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Gardening Winter 2008
A series of articles on gardening in London Colney by Anne Kitchener
Virgnia Creeper and growing vegetables
It has been another disappointing summer, but this has led to some lovely colours this autumn, and my Virginia Creeper has put on a beautiful show. I have this growing, along with ivy, over a fence and up the garage wall at the back of the garden. This year there has been a longer show than usual with intense colours. Every few years the Virginia Creeper and ivy need a good cut back to stop them getting under the guttering or the roof of the garage. This is now due. However, I'll wait until later in the winter, probably late January or early February, but before nesting starts, to carry this out. I like to leave the ivy alone in the autumn as the more mature parts of the plant have a quite different appearance than the younger parts. The leaves are bigger and glossier and globe shaped flowers are produced which provide a valuable source of food to bees and other insects at the end of the year.
This year I have been growing vegetables for the first time so there have been lots to learn and I have made mistakes. Hopefully I will learn from these and improve my crop over subsequent years. I have only a very small vegetable patch and I have been trying to make the most out of this. I have found that radishes and salad leaves are much more successful grown in pots finding it easier to protect them from slugs by putting copper tape around the top of the pots. I have been successful with courgettes, potatoes, French beans and tomatoes the tomatoes were also grown in pots outdoors. Garlic and broad beans were less successful but I will try these again next year. As I have only a very small patch I am trying to grow crops which will make the most of the space available. I have cleared an area next to the fence where I plan to plant raspberries in the New Year, before the end of February. I intend putting compost from the compost heap on to the cleared area some weeks beforehand to improve the soil.
With the New Year, and as winter progresses towards early spring, hopefully there will be some mild spells so I can get into the garden. If the ground is not frozen or too wet, it may be possible to cut the lawn to prevent it getting too long during these milder spells. I can also cut back any perennials that I left in the autumn. This will clear the way for new shoots to grow from the base of the plant, and also make it easier to see any bulbs as they emerge and burst into flower. At the same time any clumps of plants that have grown too big can be lifted and divided, and any shrubs or other plants that are growing in the wrong place can be moved.
I'll also remove any weeds and spread compost on the surface of the soil. I won't bother to dig this in, it's much too hard work, but will leave it there for the worms to do the work for me. We have had a compost heap for some years now and all our kitchen waste goes on it except for meat and cooked food. We now have it in three piles with one ready to use, one on the way and one regularly being added to. However much we make, there never seems to be quite enough, but we have run out of space for any more piles.
Indoors during the winter, I regularly pick off faded leaves and flowers from pelargoniums in the conservatory to improve their appearance and encourage flowering. Doing this means that I can usually get them to flower all winter. Winter pansies in outdoor pots should also be regularly deadheaded to encourage further flowering, although I don't always manage this.
Next year I am looking forward to improving my vegetable crop. I learnt a lot this year and hopefully will make fewer mistakes. There is always something new to learn about the garden, this is what brings me the most enjoyment, now eating the results adds to the pleasure.