It may not look dignified, but I don’t mind, as my friends Kat and Jean carry me off to my cosy winter home in the shed. Don’t worry though – I may be hibernating, but I won’t be entirely idle, as I’ll still be blogging between snoozes!
Some of you may have already emptied your flower and vegetable beds for winter, but we’re just getting down to business, as we wait until we’re closed for the season to start this messy and disruptive task.
We also tend to clear less than you might expect at this time of year, leaving low-growing herbaceous plants for beneficial insects who, like me, enjoy hibernating over the cold winter months.
When the great flood of November 2009 struck Cockermouth, taking down several of Wordsworth House’s garden walls that had stood since 1690, amazingly, Kat’s beans poles remained standing. When Amanda suggested that moving them was now well overdue, as she likes to rotate the vegetable plots, Kat staged a one-woman protest to try to keep them in their original location.
Although she distracted Amanda temporarily, they were eventually moved to an new site in the garden!
Getting set: Garden volunteers Hilary (left) and Jean
While everyone else at Wordsworth House may be staying indoors, snug and warm, getting down to their winter work, it’s business as usual outdoors for Amanda and her garden volunteers, as they undertake the mammoth task of pruning our 16 heritage apple trees.
Step one is to cut back any dead or diseased growth to a healthy point. Because we’re open to the public for most of the year, they also have to make sure no branches are sticking out over or obstructing paths between the trees – something that isn’t a problem in most domestic gardens.
The next step is to remove any crossing growth – where the branches are rubbing on one another – or any very low ones that are pointing down into the soil.
Over the years, because the growth was congested when Amanda started working here, she’s gradually removed central branches to give the trees an open goblet shape – it makes them healthier and it looks attractive.
Once all that’s done, it’s time to tackle the main pruning. You start on the branch leaders (the main growth coming off the big branches), shortening them by a quarter, if they have strong growth, and a half if the growth is weak.
Then you move onto pruning new side shoots to between four buds (on weak growth) and six buds (for stronger growth).
Each tree takes several hours and by the time a session is finished, the team are very grateful to get inside for a hot cuppa!
Hard to work: Jean and Hilary get down to business
Hard at work: Amy the maid in the kitchen
By this time of year the Wordsworth’s maid, Amy, would have had all the lovely fruit and vegetables from the garden stored away in the cellar or made into preserves or pickles to feed the family through the winter.
If you have unused fruit but no cellar, it will store just as well in a garage or shed, provided that it’s cool, dark, frost-free and – even more important – free from mice!
The best way to store fruit is on slatted shelves so air can circulate. Shallow wooden crates are a good second choice, or even polystyrene trays will do.
Always check fruit for blemishes that could turn to rot, and if possible put into storage when slightly under ripe as it will keep better. Put apples, pears etc stalk upwards, make sure they’re not touching, so rot can’t spread, and check them regularly.
The same cool, dark places are also good for vegetables. The Georgians packed them in damp sand, but wooden boxes or paper sacks work just as well for root crops, and onions strung together can hang from hooks or rafters.
For more information on storing fruit and vegetables, have a look at the Royal Horticultural Society website.
Ripe for picking: Keswick Codlin heritage apples
Made to make you smile: A flock of Herdy products
If you want to visit Wordsworth House and Garden this year, you’ll need to come this weekend, as we close for the winter on Sunday. Our lovely shop will, however, be open daily from 10am to 4.30pm (except Sundays) right through until December 22.
The shop is already packed with a fabulous range of Christmas gifts, including all sorts of delicious edibles, books, mugs, ornaments and even handbags.
I have a rather tatty old scarf and I’ve seen some very beautiful new ones on display, so that’s what I’m hoping Sian, our generous retail consultant, will be giving me for Christmas.
There are also seasonal cards, calendars and Christmas decorations – so do come in and have a look if you’re in the area.
And, if you’re in Keswick, our Lakeside shop is open Friday to Monday from 10am to 4pm throughout November.
Animal magic: Bronze resin hares and cats make lovely gifts
All he wants for Christmas: Fletch has his eye on a new scarf