Upside-down gardening: December in Central Otago

December in Central Otago

Summer

The first day of December is officially the first day of summer, here in Central Otago. As Christmas rapidly approaches, the days get hotter and hotter. Big gardening jobs are best put off until early autumn, as the soil will be very dry and any transplants will need even more water than usual.

Fragrant lavender

If you want to dry lavender for pot pourri, dried flower arrangements or lavender bags, you need to harvest it before the flowers open. You can dry it in bunches. Tie the bunches tightly or use elastic bands to allow for the shrinkage that will occur when the stems dry. Hang them up somewhere dry and shady. The calming essential oils in both lavender and rosemary are said to be good for helping you to concentrate, so put a little bowl or basket of dried lavender flowers by your computer. If you have a tricky task to carry out, run your fingers through the flowers to release the oils. 

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Pretty campanulas

There are lots of different lovelies in the campanula family. In my garden, campanula persificolia seeds itself around and produces different shades of blue through to white. It is very tall and tends to flop over without support, but I prefer to prop it up loosely against other plants rather than tie it tightly to stakes. It will begin to look untidy when its first flush of flowers is over, but be patient with it, because it will flower again from the same stems.

In the rock garden, the dalmation campanula spreads slowly and will stand either sun or shade.

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The vegetable garden

The peas that I sowed indoors in coir blocks and then planted out were all uprooted by blackbirds and thrushes. My beans also struggled and were finally finished off by a couple of cold nights. Peas and beans should be easy, so I’m annoyed with myself. I threw a few pea and bean seeds down under the support and left them to it, and they’re doing reasonably well. I’ve resolved not to bother sowing them indoors in future and to use minimal effort in raising them. Sometimes, it’s better not to micromanage plants. 

Tomatoes

We haven’t had consistent temperatures of above 6o in November, so I haven’t planted out my tomato seedlings yet. I’ll definitely plant them out in the first week of December with suitable supports. If you are fortunate enough to have a greenhouse, your tomatoes will already be looking great.  

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Keep sowing seeds

December is the time to sow beans, beetroot, cape gooseberry, carrots, coriander, cucumber, parsley, sage and sunflowers. You can also sow zinnias directly where you want them to flower.

Plant out seedlings

Aubergines, basil, broccoli, celery, chillies, courgettes, leeks and squash can all be planted out now. You can try lettuce, but I find that the hot, dry summers of Central Otago make it impossible to prevent lettuce from bolting. It’s better to wait until the end of summer.

About the writer

My name’s Pamela and a few years ago, at the age of 55, I made the decision to start a new adventure. I left the northwest of England, where I had lived all my life, and moved to New Zealand.  I’m excited to be a guest blogger on Gardenize, and I love writing about my garden in beautiful, sunny Alexandra in Central Otago.  My garden here is about as different as it could get from the damp, shady garden I left behind. Central Otago is the hottest, driest, coldest area in New Zealand, as we have hot summers and cold winters, along with a semi-arid climate. The area is famous for its orchards and vineyards. It has many quaint little rural townships with pretty cottage gardens featuring peonies, bearded irises, hollyhocks, lilies, roses, and lavender that grow so well here. The landscape is spectacular, with dry, rocky mountains and impossibly blue lakes and rivers. The dry mountains look barren, but they’ve actually covered in tough little thyme plants: a great clue to what might grow well in the garden.

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