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GARDENING: Tis the Season

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Become more efficient this busy festive season by adopting shortcuts and timesaving techniques so you can enjoy your garden with guests

The festive season is here. Now is the time for outdoor activities with friends and family. These handy gardening techniques will ensure your garden is ready for guests throughout the festivities.

Begin by creating a favourable first impression with a mown lawn and neatened edges. Remove faded flowers and obvious weeds. Lay mulch around plants, which means less need to water.

Holiday colour

Bright red Beacon impatiens, highly resistance to impatiens downy mildew, add instant colour in shady spots and on patios. Picture: Ball Straathof

Where time is limited, focus on the entrance to your home and welcome guests with a front door wreath. Reinforce that welcome with symmetrical oversize pots on either side of the front door, planted with evergreen shrubs or colourful flowers.

If the entrance is sunny, fill pots with waterwise marigold, salvia, petunia and vinca. Tubs of flowering hydrangeas with a compact growth habit and smaller pots of fuchsias or bedding begonia will give instant colour. Try Beacon impatiens for a pretty welcome at shady entrances and on patios.

Visit your garden centre and buy colour bags and pots in flower and plant them in gaps in the border. Water them regularly in dry weather.

Entertainment areas

December is the time of year when we entertain outdoors. Create a holiday mood on the patio in traditional red and green with gerberas, poinsettias, begonias, amaryllis, anthuriums and potted greenery. Or consider breaking with tradition and plant local fynbos.

Light the evening patio with solar products, low-energy bulbs and candles. Pots of scented dwarf gardenia, liliums and nicotiana will add to the enjoyment. Hydrangea blooms, called Christmas roses, can be cut and placed in a vase for soft colour on the patio table. Place pots of herbs, such as basil, sage, thyme and mint near the braai.

Swimming pools are in the spotlight during the holiday season. Plant the burn jelly plant (Bulbine frutescens) with yellow and orange flowers and succulent leaves around the pool surround. They give long-lasting colour and the juice of the leaves gives relief from insect bites and stings.

Holiday traditions

There are certain plants we associate with this season, by name or by legend. In medieval times, holly was hung around doors and windows to keep away witches, evil spirits, goblins and lightning, and provide a hiding place for good elves and fairies. Today, holly and ivy are popular for decorating mantelpieces, holiday table settings and gifts.

Meanwhile, the tradition of the Christmas tree can be traced back to the 16th century in Germany.

New festive trends Instead of choosing a conventional fir tree, consider an indigenous tree such as a yellowwood (Podocarpus henkelii) with glossy drooping foliage, a forest shrub (Gardenia thunbergia) with rigid branches and glossy green leaves, or a wild olive (Olea europaea subsp. africana) with silver-grey foliage.

Decorate with sprayed seed pods, small pine cones and African beadwork. Sprayed silver or gold, dried agapanthus make pretty mobiles. The dry stem of an aloe, left natural or sprayed, would suit a contemporary Christmas theme.

Mulch, mulch, mulch

Mulch around plants to retain water in the heat and prevent weeds. Picture: Lukas Otto

Conserve moisture, prevent wind blowing away sand and topsoil and suppress weeds by spreading a thick (8-10cm) layer of mulch around plants. Before applying, make sure soil is damp. Organic mulches in the form of coarse compost, shredded bark, peach pips or pine needles will break down and return nutrients to the soil. Bark chips or nuggets are decorative and long lasting.

Gift ideas for gardens

A potted anthurium is a great gift for a Christmas party host. Picture: Lukas Otto

Shop for gifts at your garden centre. Pot plants make great gifts for your hosts; succulents with low water needs for the flat dweller; a moth orchid (Phalaenopsis), anthurium or peace lily (Spathiphyllum) would be perfect for a shady patio.

Herbs will please a cook. For the bird enthusiast, grinding stones make attractive birdbaths. A birdbath on a pedestal is the answer where there are cats.

Timesaving tips for midsummer

Make life easier – group containers with similar water requirements. Picture: Lukas Otto

◆ Consider a New Year’s resolution to reduce large areas of labour-intensive thirsty lawns by planting ground covers, or replace lawn with permeable gravel or a water-harvesting wetland.

◆ Reduce time spent on fertilising the garden by using slow-release fertilisers that release nutrients throughout the season.

◆ Instead of spending valuable time looking for a missing spade or trowel, paint tool handles in bright colours so they are easily seen when left lying in the garden. Invest in a storage tool shed so that all your tools are instantly available.

◆ Group potted plants with similar water and shade requirements. Choose large containers rather than small ones. They hold more soil than small pots and dry out more slowly, with less watering required.

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