December 5, 2019

In the garden: Planning for Christmas perfection

There are many gardening odds and ends that we must attend to prior to Christmas entertaining. Get them out of the way now so you and the family can aim for a stress-free time ahead.

The festive season is upon us. Time is running out to get the garden looking beautiful! 

Fortunately, the late spring and early summer weeks not only offer time to get all in order, but are still a most delightful and enjoyable time in our gardens. Gardeners in Australia think of this time of year as the “blue month”, as many much-loved trees and shrubs are displaying their blue-hued blooms — the impressive jacaranda, the tough Echium candicans Pride of Madeira, shade-loving blue hydrangeas, the hardy ceanothus Blue Pacific and let’s not forget those good old aggies — just to name a few. 

This is also a time when most of our early spring plantings have settled in and are performing as expected. Tomatoes, melons, cucumbers and zucchinis are starting to flower and set in the veggie garden, and fruiting trees are starting to show their crops. With regular deep soakings and feedings, the garden should be set up for the warmer months ahead.

Now, even if you have the basic gardening under control, as the festive season approaches it’s time to think of those larger projects, which may take hours, or even weeks.

To give you an example of what requires action at my place — or, as my radio colleague Leith Forrest calls it, “Chateau Keelan” — I thought I would walk you through the to-do list in my own garden.

The very first job I spot is reasonably simple, if a tad time consuming: weeding, trimming and feeding our one-year-old verge garden. The verge or nature strip in the street outside your house is the first thing visitors will see, and you know what first impressions are! It shouldn’t be a big effort to get it looking special. A tidy up now will mean that all you need to do closer to the festive season is simply add water.

We love our gravel driveway; it looks good and serves as an excellent drainage soak for rain. It’s relatively maintenance-free, except for the odd tough weed trying to take over, but it now requires about a tonne of new gravel to be spread over some thinning areas. This certainly isn’t a last-minute project and will take at least a half a day, so it’s a must-do November exercise.

The front garden area really isn’t too bad, it will require some dead-heading and last-minute pruning, but, like all garden areas, it will be included in my feeding program. I use an organic fertiliser such as Dynamic Lifter or Rapid Raiser, combined with more plant-specific products for our roses, fruit trees, container plants and veggie garden. This is a smelly two-hour job, so get it well out of the way before the corks start popping!

Our 1950s house is blessed with some delightful creepers and climbers. While they look beautiful, they do require regular management. We have a fence line of Ficus primula, the climbing fig, which is not a climber to plant and forget! It gets out of control quickly in the warmer months and regularly climbs our trees, so it will have to be tended to. Our wisterias, which have been glorious this year, will also need attention, as will the Trachelospermum jasminoides along our back-deck railing. The Parthenocissus quinquefolia or Virginia creeper on our west wall tries desperately to cover the entire house each year, so that will also need a tidy up. This sort of pruning is best completed at least five or six weeks before you want the plants to look at their absolute manicured best.

Many of our FIVEaa callers ask what to do with their spongy, thatchy lawns. We all want our lawns to be at their verdant best for that Christmas cricket game or for the kids running under the sprinkler if it’s a hot spell. My advice is that if your lawn requires thinning, call in professionals to help out. Lawns generally take four to six weeks to recover from a de-thatching procedure.

One way that you can get the lawn into shape is to give it one really hard cut now. Feed, and then increase the watering leading up to Christmas, it may get you through until you can get it professionally treated in January.

Pathways and pavers, also decks, pergolas, gates and fences may require a touch up here and there with paint or a pressure wash. Now is the time to plant up any bare garden areas with new shrubs or flowering annuals — and don’t forget the herbs for those summer salads.

Ensure that watering systems are working and delivering water to where it is intended. As the weather warms up, don’t forget to water all plants days before any planned functions.

The reward after all this hard work is adding the finishing touches: bedding plants. Plant up any spare pots or containers with petunias, poinsettia, hydrangea or fuchsias. It’s the splash of colour that really says the summer is on the way!

There are of course many other bits and pieces that will require attending too in my garden, so the more I do now, the more I will enjoy the festive season ahead. 


This story first appeared in the November 2019 issue of SALIFE magazine. 

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