CHRISTMAS SHOPPING

Start celebrating Christmas here with an eclectic mix of passionate people selling tasty treats, stocking fillers, decorations and special presents to suit every pocket.

  • Katy Cox’s Mighty Fine Things include locally sourced homemade fruit liqueurs, preserves and Christmas goodies. Lots of seasonal tastes and ideal presents.
  • Rune, The Norse Baker bakes fab biscuits and sources vintage goodies to bring a Scandi twist to your celebrations. 

  • Hiroko Aono-Bilson is textile artist using antique fabrics to make kimonos and scarves. And an addictive collection of handmade soft toys.
  • Cranbrook Iron make bespoke ironwork for home and garden, from firebowls to Christmas tree decorations, with lots to tempt avid gardeners.

  • Elizabeth Harbour is Country Living Magazine’s craft’s ideas person. She’ll be bringing handpainted wooden decorations and handprinted cards and wrapping paper.

  • Kate-Beth March is a beekeeper who’ll be selling her wax products, plus delicious chocolates, Christmas puds and cakes. Also Tobi Schwenn’s stolen and biscuits.

  • Odds and ends I think you’ll like from The Kitchen Garden. The usual eclectic mix: vintage, garden and kitchen stuff, plus books at rock-bottom prices .    

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I’ll also be selling hardly- used gardening books I’ve reviewed at reduced prices. 

Funds will go to help the Whitstable Calais Solidarity Group, as will proceeds from refreshments: glasses of mulled wine and homemade cakes and biscuits.

    Email me at francine@kitchen-garden-hens.co.uk if you need to know more.

    PASCALE WILL ALSO BE OPENING HER HOUSE AT 48 JOY LANE

HARVEST

This is my favourite time of the year, and a bright October is a bonus. The summer’s drought has broken, plants have a brief new lease of life before the frosts and we all bask in that mellow low light that increases endorphins and shows the garden off at its best.

Try and brave the spiders’ webs every morning to pick what’s ripe and ready, and warn your friends you’ll be a pop-up greengrocer for the next few weeks, even if it’s only endless bags of cooking apples. No eggs though, my hens are moulting their pretty plumage and eating me out of house and home as they hoover up extra protein to feather up in time for the colder weather.

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I’ve started collecting leaves and seedheads and we have a date for this year’s Christmas Shopping day: Sunday December 3 rd . I also have a publication date for my new book The Garden Farmer (Square Peg) on December 7 th . I’m really looking forward to both. Keep in touch via twitter and my new instagram posts.

TINY GARDENS

If things get out of hand and you find high summer overtakes your garden, try these small gardens. Alpines grow imperceptively slowly, creeping across their containers, round shells, driftwood and pebbles, creating tiny landscapes, like the first gardens children make at nursery school. I buy or scavenge old metal filing drawers, troughs or sinks, anything low and shallow, fill them full of plants and beachcombings, and keep them in the rain shadow of a fence slightly on the tilt so they don’t get waterlogged.

Although you’ll probably start with the search for an attractive container, for the plants, the most important element is the soil. Make sure you have plenty of drainage holes then scatter the base with crocks. Half fill with John Innes soil-based compost no 3 mixed with grit (I like silver Cornish grit) to keep it open and free draining. Pop in your plants and populate the spaces in between with favourite shells, fossils and driftwood.

I prefer the textured foliage plants, like mossy raoulias, cushions of sagina, ferny Leptinella squalida ‘Platt’s Black’ – a chocolate brown carpeting alpine; saxifrage ‘Bob Hawkins’, sedums acre elegans and spatheulifolium; sempervivums and thymes, the ones with tiny leaves and minute flowers, like T. ‘Hartington Silver’ and ‘Bertram Anderson’.

Once settled, these tiny delights need little care or comfort, just shelter from winter rains. A small pitched roof will keep the showers off, but still allow plenty of ventilation – imagine Swiss alpine conditions.

POTS OF STYLE

Container gardening isn’t easy. You have to look after your plants, feed them weekly and water them regularly, because they’re entirely at your mercy and won’t flourish if you don’t keep a close eye on them.

Getting down to basics, the compost nurseries use works well getting the plants to sale, but is used to being regularly misted, sprayed and kept constantly moist. The minute it dries out it sets into a waterproof brick that can only be re-constituted by plunging the whole plant into a bucket overnight. So I shake the plant out of its pot and re-pot in a more open peat-free compost with added grit.

I usually line the base of the pot with a square of weed control fabric to discourage ants, then add crocks for extra drainage. If the container is really enormous, I’ll put in chunks of polystyrene packaging before adding my new compost. After planting, I usually sprinkle the surface with horticultural grit to discourage vine weevils.

Watering early morning with a cup of tea or late in the evening with a glass of wine (for me, not the plants) is a relaxing way to start or end the day, and a weekly water with diluted plant feed should encourage your flowers to bloom. Make sure you position your pots to their best advantage and keep plants that enjoy shade out of sunlight.

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I collect containers for fun. Metal, wood, clay, terracotta or even plastic. Every car boot sale, junk shop, skip and yard sale is my hunting ground, and matching them with their plant inhabitant is one of the most pleasurable aspects of container gardening. First make sure you can make drainage holes if you intend to plant straight into them, rather than use as a cache-pot and put a plastic pot inside them. Place your container on the lawn to cushion it, then using a mallet and a Phillips head screw driver, bash a couple of drainage holes in the bottom. An electric drill works too.

Apart from succulents (see my blog for September 2016), I love grasses in pots, salvias, astelias, agapanthus, cordylines, bulbs and herbs in pots. Anything in pots virtually, and the great thing is, the minute they’re past their best you can move them out of the way and bring something else centre stage.

PS. A big thank you to the 1000 or so visitors who came to our Whitstable Open Gardens for the NGS.

We raised about £4500 for the NGS and £1000 for our local community garden. Thank you to the ten participating gardeners, cake bakers and the Yellow Balloon gardens.