20 May 2022

Gardening with Jo: Last-minute festive tasks for your garden

With Jo McGarry of Caragh Nurseries

Gardening with Jo: Last-minute festive tasks for your garden

As I sit down to write this on the final run up to the festivities, I have just spent a couple of hours out in the garden, doing a final tidy up. I've been sweeping and cleaning down paths; and cutting back some grasses that I’d hoped would last through to the New Year to give some structure. The storm two weeks ago gave them a bit too much of a bashing, however, so they are cut down to the base and I’m adding a layer of mulch to each area of garden as I go along, to not only keep it looking clean but hold in that moisture in the spring. I also adore the smell of fresh bark mulch.

I have cleaned my garden furniture, which is under cover and have brought into the cover the pizza oven too. I do aim to have friends over during the Christmas and New Year period, and I love to light the stove and a couple of firebowls and enjoy the evenings with pizza and glass of something in hand.

I’ll probably make some of my highly praised mulled wine to keep the hands warm. I’m not sure if you have a favourite recipe but here is mine if you are looking for inspiration (I'm not sure where I picked it up from and how much is tweaked).


A full bottle of red wine (nothing you wouldn’t drink on its own)

2 cinnamon sticks

2 star anise

2 strips lemon zest and the same of orange zest

4 tbsp caster sugar

I think the original recipe had cloves but they’re my pet hate - if you like them add 3-4 The juice of an orange

Put all the ingredients in a large pan. Cook on a low heat for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool, leaving to combine all the flavours. Serve hot but not boiling, poured into mugs or heatproof glasses.

Getting back to the gardening, there is still so much to do, and if, like me, you are finding all the news somewhat draining, then in the garden, wrapped up, is the best place to be.

Any leaves still on the ground are ideal for adding to the compost heap, or being turned into leaf mould - and this time next year you will have lots of free, nutritious mulch for the borders. Ideally put all the leaves into a large bin bag, puncture a couple of holes into it and fill it to the brim, leave somewhere out of the way until next year. I would always have four or five bags on the go and my roses and potted trees and plants are happier for it.

Don’t forget that bare-root season is only until March so any hedging, trees, fruit and other plants available rootballed or bare-root need to be planted before then – the earlier the better as it gives them the time to settle in and put down roots before the growing season.

It really is last call for any bulb planting. If you have any bags that you’ve been meaning to get planted, do it, do it now, you’ll be thankful for it in the spring.

I use a number of vessels for bulbs from old stainless steel bins to stone troughs, and where I can I bring them into my glasshouse for the winter and bring them out as they are ready so I always have a continuous stream of spring colour, I usually layer plant too, so that as one bulb finishes flowering the next one is almost ready.

In terms of my favourite plants for this time of year, believe it or not some of my absolute favourites are coming into season.

Saracocca confusa and its many variants will be flowering very soon and filling the air with its heady scent - who could ask more from a plant at this time of year!

Hellebores are in season and although mine isn’t yet flowering it promises too very soon. I have an array of Hellebores in the garden, they are so reliable and flower for such a long period. I just adore the Harvington Double Chocolate, it's such a rich coloured Hellebore.

Hammemilis is coming into flower, which is another sweetly scented plant with feathery flowers along bare branches, making this one so very dramatic with its golden yellow colouring.

Cornus Sanguinea Midwinter Fire may not be flowering, but those rich red stems are just made for this time of year. It looks best planted in a swathe block and does best in damp areas of the garden or beside water. The yellow variety looks almost as striking and can be used in layers of colour.

Well, that should keep you busy and away from both the bad news and the family members that you only see once a year for a reason.

From Ian and I, our family and everyone here at Caragh Nurseries, a very Merry Christmas to you all, may you and yours enjoy a Happy and Peaceful Christmas and stay safe.

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