It’s December at Water Lane, a Victorian walled garden with a restaurant in Hawkhurst, Kent and everything is quiet and still in the kitchen and cutting gardens. Ian reflects on a successful growing season and looks forward to the next.
The garden hibernates, along with much of the rest of nature, for the short and dark December days. Most of the hard work has been done by now and the garden is firmly tucked in under its protective blanket of mulch. There is little activity on the frozen surface, except for our inquisitive and friendly robin who keeps a watchful eye; he sits perched on the edge of the brassica cage making sure we regularly top up the bird feeder. Winter is a tough time for wildlife, and they need as much help as we can give with seeded lard balls and water.
We’re harvesting sprouts, red and green kales and winter brassicas, and a steady supply of parsnips, salsify, celeriac, beetroot, carrots and even a few occasional salad leaves from the glasshouse. The December larder is rich for a considerate and imaginative cook. Looking beyond the ubiquitous soups and stews there are gratins of root vegetables with anchovy, chilli, rosemary, and double cream; carrots roasted whole with harissa with preserved lemon and chickpeas; roast cubes of celeriac with venison sausages next to red cabbage, apple and blackberry slaw.
Jobs for December in the vegetable garden
- Tidy up sheds and glasshouses and keep them ventilated - particularly in warm damp weather - to help prevent build-up of fungal diseases.
- Clean, oil and sharpen tools.
- Make sure outdoor taps are insulated.
- Sow Broad Beans undercover, in root trainers, to get a head start on next year.
Jobs for December in the Cutting Garden
- An enjoyable few hours, on a sunny December morning, can be spent outside making a festive wreath. Use branches of evergreen foliage twinned around a wire wreath base, add in dried hydrangea heads, seed heads, dried flowers, and hardy herbs.
- Now is the time to take stock of your garden, what worked, what didn’t - reviewing the seeds you still have, and reviewing your planting plans for next year.
- Make sure tender perennials have been mulched well, to protect them from the cold and frosts.
- Keep an eye on autumn sown sweet peas that you have undercover, making sure they’re protected, and at same time don’t dry out nor overwater.
- Sow onion seeds, indoors and undercover.
- Plant any remaining tulip and remaining spring bulbs.
- Prune climbing roses.
There are plenty of hardy brassicas and root vegetables in the ground, which will overwinter until the new year as the sugars concentrate and the flavour intensifies and sweetens. A favourite winter vegetable is Jerusalem Artichokes, which bizarrely are not from Jerusalem or related in any way to globe artichokes, they are in fact part of the sunflower family. Small and knobbly with a thin papery skin, Jerusalem Artichokes have a flavour unique to themselves, sweet, earthy, almost mushroomy, and are so versatile to cook. Taking on an almost toffee texture when roasted, Jerusalem Artichokes are flavour friends with all the woody herbs such as thyme and rosemary, dried chilli, nuts, and is absolutely besotted with cream. They can even be eaten raw, thinly sliced with lemon juice and herbs. Try Jed Wrobel’s recipe for Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes, Radicchio, Pear and Blue Cheese.