My winter garden motto is ‘Don’t!’ The more you can keep off the beds when it is wet and cold, the better. Standing on soil at this time of year is to compact it, depriving it of the little air that is available and discouraging drainage and evaporation. Instead, if you must be in the garden, confine yourself to turning the compost pile, removing any weeds with a long handled hoe, attending to paths and infrastructure, replacing handles on forks and spades, sharpening and oiling tools, and ensuring the wheelbarrow is in good going order.
If you have fruit trees, pruning can be undertaken now. If you are planting new trees or vines, this is the month for getting into the ground kiwifruit, persimmons, tamarillos, citrus, apples, and pears. Whatever you are planting, think carefully about a site. You are looking for a position that will provide shelter, good drainage, and sun for at least 6 hours a day. If any one of these elements is missing, you will need to provide it. Think also about how you plan to protect your tree and its fruit from possums and birds. If you will need to cover it, ask yourself how this can be achieved. It may mean you will need to espalier or cage the tree in which case dwarf varieties may be the answer.
Winter is my time for experimenting indoors with window ledge gardening. I have pots of germinating basil, chervil and coriander, and pride myself on coaxing a few fresh leaves out my mini-herbs. Feathers peas are a favourite to grow for their tender shoots which liven up a winter salad of endive, beetroot and celery leaves. Brown lentils are sprouting in dishes, moong beans are sprouting in the yoghurt-maker or on the seed-raising heat pad, and a few early seed potatoes are greening up ready for an early start in spring. Although the winter keeps me off the garden beds, I welcome it as a time to hunker down with my seed catalogues and catch up on all the gardening magazines I didn’t have time to read in the busy seasons.