removing any crossing or rubbing branches. Cut back any overlong or straggly branches to a bud to promote vigorous multi-stemmed regrowth. Keep standing back and reviewing the shape so that it both looks handsome and retains a strong, open structure. Always use very sharp secateurs, loppers and saws and never strain — always use an implement that is working well within its capacity. That way you retain control and risk least damage to the tree — and yourself.

      Traditional advice was to paint any large wounds made by pruning but current thinking is that this does more harm than good as it seals in moisture and disease. By far the best course is to leave a clean cut and let it heal over itself. You must be counter intuitive with these. Remember that the harder you cut, the stronger the regrowth — so cut back any weak growth in winter to encourage vigorous new shoots in Spring. You must then prune again in July to restrict growth. Cut away all crossing and inward growing growth from Redcurrants and Gooseberries to create an open goblet shape.

      Reduce remaining growth by a third to create a strong framework of branches. I always take a few cuttings from the pruned material of Gooseberries and Redcurrants because they strike very easily and it means I can constantly add new, vigorous plants to replace the older ones. Cut the top of each section at an angle and the bottom straight so that you remember which way up they should be. Place the cuttings around the edge of a pot filled with a gritty compost mix, burying them deeply so that only an inch or so is above the surface.

      Water them and put them in a sheltered place. They will not need any extra heat or protection and will take a few months to show signs of growth — which will be the indication that roots have formed. They will be ready to pot into individual pots by mid-summer and to plant out next winter. The advantage of growing onions by seed is that there are so many varieties to choose from. However it is much easier — and more common — to grow them from sets, which are small bulbs.

      If the ground is dry enough these can be planted now about 9 inches apart in rows with the tips sticking out of the soil. However if it is too wet, I suggest planting a batch in plugs in ordinary peat-free compost and protecting them in a greenhouse or cool windowsill where they will establish shoots and roots. Harden them off for at least a week outside before planting out when the soil is dry enough for them.

      Chillies are always the first seeds that I sow in the new year. They can be slow to germinate and certainly need some heat, either on a heated bench or on a windowsill above a radiator. Because of this I tend to sow them in seed trays rather than plugs and then transplant them to plugs as soon as the seedlings develop true leaves, potting them on again in March and then to their final terracotta pots in May.

      The secret of successful chilli growing — other than plenty of light and heat — is to allow each plant as much time and opportunity to become big and bushy, feeding it weekly with a high nitrogen fertiliser I use home-made liquid nettle feed until the first flower buds start to appear in June and then switching to a high potash feed liquid seaweed or homemade comfrey feed are both ideal to stimulate as many flowers and subsequent fruits as possible on what by now should be a large plant. Chillies need plenty of water but hate being waterlogged, so use a free-draining compost and never water them after 5pm to avoid the risk of them sitting overnight in soggy compost.

      Growing from seed is the cheapest way to fill your garden with colour and delicious vegetables and deeply satisfying and New Year is the time to start ordering seeds. Do not rush this. Check websites and catalogues, draw up wish lists and plan where you are going to plant the seedlings before you make your order. There is no hurry. As long as the seeds are ordered this month it will leave you plenty of time to sow and raise them. There have never been so many opportunities for buying seeds as there are now with a huge range via the internet and mail order catalogues.

      It is worth spending a little time comparing options and selecting new varieties and you can find organically raised seeds, seeds mass produced, local seeds and seeds from across the world. One word of caution — check how many seeds are supplied per packet — often the best value comes with slightly larger quantities per packet. It is not too late to plant tulips — but you really do need to get on with it. Tulips planted now might flower a little later than those planted in November but they will make a perfectly good display.

      If intending to leave them in the ground plant as deeply as you can — at least 4 inches. But if you just want a good show this year they can be popped an inch or two in the topsoil and will be fine for this Spring. When planting in a container make sure that they have good drainage because although they are completely hardy to cold, the biggest enemy is rotting in damp soil.

      But this is a job to do by the middle of the month at the latest. Many gardeners will have noticed that a self-sown seedling will grow much healthier than one carefully raised under glass and then transplanted to exactly the same part of the border.

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      This is because the seedling starts that complex relationship with the soil from the outset rather than having to establish it after it has been transplanted. What does this mean for us gardeners? The first is to take the old-fashioned option where possible and sow seeds into a seed bed, transplanting the seeds with a clump of moist soil around the roots. Another way of achieving the same effect is to sow directly where the plants are to mature.

      This is not always possible, especially with plants that are tender or slow to grow. The seedlings must be sown and raised in potting compost and then transplanted at a later, suitable date. This is where I think it is worth taking care with the choice of compost. The first thing is to avoid peat. As a growing medium peat has many virtues.

      It retains moisture well yet drains freely. It is cheap. But none of this justifies the loss of peat bogs caused by extraction for horticultural use. It cannot ever be justified. Composted bark works very well in most cases. Composted bracken makes an excellent ericaceous alternative, as does composted pine needles.

      All three are widely available. No potting compost can match the complexity and range of micro-organisms in the soil that are essential to long-term plant health. But you can try and make your potting compost as good as possible by mixing in extra goodness and improving the drainage and ease of root development. I start with a measure of my own garden soil. This should always come from your own garden as it will have its own specific ecosystem. Also keep a supply of well-sieved garden compost in a bag and add a shovel or two to each mix.

      Finally invest in some bags of horticultural grit and add this liberally to ensure good drainage and a free root-run for the growing plants. There will be a few weeds that appear but they are very easy to remove. Most importantly your plants will be healthy and specifically adapted for your soil from the first day. It is important to always use fresh potting compost for every new planting as even though used compost might look perfectly good, most if not all of the nutrients will have been used up.

      Recycle the used compost by spreading it on a border or your compost heap. December is when I batten down the hatches and try to sort things out behind the scenes. The truth is that I do less gardening in the whole month of December than I do in a normal week of March or April.

      The combination of the shortest days and the wettest, dreariest weather means that the garden shuts up shop and hunkers down waiting for the year to pass. Christmas is, of course, the highlight for many of us and as well as all the usual celebrations, for me it marks the moment when I begin to get my garden back and to re-engage with it. This happens slowly through the coming weeks but it begins right there when I step outside on Boxing Day morning. But occasionally there are a few days of dry weather early in the month and I try and get out and clear as much fallen, soggy foliage from the borders as possible.

      Anything standing without support is left as cover for the birds and to add a skeletal adornment to the garden, but a soggy carapace of rotting vegetation never does any good. And as the garden is stripped it becomes almost entirely green and brown. But the one sign of life — the one reminder that Spring will come — is the fresh green of evergreen trees, shrubs and hedges. The winter garden absolutely depends upon good evergreens and I regard them as the most important plants in any garden at any time of year because they are the bones upon which all the floral flesh hangs.

      Yew makes the best evergreen hedge as well as large topiary and Irish Yews are perfect for small gardens as they make a bold statement without taking up much space. Ten years ago I would have said that Box was essential but the combination of box blight and box caterpillar make it less attractive. However if neither are present in your area no other plant is better for smaller hedges or topiary. Holly makes a fine tree, hedge and topiary albeit in places where you will not brush against it too much.

      I like to use mahonia of all kinds in the borders and sarcococca, Hebe, Choisya, Portuguese laurels, Viburnum, Camellias, Phillyrea, pittisporum, skimmia, pyracantha, Euonymus and the magnificent Holm Oak are all really good evergreen options. My garden — all our gardens in the UK — has been battered and bashed by wind already this winter and no doubt there is plenty more to come. There are the obvious and very visible issues such as fallen limbs, but that kind of damage is relatively rare. Much worse are the unseen or less immediately apparent effects of the wind. Where the wind comes from matters a lot.

      So in my garden our predominate wind comes from the west and is always wet and blustery whereas a Southerly blows dry and warm and is therefore usually welcome. The North wind often brings snow and the East wind — mercifully very rare — is vicious and cuts through to your very bones. Wind can affect the growth of all kinds of plants as much as any other factor. The fruit trees on the northern edge of the orchard here at Longmeadow are completely lop-sided with their branches permanently streaming southward away from the north as though frozen in a windy blast.

      The reason for this is that the new growth on the north side is being stunted by this cold wind whereas the shelter of the tree itself, however small, is enough to protect the branches on the other, south-facing side. Hence the lopsidedness is not a case of extra growth in one direction but absence of growth in the other. You see this most dramatically on coastal cliff tops. But of course the effect of this is only really noticeable long after the winds have gone.

      So any shelter you can provide, whether from trees, hedges, shrubs or woven fences will make your garden grow better. All these filter and slow the wind down, robbing it of its sting. A solid barrier is not so effective as the wind tends to rise up and over it, coming down with all the greater force. Until a couple of hundred years ago the only evergreens available in midwinter were Yew, Holly, Ivy, Box and Juniper and the latter was and still is pretty rare in this country.

      There is no reason why any could not still serve as a Christmas tree. But the vast majority of people will be buying their Christmas trees from a range of non-native specimens, the most popular of which are Norway Spruce picea abies , The Nordman Fir Abies nordmanniana, or the Colorado Spruce picea pungens. All three are very good, have specific virtues and can last for a long Christmas season if looked after properly.

      All three will also grow in most gardens if they are bought with healthy roots and planted carefully as soon as possible after Christmas see below. The Norway Spruce has been grown in this country for at least the last years as a timber tree. I persevered and am happy that I got the care I needed. I am doing great and love exploring new things every day. I am protective of my female owner. I always make sure I have an eye on her and know what she is doing. We neutered Reading as soon as he was old enough. We have those records - please let us know where you want us to send copies of them.

      Reading is an awesome cat. He likes the lazer dot, tearing up toilet paper, when we take him out for short walks he has a harness , drinking from the faucet, chasing shadows, and playing peek-a-boo. We are watching him for HCM However, if you know anything about his brothers or sisters any indication that they have HCM , please let us know.

      If this does progress, we want to make sure he is getting the proper treatment early-on. It was absolutely the right decision to adopt two kitties as our older kittie Sophies isn't always in the mood for play. Although my husband wasn't happy at first, as soon as I brought them home and he met them in person, there was no question as to why I couldn't leave without them both.

      Sign Up for Monthly Email Newsletter! Who We Are. Happily Ever After Below are just a few of our dogs, cats and kittens that have found forever homes along with comments from their new, happy owners. Adoption Success Stories "I forget who I spoke to at the [adoption day] event, but I let her know that I was there to see Caitlin and she immediately went to grab her carrier from under the table.

      Oh and she's completely changed my Mom's views on cats :- "This beautiful shy little cat turned out to be the perfect match, and I can't even begin to explain how much it warms my heart to see how she's changed for the better in our company. Monty came to The CatWorks as a malnourished puppy that we nursed back to health so he could find his perfect forever home. Here is Monty today with his new owner. They will be visiting the dog park together and doing lots of other fun stuff.

      His owner's previous dog lived to be 21 years old. Monty is hoping for that long of a life with his new best friend! Monty got the best Christmas gift a puppy could ask for! Kensington [now called Odie] is doing great. Hid the first day, but I kinda' expected that. Him and George are best buds, play all the time.

      He sleeps up in bed with us. He just lets you cuddle him as long as you want, and we do. He made him self at home, runs everywhere just looking for something to play with, a hair band seems to be his new fave toy. Every morning him and George take turns chasing each other thru the house.

      They nap together in the afternoon. I wish I could get a pic of that but as soon as I find them he gets up and wants to play. I'll send more pics as I get them. I was told by the foster mom that I would never find a more loving kitty. Well, she was right! Aisha is jam packed with love AND attitude. She has so much personality for a cat, and is extremely vocal. We have conversations with each other very often. She gives the cutest little "mrrowls" to almost anything you say to her.

      The only problem is, Aisha does not think she is a cat. She thinks she is an alarm clock! If I hit the snooze button and do not get up, Aisha will crawl up on my chest and continually claw my nose until I sit up. She is absolutely the biggest sweetie ever. Its been almost a year exactly a year the Wednesday a week before Thanksgiving that we adopted our wonderful kitten from Nikki and the CatWorks.

      His name was Frack when we got him but renamed him Avalanche, which has proved to be a perfect name for him! We brought him into our family of just myself and my husband and our 1. At first Copper wasn't too sure about his new little brother but soon enough the two became the BEST of friends. They love playing and wrestling together and get along more than anyone could ever have imagined. She is just one of the sweetest, most loving, talkative kitties I have ever met! Oh, and don't let me forget furry!!!! His front feet are deformed--they turn under. He walks and gets around and up on stuff just fine.

      Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done to help him medically, so he is going to live his life out just as he is. He was adopted by a woman who has done a lot of rescue work over the years and was willing to open her heart and home to him. He is getting around her house just fine and has even gained some weight which he desperately needed to do! We are thankful to CatWorks for our two adopted cats, Trixie and Chelsea.

      We adopted them about a year and a half apart from each other and we call them the ying and yang cats because you could not image two more different animals! She is a "one guy" cat and adores our 11 year old son and he can pick her up and cradle her like a baby and the purr machine takes over and just won't stop. She likes cool, hard places like floors, desktops, or hiding behind the printer. Chelsea is white with soft fur like a rabbit. She will follow you room to room to keep you company and seems equally attached to anyone who will notice her.

      Her nickname is "flop kitty" since she will walk over to you and flop down on the floor, belly rolling to you, so you can notice her and give her some quality attention. Chelsea adores sleeping on anything soft and warm like comforters, blankets, pillows or cushions. While Trixie was adopted as a kitten, Chelsea came to us as an older cat who had been rescued as a "teenage mother" by CatWorks. Her kittens had all been adopted but Chelsea had never seemed to find her own family. We had made a family decision to adopt an older cat since they had some difficulty finding homes, and we have never looked back!

      Chelsea joining "single cat" Trixie was not easy at first and it took nine months before they got used to each other. Personally I think they secretly like each other but just aren't willing to admit it! We thank CatWorks for rescuing two such lovely animals that are such an important part of our family. I just hope that Arthur shares the couch with her. And always check the dishwasher before shutting the door. As you can see she loves to pounce and play and stuff herself into small cubby-holes!

      She is sweet and very affectionate and we just love her lots! Cleo's surgery went fine she is all better now. I am sending you some pictures of Cleo. He is more of a "lap cat". Sable the long hair is gorgeous, he also likes the water He loves to sit on the edge of the tub and smack the water as it runs, often falling into the tub in the process. He doesn't seem to mind though, he just hops out, shakes off and goes back to playing. He's my cat Bill swears he sounds like he's calling "MOM!

      He's my buddy and my shadow and I adore them both, but have a special connection with Sable. They get along very well and both get along well with the dog too. Rusty tends to irritate the dog more, he likes to chase his tail. But Sable and the dog are best buddies and often wander the house and nap together. They're both very affectionate, although Merlin prefers not to be held, and they get along well with Cheetah our 14 year old cat and both the Aussie dogs.