Tuesday, 2 September 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: We need to talk about Christmas


Okay, it's the start of September, we're allowed to talk about Christmas now! I'm not about to return to the exciting topic of the imminent Sarah Raven Christmas book, nor to Lucy's recent revelation that Alan Titchmarsh also has previous form on the subject. No, this time it's about real gardening.

However much you hate premature discussion of the Yuletide season, there are several jobs gardeners need to do right now to make their currently long-distant Christmas perfect.

Firstly there's the question of forcing indoor bulbs. Honestly, get on with this and you will absolutely fall in love with your own smartness round about 20 December. Whatever bulbs you pick will need to have been fooled into thinking that winter is over - so either you pay more for pre-chilled "prepared" bulbs, or you do it yourself and save money.

Amaryllis (I learned recently) need to have produced three green leaves for every flower they put up in the winter, so treat them nicely through these last weeks of sunshine to maximise flowering. When autumn begins and the leaves start to yellow, trim the bulb back, remove it from the soil, and put it in the chiller of your fridge for a minimum of six weeks. (Don't store bulbs alongside any fruit as the gases produced by ripening fruit will cause problems.) Six weeks before Christmas, get the Amaryllises back out and pot up as you did last year, feeding and watering attentively. 

Another Christmas must is Narcissus "Paper White", the one it's almost impossible to mess up. Firstly, they don't need to be in the dark, secondly they need maximum eight weeks to come into flower. But if that "almost" still worries you, check out detailed instructions to make sure you get it right. Plant in October for for Christmas blooms, ensuring the top of the bulb is above the surface of the compost. If you try other narcissi, remember that they will need a cold spell. If you do it smartish, you can even think about giving them as Christmas presents.

I am also thinking now about new potatoes and salad leaves, for that period after Christmas where I have stuffed my face for two weeks solid and find myself craving something light and fresh and green. I've bought some Maris Peers from the supermarket, and I'll keep the bag in the chiller cabinet of the fridge for a few weeks, then plant them straight into autumn-warm soil. These potatoes will need to go in a frost-free spot such as tubs right near the back door, and hopefully will produce new potatoes sometime around new year. If it goes below zero at night, I'll be outside with the fleece to see the delicate little plants through the night. More detailed instructions from the fabulous Emma Cooper here.

Finally, if you are really ambitious, this programme really made me smile. It's nothing less than a Smallholder's guide to growing a complete Christmas dinner. There's details of how to do the entire spread, from leeks to brussel sprouts. Though not, thank goodness, the turkey.

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