Gardening doesn’t have to stop for winter

There’s no need for gardeners to go dormant along with their landscape when cold weather arrives. Arranging plants in small dishes and pots can be an enjoyable indoor alternative at the end of the summer growing season.

“By creating a dish garden, you are in fact creating a miniature landscape,” said Dawn Pettinelli, an extension educator with the University of Connecticut. “It can be as plain or as frivolous as one desires.”

Dish gardens generally consist of several different plants arranged together in a single container.

The most important thing is choosing plant varieties needing similar surroundings and care. For example, dish gardens combining succulents with cacti would work. Mixing plants preferring direct sunlight with something like shade-favoring orchids might not.

Or choose a theme: desert garden or tropical garden, moss garden or rock garden, herb garden or woodland garden, and many others.

“You could make one up depicting where you vacationed, a holiday theme or even the time of the dinosaurs,” Pettinelli said.

Indoor gardens, with their miniature, low-maintenance plants, thrive in small spaces, and that makes them a natural fit for succulents.

“Thanks to their intriguing forms and ease of care, succulents are replacing African violets as the plants of choice for indoor gardens,” said Debra Lee Baldwin, author of “Designing With Succulents” (Timber Press).

Succulents are shallow-rooted. “For a windowsill, a pot that fits into your cupped hands is perfect,” Baldwin said.

“If using a tall or deep container, fill it half full with empty plastic water bottles,” tightly capped, she said. “You won’t waste soil that the plants don’t need and that might even compromise their health by holding moisture that causes rot. Plus the pot will weigh less.”

When choosing containers, determine first how large the plants will grow, Pettinelli said.

“Either give plants that tend to grow a little larger and faster a larger and deeper container or plan on switching them out when the container looks out of proportion,” she said.

Container plants should not be encouraged to grow too rapidly, so Pettinelli recommends using half-strength liquid fertilizers two or three times per year.

“For succulents, I would use a cactus potting mix,” she said.

“For all others, I would use a layer of coarse sand or gravel at the bottom and then a thin layer of horticultural charcoal.”

Stick a finger into the potting soil to determine when to water, she said. “If it feels on the dry side, add some water. The soil should not be saturated but it should feel moistened.

“I think watering properly is one of the most difficult tasks for people to learn,” Pettinelli said.

Use whatever materials you have to accessorize – natural ones like rocks, lichens, sticks, acorns, small shells, or figurines and fairies, she said.

“Because fairy gardens are still pretty popular, often local garden centers carry fairy-themed and other small items suitable for dish gardens,” she said.

Much of the fun in growing succulents is their adaptability, Baldwin said. “Give them adequate light, good air circulation and fast-draining soil and you can grow succulents in a pair of socks,” she said.


Gardening tips: plant bareroot roses

Consider planting ‘Tottering By Gently’.

Plant this Bareroot rose planting season starts this month: single blooms are so much better for pollinators, so consider planting ‘Tottering By Gently’ a buttery yellow single shrub rose, or the blood red climber ‘Altissimo’. Both will flower in bursts throughout the summer.

Leaf this There is little point removing fallen leaves from borders unless they are diseased: they’ll provide a warm duvet for wildlife. Rake leaves from lawns and paths into an old compost sack with holes cut in it and set aside for a rich supply of leaf mould in a year or two. Mowing up leaves works a treat, too.

Visit this Eighteenth-century landscape designer Humphry Repton was famous for his “red books” made for prospective customers. The Garden Museum in Lambeth, London, has 23 of them in an exhibition about his career; until 3 February. Visit for details.


What is the point of gardening?

Why garden? It’s a question that has long intrigued Georgina Reid, landscape designer, writer and gardener. “I had a side-project when I was studying, asking people why they garden,” she says. “I think I asked because I was trying to work out why I did it myself but nobody else could answer either. It was a question that stumped people.”

She stopped asking, and instead launched the online magazine The Planthunter, which explores why we garden through talking to people about their relationship with plants and the spaces they make with plants. The ideas that have come from those conversations are explored more deeply in her new book, also called The Planthunter.

David Whitworth has created a vibrant, plant-filled, mostly potted garden in Sydney.
David Whitworth has created a vibrant, plant-filled, mostly potted garden in Sydney.Credit:Daniel Shipp

With her long-term collaborator, photographer Daniel Shipp, Reid explores questions of beauty, transformation, solace and faith through the stories of 24 people in Australia, New Zealand and the US, and the gardens they have created. Actually make that present tense: the book begins with a series of aphorisms including this by garden-maker and sculptor Ian Hamilton Finlay: “A garden is not an object, but a process.”

For David Whitworth, one of the Sydney gardeners featured in the book, gardening is a process of caring. Whitworth has created a vibrant, plant-filled, mostly potted garden in what was formerly the slimy, mosquito-ridden waste space at the back of an inner-city terrace share-house. He tells Reid that he has realised he prefers to work in his garden than sit in it. “I think ‘to tend’ is my favourite verb,” he says. “It implies that you are creative, or nurturing, but almost invisibly so. It’s also aspirational. To tend is to sustain a state of caring. It is a state I’d like to aim for in more areas of my life than just gardening.”

It’s an idea that resonates with Reid. “Gardening is essentially two things,” she says “You have to care and you have to act. You can’t be a gardener and sit here and watch nature happen. Gardening is caring action, and that can be a framework for engaging with the natural world, but I’m also interested in taking that out of the garden and into the world.”

We’ve met to talk about these ideas in Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden in Lavender Bay, a garden that epitomises Reid’s notion of gardening as caring action. Whitley started gardening this space in search of solace, and through her actions has created a garden that offers solace to others. “It’s really a space that has a lot of someone in it, and that’s important in any garden space,” says Reid. “There’s always a story.”


Gardening: Lemon Tree Borer

Image result for Gardening: Lemon Tree Borer

Ruud Kleinpaste gives us his top tips for stopping lemon tree borer.

Life’s lesson for gardeners:

Do not prune your citrus/lemons and other susceptible plants in spring, summer and early autumn, as that would allow the borer beetles an obvious place to oviposit and start the trouble all over again.

So you can’t “cut out” the borer damage in the warmer months of the year


1) find the toilet holes with plugs of borer frass (poo/sawdust) hanging from it

2) insert a fine plastic “straw” nozzle from an insecticide can into the hole and tunnel and fog the larva to death in situ.

3) alternatively: grab a piano-wire or guitar string and poke it into the hole to spear the lemontree borer grub up its bottom, so to speak – I found the best string to use is the G-string J

There is no point in spraying your citrus tree/bush with an insecticide, as the larva is totally protected inside the branch/twig – it’ll survive

There’s perhaps some merit in covering the winter pruning cuts with some pruning sealant.


Gardening: A few last-minute jobs to do outdoors before winter really sets in

IT’S almost time to batten the hatches before winter arrives. Here are a few of the last-minute jobs should you be doing…

1. Shelter vulnerable plants: My pots of geraniums (pelargoniums) are still going strong but they won’t be for much longer, so if you want to keep them for next year, find them some shelter now. Cut them back to 10cm (4in) and put pots in a light, frost-free place such as a greenhouse or a sheltered porch next to the house. If the spot isn’t completely frost-free, wrap the pots in bubble wrap to give them extra protection. Do the same with fuchsias, cutting them back before you put them under cover for winter, and hardly water them at all until growth starts again in spring.

2. Divide perennials: The ground should still be soft enough to dig up overcrowded clumps of perennials and split them, replanting the divided clumps to give them more space. This will lead to better performance in subsequent years and you’ve also increased your stock. Good subjects for division include crocosmia, rudbeckia, helenium, cranesbill geranium and catmint.

3. Trim hedges: Try to do this when the weather’s still fine. If you tidy evergreen hedges now, they will look neat until next year as they won’t put on much new growth during the cooler months. Also, trimming now may save you a bigger job in spring, when you also risk disturbing birds’ nests. Deciduous shrubs can be pruned into winter.

4. Get rid of the last of the weeds: Try to dig out any pernicious perennial weeds you see lurking, such as bindweed, couch grass and ground elder. You’ll need to dig them out completely, root and all, as if you leave any fragments of root in the soil they will come back in spring. If you have areas which have been totally invaded, consider covering the ground with sheets of black plastic, secured with bricks at each corner, which will stop the light and hopefully kill the weed in a few months.


Good to Grow: Stay green year-round with greenhouses


Welp, it’s officially cold and all of my beautiful annuals have bitten the dust. I did rescue one lovely apricot hibiscus and a few adorable succulents, which are now adorning my living room.

The only color left outside seems to be coming from fall leaves and seasonal decorations. While fall colors are wonderful, I find myself already missing my lively plants.

At times like these, my mind starts drifting to thoughts of backyard greenhouses. While I haven’t quite gotten up the nerve and/or energy to make one, I have done a decent amount of research into the magical world of greenhouses and thought I’d share in the bounty of my knowledge.

First off, let’s make something clear: Greenhouses can be as simple or as complex as you want them to be. You can go all-out with custom building materials, watering systems, heating systems, vents, the whole nine yards.

You can also stop by Habitat for Humanity ReStore (one of my favorite stores for DIY projects) and pick up old windows, glass doors, spare lumber, etc., and whip something up over the weekend. I’m going to be talking about simpler, more cost-efficient methods for building and optimizing greenhouses, but know that you can go as big and as fancy as you’d like.

If you’re going to build a greenhouse, your No. 1 supply is whatever you’d like to use for glazing (the stuff that lets the light in.) Glass or plastic sheeting are the most common materials, with plastic being an excellent option if you’re on a budget. I personally prefer the look of glass, but it will cost more, unless you get an excellent deal on used windows or sheet glass.

The downside to these materials is that they are almost as good at letting heat out as they are at letting it in. This is fine during the day, since the amount of heat pouring in is more than enough to combat heat loss.

The issue arises when night rolls around. Insulation techniques like weather stripping and horticultural Bubble Wrap can help, as can building your greenhouse so that it’s broadest side is south-facing. But ultimately, come nighttime, something must be done to combat the cold.

Your other materials will be an important line of defense. Most basic greenhouses are made of wood, but materials like stone and concrete will retain more heat during the day, which will then seep back into the greenhouse overnight.

You know what else is amazing at retaining heat? Water. If you have room in your greenhouse for a barrel or two of water, they will soak up all of that delicious sunlight during the day and let it out low and slow during the night. Ain’t nature grand?

Unfortunately, water, concrete and insulation can’t help against the coldest nights in our region. That’s where heaters come in.

My favorite method is simply a solar-powered heater with a battery to store energy during the day. However, a basic space heater or stove can do the trick.

If your greenhouse is small enough, something as minor as a slow cooker full of water set to low can keep your plants happy. If you’ve insulated well and use water and light to your advantage, the heaters will only be necessary some of the time. They act more like a fail-safe, especially if you get one with a thermostat that will switch the heater off once you’ve reached about 50 degrees Fahrenheit.