December 2018: First frosts, winter walks and reflections on on a year in the garden

I took some annual leave in the run up to Christmas and made a conscious effort to not become totally sedentary – I recently got a fitness watch so wanted to see if I could maintain some semblance of fitness. I decided that walking would be our activity of choice and we went on quite a few decent ambles in the Surrey countryside.  My favourite was a 6 mile course around Ranmore Common, you can see the National Trust owned Polesden Lacey house from the lower fields. The longest walk we managed over the festive period totalled 9 miles (Horsley Jubilee Trail); we didn’t think this was nearly as picturesque as around Ranmore so we shan’t do that one again.

As you might expect December saw little toil in the garden, having said that, it was still a pleasure to look out as well as explore how the plants were holding up over the first frosts of the season. The evergreens looked especially great in their coats of ice – I managed to take some photos before my hands got too cold.

As well as enjoying the garden in this dormant state I was thrilled that the birds came back – and with quite a vengeance. As I reported in last month’s post they had quickly vacated the garden once the bird feeders were taken down (due to a pesky mob of squirrels).  We’ve had mixed results with the squirrel proof feeder; at first the squirrels won outright by working out how to shake and prise it open. I then fought back by using plastic garden twine to seal the lid shut as well as fasten it to the hook on the pergola. I’ve learnt during this process that squirrels are certainly tenacious – they haven’t yet totally given up – I’ll tentatively say that I’ve won this battle, although probably not the war.   

We’ve had a busy year in the garden and achieved quite a lot, as well as learnt a considerable amount through trial and error. I thought it would be a good idea to reflect on these experiences, both good and bad:

Success stories:

  • Evergreen hanging baskets – low maintenance but high impact (will definitely replicate more of these in spring 2019)
  • Coppice structures – these cost us nothing to make but add a lot to the garden – the sweet peas looked especially good clambering up them
  • The sweet peas (especially the annual variety). Sticking to 1 white variety looked great
  • The rudbeckias long flowering period. Also planting these in odd numbered groups around the garden for continuity and impact – this looked great and we should replicate this with all our chosen perennials
  • The leucanthemum foliage in winter has been wonderful to see – it was a surprise that they’d hold onto their leaves for so long
  • Some of the plants such as the astilbe really thriving in the new mixed border after we divided them in early spring

Lessons learnt:

  • Wait until the soil is warmer to plant into the raised beds – germination wasn’t successful early on because of this and we had to sow a second time
  • Compost: this needs to be shredded more at the beginning of the process as well as being forked over more regularly
  • Bedding plants like cosmos need to be planted in large clumps for impact
  • Putting too much nitrogen rich compost in the raised beds meant the cut flowers we grew from seed produced masses of foliage rather than flowers
  • Some of the taller plants such as the nicotiana would benefit from being supported and also not being planted in full sun as they wilted until the evening  
  • Not to be tempted to plant into the ground unless a bed has been made, as the grass grows up around and makes it difficult to cut (plus it’s unsightly)
  • Although dividing worked for most of the plants, others such as the euphorbia were not ready for division

2019 targets:

  • Finish the dry stone wall
  • Keep better track of gardening activities via a journal
  • Appreciate the happenings in the garden rather than looking to what’s next
  • Spend some time every weekend, and when possible after work, in the garden during spring and summer in particular
The Temperate House – Kew Gardens

Final thought – we visited the refurbished temperate house at Kew during December, the scale of the buildings was awesome – climbing the old stairs to the roof platform confirmed that I really don’t like heights.


  1. Beautiful photographs and interesting journal Guy – I love reading it! Looking forward to more inspiring posts in 2019 🙂

    1. Thanks Denise – I am already so looking forward to spring 2019!

  2. I feel it is a very worthwhile exercise to look back and to look ahead. I too use my blog as a means of recording in order to let me look back.
    Looking forward is great too and I note your intention to use a journal. Great idea!
    Between the past and the future, of course, is the present: living in the moment. I take a regular very short ramble down the gatnen and look out for 3 things I like, three things that need doing. Takes 3 minutes before breakfast. The journal comes in handy to note what was noted.

    1. I like the idea of looking for 3 things… I’ll try to remember to do that!

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