Good gardens provide the perfect backdrop for summer entertaining or gentle relaxing – and they’ll feed you too if you have the right stuff growing.
January is the second most important vegetable planting time of the year. What you stick in the ground now will feed you in autumn and spring. In warm areas you can still plant cucumber and Tom Thumb tomatoes; even lettuce (choose pick and come again varieties) will flourish in the later warm months.
Check out the seed range at your local gardening store. Seeds have several advantages: they’re cheap, the variety available is wide, and the seedlings you do grow will often be tougher than the seedlings you buy, which have grown in optimum conditions. Look for beans, corn, silver beet, cabbage and zucchini. If it’s your first vegetable garden and you are keen for quick results, stick in some squash. Baby squash can be grown from seed to harvest in a matter of weeks – eat them baked or add to stirfries – they are tender and sweet enough for use even in salads. Feed your vegies every couple of weeks with a weak seaweed solution and they’ll do their best for you.
Of course you can cheat! Grab yourself some ‘potted colour’ – those cheap advanced seedlings – and some herbs, plant them closely so you only have to water one patch and keep tip pruning (we really mean eating) as they take off in the warmer weather – try marigolds with mint, basil, parsley and lemon balm for an instant herb garden.
The secret to summer garden colour is to choose plants that love the heat.
Like dahlias. Even though they look soft, dahlias thrive in very warm conditions and will continue producing a colourful display until the cold literally cuts them down, yet they last for years.
If the soil has good drainage, you don’t have to do a thing. Just leave them where they are and they will re-shoot next season. In areas with cold, wet soil during winter, lift the tubers and store them until well into spring.
Californian poppies look fragile, but it’s an act – they love long, hot, dry summers. Seeds can be sown straight into the garden bed, which saves fiddly transplanting, but it's a good idea to mix the seed with a small amount of sand beforehand to help with even distribution.
Lavenders are also hardy plants. Their small grey leaves are drought-resistant and spikes of mauve or purple (even white) flowers are scented and tasty. There are many varieties but generally, the English lavenders bloom through summer. They won’t perform well in humid areas and need to be pruned lightly after flowering. Never cut into hard, leafless wood – sadly, it won't re-shoot.
Living Christmas Trees
Start by having a real Christmas tree that you can roll out year after year.
Traditional favourites include the European spruce, Norfolk Island pines and Monterey (Pinus Radiata) pines, but why not choose a unique Australian species, the Wollemi pine? It’s an ancient tree, newly discovered and will happily perform indoors for you at Christmas.
The real trick though, is keeping your Christmas tree alive throughout the year and Wollemi pines will do best if kept outside in light shade.
You can keep your Christmas tree happy indoors with these simple tips:
Before you bring your Christmas tree inside, water well and allow it to drain. The tree won’t need watering again for a few days. Choose an indoor spot that has good light, but is out of direct sunlight and opt for lightweight decorations that are in proportion to the size of the branches.
When you return the plant to the garden, start it off in full shade and then move gradually into more sun over the ensuing weeks. Once it’s readjusted to being outside again, give it a present: re-pot it into a slightly larger container and give it a good slow release food. Self-watering pots are ideal, as pines don’t like to dry out. Rotate the pot every month to make sure all sides get the sun and it will be ready for Christmas 2010 (and beyond) because potted trees, given some basic care, should last for years.