Preparing your garden for winter

Tiffany Daneff / 08 December 2015

Tiffany Daneff preps her garden for the winter ahead, including some basic tool maintenance and preparing her flower beds for the winter months.

Now that Henry the cock pheasant has decided to adopt us, arriving with consummate timing on December 1, life has become distinctly more Christmassy. There’s something so good for the spirits when you open the front door to find his glossy puffed up figure pecking for fallen holly berries.

It feels a bit like living in an Advent calendar. What prompted this thought was hearing on the news last night that Winchester is the latest British town to have adopted the Nordic tradition of the live advent calendar… 24 doors around the town with different events behind them. Such a nice idea. (Quite a lot of UK towns have cottoned on to the idea so try Googling Living Advent Calendar to find the nearest to you.)

But back to Henry. My guess is that it’s not just our berries that appeal to him, but our hedges under which he can shelter from the howling winds. Just those winds that make gardening not such fun right now. Admittedly, there are breaks of warm sun, but they inevitably coincide with my morning desk time. I only have to look through the window for the clouds to start scudding across the sun.

The grass is still growing, albeit slowly, but it is nearly always damp and the blades are very fine so I am not inclined to cut it any more. Plus, with all the rain we’ve had, the ground is so sodden that walking on the lawn is beginning to turn it to mud, especially on the slope where the dog runs.

All things considered I’m thinking about doing the last few jobs and putting the garden to bed.

Tools and machinery

Putting the Robomow away

Last year I had the robot mower, Robomow, serviced. Which was great, but cost me. This year I’m going to do it myself. Fingers crossed. I am the world’s worst person at keeping machinery clean. You only have to look inside, or indeed outside, my car. No surprise, then, to find that the poor mower’s wheels and belly were caked with dried grass clippings. It all peeled off most satisfyingly using an old kitchen knife (the one I keep under the sink for scraping revolting things). You can’t make it wet so I just used a soft cloth to finish it off. The plastic wheels came up well with brushing with a stiff brush. Then I switched it off and brought the little man indoors to store.

So that was that.

The Kensington Allett

It’s been a while since this was in use, it’s just been too wet, so I drained the remainder of the petrol, wiped the blades, did a bit of the old WD40 where it seemed useful and have put that away. Again, I had it serviced not so long ago and I am hoping I can get away without having to do so this year. Fingers tightly crossed.

Hand mower

The hand mower is a cinch to look after, which is why I am so attached to it. I wiped off all the grass clippings, untied the knot of couch grass that’s wound itself around the wheels and then sharpened and oiled the blades.


The one thing I do look take care to look after are hand tools, wiping the blades after each use and sharpening as I go, but now that the evenings are dark I’m going to bring the lot indoors and give them a really carefully sharpen and sorting out. Before storing them in one of the drawers of the chest of drawers we had to chuck out of the house as it was literally falling apart. It’s now resting on bricks in the barn and is ideal for storing garden stuff.

Leaves and compost

The walnut and apple leaves I’ve put into one of the three compost bins liberally sprinkling as I filled with handfuls of Vitax 6 CM10 compost accelerator. I’d never realised how strongly walnut leaves smell, it’s a rather wonder scent. The walnut leaves are so leathery that I should have shredded them but I don’t have a shredder. So here’s hoping they break down with plenty of turning. I’ll keep you posted.

The main compost is rotting very slowly - largely because the mice or some other hungry creatures have eaten every last worm. I’m not sure that I can ever stop them so I’m trying compost accelerator on this too. It’s rather disappointing. In London it was so easy making compost.

Read our guide to making a compost heap.

Plants and accessories

Pots and canes

This autumn the tomatoes suffered from blight. I have no idea where it came from though I do wonder whether the fact that we are storing the seed compost in a manky old barn that has never been cleaned might have something to do with it. I’m taking no chances and am going to wash out the canes and tomato pots with Jeyes. Blight is almost as bad as vine weevil, and that is saying something.

The terracotta pots I’ve put out in the rain to wash. (This is a tip I have picked up from Val Bourne, who suggested in the November issue of Saga Magazine.)

Vegetable garden

1. I’m going to roll up the fabric netting before it gets blown into a tangle.

2. I’ve done a basic weeding round the edge of the garden and tugged out any weeds on the paths and beds, so that next spring gets off to a good start.

3. Having cleared off any obviously large lumps of brick and stone (which continue to work themselves up to the surface of all the beds) and tidied away the old plant labels I’ve sprinkled on fish, blood and bone to replace lost nutrients.

Flower beds

These were supposed to be looking interesting and sculptural but there has been so much wind and rain that the stipa stems have broken, leaves are turning to mush revealing hidden pockets of couch and all the other weeds are doing very nicely thank you.

I am going to do a final weed this week (I really am) and hope that that does the job until next spring.

Then I will leave what foliage is looking okay (ie dry and sculptural) and remove anything that is in danger of rotting.


I left the dahlias in the ground last year and they all came back up except for one, which was in a pot. So I plan to leave them all again.

Find out how to store dahlias for winter.

Potted plants

The scented pelargoniums are the last pots to come indoors where they’ll stay, with minimal watering, in a cool light spot until next spring when the frosts are over.

Find out how to care for potted plants in winter.

And that’s pretty much it. I’m just left with my row of viola pots flowering in front of the window to keep me and Henry in good spirits.

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