Absent.

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You may or may not have noticed, but I have not been posting quite as regularly of late. There is no intention in this, I’ve simply been up to my eyes in managing my work/life balance and enjoying time with my little family. Being perpetually busy is no good for one’s creativity, and through most of the autumn I’ve simply been too tired to think of anything good to write. Christmas being my work, as well as featuring in my top five life obsessions, puts a lot of strain on the months of November and December. Rather than fret about it, I have decided to let go until the New Year, when I can pick up writing again with renewed vigour.

Meanwhile there’s been no let-up in the effort required to put my garden to bed for winter, nor to ready it for spring. Autumn and early winter in the east of England has been uncharacteristically wet, yet typically windy and mild. Most of my tender plants have already been given shelter, either in the greenhouse, workshop or indoors. The remainder will be dealt with over Christmas or before the first proper cold snap.

The Beau and I are well advanced with our bulb planting, so much so that many narcissi are already pushing their little green duck bills into the light. I will be replanting the raised beds in late spring, so where there are gaps we are planting tulips to provide a temporary flash of colour. I’ve reverted to the orange and plum shades that have been so successful in the past, welcoming back varieties such as ‘Orange Dynasty’, ‘Slawa’ and ‘Request’. If the winter is kind they will end up clashing with half a dozen shocking pink Geranium maderense, which are entering a final nerve-racking growth spurt before blooming. Any hint of frost and they’ll be done for.

As always a few plants have clung on, producing flowers well into December. Cobaea pringlei is one such trouper, still blooming prolifically 20ft up in the canopy of my bay tree, fully exposed to the wind on three sides. When the gales blow in, the cobaea’s long, rambling stems bob and bounce like serpents on a storm-tossed sea: their flexibility is what saves them from being damaged. Each elegantly pleated, ivory trumpet is a joy to behold, eventually falling to reveal a star-shaped calyx. Exactly why this beautiful climber is not more widely grown I cannot fathom, although I believe it may be tricky to propagate.

In the greenhouse Salvia dombeyi has grown lush and luxurious, producing an endless succession of pendulous scarlet flowers. They are the largest of the genus, measuring up to 9cm in length and resembling Fuchsia boliviana in form and colour. The biggest surprise has been Dahlia tampaulipana, purchased from Pan Global Plants in August. This New Mexican species has been blooming since October. We’d expected to wait for years, or until it had reached a decent size, although admittedly the washed-out magenta flowers are something of an anticlimax.

Last week I travelled to The Netherlands on business, which happily required a day visiting garden centres and other shops pedalling Christmas decorations. I am always dazzled by the quantity and quality of the house plants available, as well as the low prices. The beauty of some is questionable, especially the plethora of vividly coloured, glittered and mutated poinsettias on offer. A bench full of cypress trees thickly sprayed with rainbow glitter was torture to look at, but I was envious of the wide choice of exotic foliage plants. One year I will take a car over and fill up with plants and bulbs before heading home. The Christmas decorations were not bad, but not a patch on what we have available in the UK, especially London. I found a few little treasures in Amsterdam, where I also stocked up on cheese and stroopwafels.

Back at home, I am delighted to have stopped travelling until the New Year. For the last few weekends I have been busy decorating my Christmas trees, with only two left to complete before the festivities begin. Then we shall have a total of seven at The Watch House, which I have to confess is probably the maximum. There’s another collection of baubles I’d like to work with, but short of putting a tree in a bathroom or rarely used bedroom I am out of options. What I have done instead is to decorate outside using warm-white pea lights wrapped around the trunk and branches of each tree in the Jungle Garden. The effect is simple yet welcoming. If you’d like to see more of my Christmas decorating exploits, you can find me on Instagram @the_world_of_mrchristmas.

Though I worked harder than ever to get ahead of myself with Christmas planning, yet again I find myself on the back foot. There are cards to write, presents to wrap, ingredients to order, garlands to hang and people to see, plus The Beau has a big birthday in exactly a week’s time. Quite how I managed to post every day through December last year I do not know! Still, all the fun is in the preparation, and I shall be sad when Christmas is over. I must live in the moment and enjoy the prospect of precious time off with family and friends. If am a little absent until the New Year let me apologise now, whist wishing you the merriest of Christmasses. TFG.