Xanthe’s Seasonal Writing

Award winning landscape designer and author, Xanthe White, has been Daltons brand ambassador for over ten years. She has plenty of gardening experience and knowledge to impart to home gardeners and professionals alike. Here Xanthe shares her passion for gardening, along with tips, advice and gardening secrets even the most weathered gardener may not know.

Winter 2016

Landscaping in London

I’m finding it hard to accept its winter this year, despite my friend’s frosty Facebook photos. I’ve just arrived back from a late spring in London where I was helping the French designer James Basson create his Chelsea garden for L’Occtaine.

I have to say an English spring is crisper than an Auckland autumn but there were still enough strawberries and poppies in flower to make my brain reset. Chelsea really is a show like no other for horticulture. There are not many places where Monty Don passes by, only for Piet Oudulf to stop in for a chat. While the show gardens get most of the attention it’s in the marquee where the real horticulture happens. In one giant tent are the most amazing displays of horticulture. One of my favourites was the potato growers.

The stand was about five metres long and two metres deep and showed named varieties of potatoes from all around the world, and these guys really knew their potatoes. They were very disappointed in me when I mentioned boiling them though. Apparently a potato should never be boiled only steamed, not to mention keeping the skin on. To these gentlemen a peeled potato was akin to streaking the queen. Even mashed potatoes are not an excuse to peel a potato! For those of you enjoying this year’s harvest take heed, the rest of you will need to wait till spring to get a new crop into the ground.

The other display that won my heart over was the Cacti. There were no tall cartoon-like varieties. Instead the tiers of cacti looked more like a fine French cake shop. The blooms were pretty and iridescent. For those gardeners who don't step outside at this time of year but find their green fingers twitching for warmer times, an indoor cacti collection could be the thing for you. I’m already considering where we might be able to squeeze a conservatory on to host such a collection. (Although I’m not ready to pitch this to my husband yet!)

The show gardens are where they say the trends are set. Naturalism is the new way to go. I spent several days planting gully weeds next to a drain to help get our gold! I can’t help but feel that here in New Zealand though, we’re miles ahead with a natural love of our wild and a great understanding of how to bring ecology into a garden, but we’ll be patient and give our friends abroad a chance to catch up. The rock work was exceptional both in terms of traditional craftsmanship in Basson’s garden and Cleve West’s creative use of stone that was simply sublime. I think using our local reserves of rock is something we are only just starting to explore and we’ll see more skill develop in this area in the years to come. We have such a wonderful range of rock throughout New Zealand and it is my favourite landscape material.

It is though, time for me to face reality and return to the winter ahead. I’m behind on the pruning. My fruit trees are young but it’s still important to take out any deadwood and to thin the branches to let light through the tree to encourage fruiting. You should also think about where your fruit grow. Keeping your fruit trees at a reasonable size means you won’t get stuck with an old tree with all the fruit out of reach. Pruning older trees back into harder wood can reduce the fruiting in the season that follows, which is a good argument for less more often. 

It’s also okay at this time of year to put your feet up and think about what worked in the season that passed and what you want to do in the spring to come. Learning from your successes and failures is what makes a great gardener. Putting a plan in place in response to this is what makes an abundant gardener.

Soon it will be spring and the list of chores will be falling off the edge of the page, so I’ll be back then, but now I’m going to enjoy a well earned rest!

Best wishes,