We have a contorted hazel growing near the house, a sitting tenant inherited when we moved here.

I can’t say that this would have been a natural choice of plant for me, the name is off-putting to begin with, but we have grown fond of this small tree with its thick trunk and ringletted stems that squats near a small pond.

I have grown to appreciate that this specimen is interesting for the whole of the year and by December looks lovely. Most leaves have fallen, but the few remaining are sunlit with splashes of gold and orange that stand out against the warm browns of the winding branches. These are carrying a number of small, light-green catkins that look like small caterpillars hanging down this way and that.

For a few months from January the hazel will be bare of foliage although some of the catkins will remain, but it is quite a sight with its interesting stems. New growth will begin in spring and within a few weeks the leaves will have appeared, and then the summer passes and we are back round to autumn colour and catkins.

In the fruit patch

Brambles need to be tidied up as soon as possible this month if they haven’t been done already. They grow quickly and by March will be an impossible tangle of spiny stems that will be horrible to sort out.

These vigorous plants will have been sending out new shoots for months so the task is simple in theory. Just undo the bramble from its support and remove the old fruited stems, leaving the new ones to tie back on to the wires.

Mature ones are likely to have new growth shooting out along their length, but if there are enough new shoots coming from the base of the plant these old ones can be cut back to the ground.

If growth is sparse or the plant is young, the older, branching stems can be cut back to just above a good new shoot and then tied in. What is needed is enough shoots to form a good framework of growth that will provide plenty of fruit next summer.

Here’s a few tips will make the task a little easier. Always wear strong protective gloves and thick, long sleeves, the thorns on these plants are vicious. Long waving stems that have grown away from the main plant should be cut back in manageable sections first before the plant is set loose from its moorings.

The slightest of breezes will set them waving in the air trying to find purchase on to any available support, including bare skin or thin jumpers.

Lastly, train the remaining shoots horizontally from ground level upwards to make for easier picking.

Weekend catch up

There is still time to turn over the soil in empty beds in the garden, vegetable area or allotment, but don’t worry about breaking it down into a fine tilth for the moment. The winter wet will soak through the clods over the next few months, where it will freeze and melt. This constant movement of moisture expanding and contracting breaks down the lumps in the soil so that by next spring it will be much easier to get the texture needed. A layer of compost can also be added when digging at this time of year, but again there is no need to worry about mixing it in, this can be done next spring when preparing the area for planting.

Gardening talk

Roger Burnett, head of Scarborough Parks Department and chief judge of Britain In Bloom, together with a team of experts, will hold an evening of questions and answers entitled ‘Going to Pot’ on Tuesday. Organised by Askham Bryan College Gardening Club, the evening will begin at 7.30pm in the Conference Hall at Askham Bryan College. Tickets on the door are free to Askham Bryan College Gardening Club members and £5 for non-members.

TV and radio


8am, BBC Radio Humberside, The Great Outdoors. With Blair Jacobs and Doug Stewart.

9am, BBC Radio Leeds, Tim Crowther and Joe Maiden.

2pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. Chairman Eric Robson and gardening experts Pippa Greenwood, Bunny Guinness and Matthew Wilson help gardeners from the Scottish Borders. Meanwhile Bob Flowerdew has some ideas on how to make an allotment thief-proof. (Repeated from Friday).


3pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. Bob Flowerdew, Anne Swithinbank and Matthew Wilson join chairman Eric Robson to answer the horticultural questions of an audience in Sutton Coldfield in Birmingham. The gardening weather forecast is at 3.40pm.

Saturday, December 17

7am, BBC Radio York, Julia Booth and gardening expert Nigel Harrison hold their weekly plant surgery.