When the nights draw in and the temperatures plummet, it’s tempting to leave the garden to its own devices. This is especially true of my exposed Northern plot which spends the winter months being battered by the elements. Access to what my neighbours have dubbed the ‘Spanish Steps’ doesn’t help. It only takes a smattering of rain and a cold snap to turn my vertiginous trail into a treacherous accident waiting to happen.

Previously, I’ve pretty much ignored the garden until early spring, only venturing out to feed the birds and pick up pots and chairs blown over in the gales. But this year is different. With a relatively new garden and a lot of time and money invested in it, I feel more protective.

So, for the first time, I’ve huddled various tender plants together under the shelter of my potting area. The semi-hardy varieties have also received some TLC – they’re now gathered in my courtyard and stand some chance of surviving the winter.

I toyed with wrapping some of the younger trees in fleece but soon abandoned that idea – the combination of endless rain and fierce winds would soon put paid to even the most tightly wrapped shrub. Instead, I’ve let garden detritus lie where it falls in the hope that rotted-down leaves, bark and grasses will form protective mulches over precious roots.

My hard work over the summer has also paid off. In the hope of some colour during the grey and chilly months, I planted a number of species known for their winter interest. Now, I derive great pleasure from the dogwoods, their fiery stems shouting at me from the garden on the darkest of days. Meanwhile, the heathers are still valiantly doing their thing, seemingly impervious to the vicissitudes of winter.

Sadly, I’ve had less luck with my erstwhile Christmas trees. When it comes to the festive season, I’m a traditionalist. I’ve always bought a real tree and, where possible, planted it outside once the tinsel and baubles have done their thing. It’s a genuine joy to see it growing throughout the year, and also provides an opportunity to festoon it with waterproof fairy lights once Christmas rolls back around.

But pines and firs hate my new garden. Who knew it was possible to kill a Christmas tree? Is there anything sadder than that? Maybe it’s for the best that I’ve developed a fierce allergy to fir trees. I only have to look at a pine and I come out in hives. So, I have bitten the bullet and bought a fake. It’s not the same but at least I don’t have to wear gloves and a big coat to decorate it.

If you’re lucky enough to have a real tree, do consider replanting it once Christmas is over. If that’s not possible, there are other ways to reuse it. Don’t send the tree to landfill – that’s definitely not embracing the Christmas spirit. The bastion of gardening well and sustainably, Gardeners’ World, has some handy tips on how to put the wood and needles to good use including creating woodchip mulch, although you’ll need to rent or borrow a shredder. It also suggests keeping the Christmas tree on the patio until the needles fall off. Like woodchip, they can be used to mulch plants, in particular acid-loving ones.

If you chop up the discarded tree, the twigs and trunk can be refashioned into a shelter for wildlife, while large branches can be placed over plants on the ground to provide a much-needed cover from frost.

Of course, if all that sounds like too much work, you can check out what your local council has to offer. Many councils have green waste schemes, although there may be a small collection fee.

Whatever you decide, remember this: a tree isn’t just for Christmas.

Words and images by Helen Nugent, Editor of Northern Soul  


This article first appeared in Catena