Just 3 weeks away from the shortest day, I hear the forecasters say that winter has begun. It’s not the temperature that dictates the rhythm of life so much as the hours of daylight. My intention was to carry on with British Summer Time, getting up nice and early and leaving work as it became dark. However, with time in the office now dominating my working life, this intention soon went as I found myself working into the evening. My evening winter preoccupation is geared to preparing for spring and the production of colour header cards. In our years of trading we have written descriptions for over 5000 plants. We now have the technology to print colour onto plastic cards and we need to get the cultural and descriptive information onto a card together with a picture and symbols for the plant’s use. Starting with shrubs, these will provide the useful information necessary for customers to make the right buying choices. The emphasis of the advice is always about what will grow best in Suffolk and under what conditions.
My first winter of nursery work was spent working on a nursery growing pot plants and cut flower chrysanthemums. The hours were 7.00 am to 5.00 pm with half an hour for lunch. A lot of the work was tough and a mixture of very cold or very warm and steam; that is cold as we scraped the icy sand off plunged hyacinths and moved the trays into the steaming greenhouses. As part of my work, I looked after a greenhouse of Begonia rex and one of cyclamen. It is amazing to see how the cyclamen that we currently sell compare with the old ones. The new ones have a wonderful uniform dome of immaculate, and often marked and silvery foliage, the perfect foil for flowers which come in a rich array of whites, pinks, reds and purples. The whites are popular, though, any rich coloured flower earns its keep in the dull days of winter. The azaleas we sell have changed less than the originals of my youth when they arrived in huge wicker baskets from Belgium, to have their bare root ball rammed into terracotta half pots before they were forced into flower. Azaleas make a wonderful spectacle, but keep them well watered as drying out will reduce the longevity of their blooms. They can be kept from year to year and are best plunged in a cool bed of old compost or leaf mould and given a little shade. The indoor azaleas are much less frost tolerant than the hardy types and should be protected from all but the mildest frost.
Christmas will soon be here. Our staff will slowly evaporate for a decently long and well earned break. Marion and I will hold the fort in the last few days before Christmas. The nursery will go into an animated state with the important tasks complete: those plants that need it are tucked under fleece; the boilers are serviced and there is enough oil to keep them going. We shall be down frequently to make sure that the watering is done, that Malt the ginger cat is not short of company, and that the robins are well fed. It will be time to watch the wrens as they hop about the greenhouses in the hope of finding caterpillars and spiders; on the cold mornings the trees will be covered with a glistening rime; the last of the berries will be eaten from the Mountain Ash. Enjoy a moment of peace in your garden Christmas goers. Thank you for your visiting us this past year and for making The Walled Garden flourish and have a very happy Christmas.