Cold comforts: Five alternative winter gardening projects
Building a Bug Hotel make a great winter project for all the family
When we think of gardening, we tend to picture vibrance – balmy summer days spent in a lush paradise of colour and life – beautiful flowers, buzzing bees and fluttering butterflies. However, with Christmas behind us, winter in the garden can seem grim when the days are short, and the jobs that are typically done in the winter can be as dull as the weather, unless you have a particular love for digging, pruning, cleaning tools, or indiscriminately burning stuff. But there are many enjoyable things that can be done in the garden or allotment to lift the spirits, even on the darkest of days.
1. Build a bug hotel
A fun, simple building project that can be done in a day, and can give you several years of enjoyment and save you work too.
You’ll need a couple of pallets, or at least, some scrap wood. Build up in layers up to a height of about 3 feet, with gaps between the layers (pallets are ideal as they have those gaps already – simply cut down the pallets to a half or quarter of their full size) then fill in the gaps with a variety of different materials – bundles of straw, sections of bamboo cane, bricks with holes in, old bits of pipe etc. If you haven’t got enough to fill all the gaps to begin with, don’t worry – just fill in with what you have, and add more later. We get bits and bobs from skips – ask first – and Freecycle or ilovefreegle are good source of bug hotel “furniture”).
2. Food, not lawns
A section of grass provides a space for children to play and for people to gather at BBQs, but if you have a large lawn, most of that grass is unused. All those hours weeding and mowing, and for what? Lawns are unproductive and energy-intensive. So why not get rid of your lawn, or at least reduce it? Replacing grass with bee-friendly flowers is good; replacing grass with fruit and vegetable beds is even better. Choose your area, turn the turf over, and cover with a layer of topsoil and organic matter, ready for planting in the spring.
3. Salad Days
We may not think of salad as being winter food, but what could be better than picking homegrown organic vegetables when the days are grey?
Primrose means “first rose” and if you have wild (yellow) primroses in your garden, a couple of the flowers can add sweetness and beauty to an otherwise plain salad. Winter lettuce or oriental greens add some much-needed colour and crunch alongside a warming casserole on a dull day. You can plant out oriental greens under some cover from January onwards for some early salad leaves. While you wait for the baby leaves to become available, try sprouting some seeds on the windowsill for some salad crunch – they are ready in just only a few days. The Organic Gardening Catalogue has a good selection.
4. Go for a walk
It really is that simple – go for a walk and look around you. With fewer leaves to get in the way, it is easier in winter to observe the patterns that occur naturally, and think about how they might be incorporated into the garden. Look at the wild plants that are growing and forage some edibles. Be sure to only eat plants that you have identified positively, but even in the depths of winter, with very little knowledge, you should find common plants such as dandelions, young nettles, maybe some hardy rosehips. You might be lucky enough to find some late sloes, and there is no better way of feeling a part of nature’s cycles than drinking last year’s sloe gin while you pick this year’s harvest.
5. Plan and dream
Curling up with some seed catalogues is a time-honoured winter tradition (we love the Real Seed Company and the Organic Gardening Catalogue), but why not go one step further? Go out in the garden and plan for the coming year. Take detailed sketches of your garden, then on truly horrible days, think about your garden design, and how you can revamp your garden to make it more productive for the future. We will be looking at this in more detail in future articles but have a read through Permaculture in a Nutshell by Patrick Whitefield or take a look at the video below and you’ll get the idea.
Iain and his wife Wenderlynn are permaculture gardeners who love biting off more than they can chew. They are currently growing food on two allotments, a communal garden bed and a windowsill in a small flat in Hertfordshire, whilst establishing their experimental agroforestry project in Devon.
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