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Oak Leaf Gardening Monthly Cuttings

Newsletter 55 - December 2015

What to do now

Ornamental plants

  • Continue planting bare rooted hedges, trees, roses and shrubs.
  • Take hardwood cuttings from dogwoods, roses, spireas, deutzias, wisterias, forsythias, Virginia creepers, buddlejas and willows.
  • Pinch out the tips of wallflowers to encourage bushier growth.
  • Deadhead winter pansies to encourage more flowers.
  • Move vulnerable container grown plants to a more sheltered location (eg next to a wall).
  • If it’s all looking a bit dreary outside, treat yourself to some winter bedding (eg pansies) in pots.
Fruit and veg
  • Harvest Brussels sprouts, starting with the lower sprouts.
  • Check on fruit and veg which you stored in the autumn to ensure there are no signs of rot or pests.
  • Prune congested apple and pear trees, removing damaged and diseased growth then any badly positioned branches.
  • Cut down the fruited canes of autumn raspberries and blackberries.
General tasks
  • Now’s a good time to get your lawnmower serviced so it’s ready to mow again in the new year.
  • Move hoses into the shed to prevent them freezing and cover outdoor taps with bubble wrap.
  • Regularly check on your greenhouse heater as the temperatures continue to drop.
  • Insulate your greenhouse with bubble wrap.
  • Put a heater or ball in ponds to stop the water freezing completely.
  • Pick off dead leaves and flowers from greenhouse plants as they are susceptible to grey mould.
  • Make sure tree protectors are secure as rabbits may turn to bark as a food source in the winter.
  • We’re moving into lean months for birds, so keep any feeders topped up.
  • Clear debris from your beds and borders, including any foliage remains of deciduous plants; revealing hidden slugs and snails to hungry birds!
  • Raise pots off the ground (on bricks or special pot ‘feet’) to prevent waterlogging.
  • Keep off waterlogged lawns to prevent compaction; put boards on areas you need to access.
Plant of the monthDaphne odora 'Aureomarginata'

Daphne odora 'Aureomarginata' is a rounded, evergreen shrub which grows to 1.5m height and spread. From late winter through to spring it bears clusters of delicate pink flowers which are highly fragranced. Daphnes are fussy about where they are planted, needing a cool, moist spot but one which is sheltered from the harsh winter weather. If you can get the location right then they are generally low maintenance plants. Find out more...

Problem of the monthEvergestis forficalis

The larvae or caterpillars of Evergestis forficalis, the garden pebble moth, can be a real problem for brassicas, particularly Brussels sprouts. The caterpillars burrow into the sprouts and consume the leaves, often completely stripping the plant. Picking them off by hand is usually the easiest way of dealing with them. Find out more...

In the news

Drop in poinsettia popularity predicted

Plant retailer Thompson & Morgan have predicted that the poinsettia will not make the top 10 plants sold by them over Christmas this year, in part blaming cheap imported poinsettia sold by supermarkets. Instead they anticipate hyacinths, hibiscus, Christmas cacti and Narcissus 'Tête à Tête' being amongst their top sellers.

London trees worth £6bn

A new iTree urban forest survey, produced by the Mayor of London and The Forestry Commission, has revealed that London's trees would cost £6.1bn to replace. The survey also highlighted the value of the trees, estimating that their storm water alleviation is worth £2.8m each year, their carbon storage is valued at £146.9m per annum and the annual benefit from pollution removal is £126.1m. London Mayor, Boris Johnson, announced that a partnership with Unilever will deliver 40,000 new trees to London.


The magic of mistletoe

Mistletoe growing in a treeAll of us have enjoyed a quick kiss under the mistletoe at one time or another, but have you thought about where this tradition comes from? The extraordinary form and growth habit of this partially parasitic plant has inspired myths and traditions for centuries.

Back as far as Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) the mistletoe was used in rituals and medicines. Pliny told of Druids climbing into sacred oak trees to harvest mistletoe with golden sickles. The mistletoe would be caught before it touched the ground to ensure that it didn’t lose its special powers.

To what extent the Druids did use mistletoe in this way is unclear, but the stories persist. For example, in the Asterix cartoons by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, the Druid Getafix harvests mistletoe in the way that Pliny describes, using it to create the special potion which gives Asterix his superhuman strength.

Greek, Roman and Norse mythology all contain stories about the humble mistletoe. Perhaps the best known is that of the Norse god Baldr. He and his mother, Frigg, both had dreams of his impending death, so Frigg made every object swear not to harm her son, except the mistletoe, which was considered too young and harmless to take the oath.

The mischievous god Loki heard about this and made a spear or arrow out of mistletoe, which he gave to Baldr's blind brother Höðr. Not realising what he was doing, Höðr killed Baldr with the mistletoe. As a result, tradition has it, Frigg's tears became the mistletoe berries and she ordered the plant to grow high in trees so that it would be out of reach and unable to do further harm. Other traditions suggest that she made the mistletoe a symbol of peace and friendship to make up for its part in the terrible accident.

Today mistletoe is hung from the ceiling and used for the traditional Christmas kiss. This probably derives from ancient fertility traditions. It’s easy to see how this little plant became related to fertility when you consider that it retains its evergreen foliage while the deciduous host plant has shed its leaves and that its berries appear in the depths of winter. The forking shape of its branches, with pairs of leaves, were also associated with the shape of sexual organs and you can work out for yourself the symbolism of the sticky juice in the berries! As a result mistletoe was used to encourage fertility, as a medicine, a charm for young ladies looking for husbands, and in the kissing custom we retain today.

As well as representing fertility, the use of mistletoe as a symbol of peace and luck (following the Norse mythology) is common throughout Europe. During the First World War cards sent from the Front often included mistletoe as a message of peace for loved ones.

Tradition also has it that mistletoe brought into the house at Christmas (or mid-winter/new year depending on the custom) should be kept hanging there for 12 months to protect the house from evil spirits. It should then be burned before the fresh mistletoe is brought in.

Find out more about the UK mistletoe, Viscum album, including how to grow it in your own garden.

Mistletoe image courtesy of dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


What's on this month

See if you can drag yourself away from the central heating this December to sample some of the gardening events on offer:

  • 1st to 31st December - Free Entry, The Savill Garden, Windsor, Berkshire.
  • 5th December - Flappy Christmas (make bird food ornaments), Cambridge University Botanic Garden, Cambridge.
  • 5th & 6th December - Natural Partners: Forests and Education, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Edinburgh.
  • 5th to 10th December - Christmas Floral Extravaganza, Arley Hall & Gardens, Northwich, Cheshire.
  • 11th December - Walton Winter Wonderland evening opening, Walton Hall and Gardens, Warrington, Cheshire.
  • 12th December - Boundary walk with our Estate Interpreters, Tyntesfield, Bristol, North Somerset.
  • 12th December - Recycled Christmas (creating decorations from the garden), University of Oxford Botanic Garden, Oxford.
  • 19th & 20th December - Plants With Christmas Traditions, RHS Garden Rosemoor, Torrington, Devon.