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Winter gardening
As Autumn fades taking its rich colours and abundance of produce with it, it leaves behind a garden stripped bare but no less beautiful.
Seeds and buds lie dormant like little time capsules holding their breath for Spring but it does not mean that there is no work for the keen gardener...

Time to plan
One of the greatest pleasures of winter gardening is having time to plan. It is a perfect time for rethinking the design as the garden is in its most raw state without the lush foliage of spring and the bright blooms of summer to hide behind.
Structure is the most important element of any well designed garden, it is the skeleton that holds everything together. A good framework makes everything else so much easier. Structure is the well proportioned layout of paths, patios and lawns, the height and stature of pergolas and frames. Trees and hedges are also considered structural elements. The best advice is keep it simple. Keep shapes strong and elegant; forget fancy scallops to lawns and wiggly paths. If the layout is strong the plants will do all the necessary softening.
Scale outdoors is very important too. In the garden everything needs to be larger than indoors – e.g. arches and entrance ways should be wider than your average internal doorway, steps and treads much wider and shallower than your stairs.

Make an impact
For those who are happy with their garden design, winter is a great time to look through seed and plant catalogues to plan new plant and colour combinations for borders. Even a new colour for the summerhouse and garden bench can make a big impact and refreshing change.
There are flowers in winter, but many tend to be well hidden such as the hanging head of the Hellebore or the tiny but highly scented flower of Sarcococca humilis (common names Sweet box or Christmas box). So although a real treat they need to be actively searched for. As we tend to spend less time out in the garden in winter and more time looking at it from inside, I suggest that some of the best garden plants in winter are evergreens which look good from a distance!

Fabulous evergreens ideal for winter gardening:
- Pyracantha ‘Orange Glow’
- Euonymus ‘Emerald n’Gold’
- Garrya elliptica
- Viburnum tinus
- Mahonia ‘Wintersun’ 
- Photinia ‘Red Robin’
- Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’
- Elaeagnus 'Gilt Edge'

Architectural plants:
Also consider clipped box and topiary which are wonderful for all year round interest but take on an extra splendour when touched with winter frosts.

Other great plants for winter gardening:
Holly and Ivy are perfect for the winter garden - maybe also think about decorating an outdoor Christmas tree.
Before you know it the evenings will be getting lighter and the snowdrops and early daffodils will be popping through. Then will follow the enormous thrust of spring and you will be glad you had a time for a rest and a little contemplation during winter!

Gardening hints and tips
Top tips for solving problem areas in the garden
Every gardener has to deal with a range of pests and irritants, from ants and molehills to neighbourhood pets. Help is now at hand with these ingenious tips for a problem free garden.

How to stop pests

Aphids
Attract hoverflies, they lay their eggs amongst aphid colonies, as well as eating some themselves. Hoverflies are attracted to yellow/orange flowers, such as sunflowers.
Ants
Tempt them with a sprinkling of sugar. When they start taking the sugar back to the nest mix one part sugar with one part Borax crystals. The queen ant will be fed this fatal ingredient.
Cats
Stop cats using your flower beds as a toilet - spray tea bags (either new or used) with Ralgex (Deep Heat). Bury the teabags just below the surface of the soil - when the cat disturbs them they will give off the scent of the spray - which cats can not stand. In time the tea bags will break down and nourish the soil.
Dogs
Dog pee kills grass - twice a day put one tablespoon of tomato juice in with your dogs food. The harmful acid in the pee is neutralised, which means that the grass is not killed. (This does not harm the dog!)
If you are trying to re-seed an area of grass, put the seeds in the freezer over night - the extreme temperature change sparks the seeds into action.
Moles
Mix ferret or badger dung with a little water, to form a paste. Paint this in the mole runs and they'll soon move on. (Ferrets and badgers are natural predators.)
Slugs & snails
Tempt them away from plants with the skins of oranges and grapefruits.
Spray WD-40 on pots - they don't like crawling through it!
Put mineral felt roofing material around plants, slugs and snails do not like crawling over it to get to the plant.
Place horse hair around plants - would you like to crawl through this !
Hostas often get eaten when they first start to grow in spring. Slugs and snails lay their eggs around such lush plants in the autumn - knowing that their offspring will have a good meal ready once hatched. As soon as hosta begin to grow remove the top soil from around it - it will be full of eggs. Replace with fresh soil.

Useful hints

Birds nests
Put Shredded Wheat out for the birds - they use it to build their nests.
Houseplants
Use beer to clean the leaves of house plants.
To help house plants look more healthy mix one teaspoon of Epsom Salts into a pint of their water. Soluble aspirin in the water promotes new growth.
Cut flowers
If tulips droop (due to bubbles inside the stem) prick the stem with a pin, just below the flower. They will straighten up within a few hours.
Put cut flowers into flat lemonade rather than water, they will last much longer.
Climbing plants
Rather than tying plants in, stick them to the wall/fence with a spot of clear Silicon Sealant.
Climbing roses
To get more/better blooms bend and tie-in the stems of new growth, this reduces the flow of sap and encourages the plant to put more energy into flower production.
Feeding roses
Use banana skins as mulch around roses - they feed on the potassium released.
Tomatoes
To feed tomatoes put a handful of hoover bag fluff, damped down, around the plants.

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