How do you get the garden ready for winter?

Geoff Stonebanks explains what’s involved in putting his award winning garden to be for winter.

Pop up cloches give additional protection Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Visitors always say to me that I can have a rest through the winter months and prepare for the next season. I’m afraid it does not work like that for me! No sooner have I closed the garden gate and perhaps had a short break, then it’s time to put the garden to bed for the winter. It has been especially difficult this year as the weather has been so amazing, right through last month, that I was loathe to cut things back as they were still flowering.

Neat and tidy

Hedges trimmed and tidy

I always like to get all the hedges in the garden trimmed and cut back before the cold sets in. I tend to use a hedge trimmer now but sometimes I do it by hand with secateurs. For me, there is always something quite satisfying at getting the winter garden looking as neat and tidy as it does all summer, especially as my first-floor office looks out across it.

Attention to detail
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Cacti and succulents

I have a large number, probably in excess of 70, succulents, agaves and cacti across both front and back gardens, either in containers or raised beds. Whilst the agave and cacti don’t mind the cold so much, all three plant groups really don’t like the winter wet, so I always get them all under cover, either in the greenhouse, or into the front and back porches of the house. The plants in the raised cacti and succulent bed in the back are carefully dug out and all plants are put into containers and placed in the greenhouse.

Tender cacti and succulents are tucked up for winter
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

This year, because of a large increase in numbers and a lack of space to put them, I have invested in a 2-metre long, low level, poly tunnel to store many of the agaves, keeping them dry through the winter. Fingers crossed the strong winds don’t get the better of it at some point!

Pop up cloches give additional protection
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Bedding and annuals

The other main task is to remove all the annuals from the garden. I try and retain all geraniums, year on year, by cutting them back and leaving them in the covered side alley, not watering them right up until they start to produce new shoots next spring. This has worked well for me every year except last, when the bitter cold weather killed them all off, so this year I’ll invest in a small fleece to cover the shelves in the alley too. This alleyway is choc a bloc with plants by the time I have finished! All the other annuals, verbena, lobelia, petunias and the like are all discarded and containers mostly left empty with a few stocked up with spring flowering bulbs.

At the end of season it’s time to clear the spent annuals
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

You can see the cubes on the central staircase look very sad, stripped of their colour. With over 300 containers in all, this is a pretty mammoth task generating a great deal of stuff to take to the local tip, as my garden is just not big enough to house composting space.

Planning for next season

While in the process of doing this big clear up, I always have in the back of my mind how I can make the garden look a little different next year. I generally place the empty containers around the garden to gauge where I will place them next season, before storing them away on shelves at the top of the garden.

Pots and containers are emptied of tender plants and placed around the garden
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

My displays of aeoniums and agaves went down so well this year that I plan to increase the space allocated to them next summer. When I tidied up the beds shown, I decided to give one over to a new gravel-based area, on which to display terracotta pots of succulents next year, in and around the cow! One job I shall be doing this month is putting protective fleeces on all the palms in the garden. Most are fine with the cold, but I just don’t like the damage the salt-laden winds do to the fronds, so I prefer to cover them for the winter months. All in all, a busy few weeks to prepare for the winter.

Geoff Stonebanks

About Geoff Stonebanks

Geoff Stonebanks lives in Bishopstone, near Seaford in East Sussex and spends all his time gardening and fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support. Using his multi award-winning garden - Driftwood - he has raised over £114,000 for various charities in 8 years, £66,000 of that for Macmillan. The garden, which first opened to the public in 2009 has featured on BBC2 Gardeners' World, Good Morning Britain and in many national and local media publications. In his spare time, Geoff is also the National Garden Scheme's Social Media & Publicity Chair as well as an Assistant County Organiser & Publicity Officer in East & Mid Sussex.
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