When you're happily beavering away in the veg garden over summer, it can seem like the long days of abundant flowers and fruit will never end. But one day, inevitably, you cut the last pumpkin and pull up the bean plants and it is, undeniably, winter.

There's no need to stop enjoying your plot just because the weather has turned cold, though. Embrace winter as part of your veg-growing year and you'll find your patch can be as productive from November to February as it is for the rest of the year.

You'll need to begin planning in early spring, as these are plants which need a long time in the ground. Start by choosing some of the great winter veg we offer as seeds or plug plants in our Mullingar garden centre: here's our pick of the best.

  • Parsnips: sow fresh seed direct into the ground: the sweet, pale roots taste better after being kissed by frost.
    Recommended varieties: 'Tender and True', 'Gladiator'.
  • Cabbages: super-hardy savoys have fabulous flavour and texture: follow with crunchy spring cabbages for an April treat.
    Recommended varieties: 'January King', 'Duncan' (spring cabbage).
  • Brussels sprouts: plant early, mid-season and late varieties to pick fat sprouts from September to February.
    Recommended varieties: 'Trafalgar', 'Rubine'.
  • Celeriac: knobbly roots with the fine flavour of celery but much easier to grow: keeps well, too.
    Recommended varieties: 'Prinz', 'Monarch'.
  • Kale: if you want an easy-to-grow cabbage substitute, pick young kale leaves for a taste sensation.
    Recommended varieties: 'Dwarf Green Curled', 'Cavolo Nero'.
  • Winter salads: sow spicy winter baby-leaf mixes under cloches, or pick from the new range of Japanese salads.
    Recommended varieties: Mizuna, Mustard 'Red Frills'.
  • Chard: sow in September and you'll be picking spinach-like chard all winter. Protect with cloches in bad weather.
    Recommended varieties: 'Rhubarb', 'Swiss Chard'.
  • Leeks: ramrod straight leeks are as hardy as anything: plant seedlings deeply for long white shanks.
    Recommended varieties: 'Musselburgh', 'Bleu de Solaise'.
  • Rhubarb: force clumps of big, beefy rhubarb for tender pink stems from February onwards.
    Recommended varieties: 'Timperley Early', 'Victoria'.

Please ask the staff in our garden centre in Mullingar for more information and advice about growing winter vegetables

January 21, 2021 — Ciarán Haskins


Dahlias are among the loveliest of late-summer bulbs, flowering their socks off for weeks on end (especially if you dead-head them regularly to keep the blooms coming).

You can choose a dahlia to suit your garden whatever your style: spidery cactus varieties like 'Black Narcissus' for an exotic look, or pretty pompom 'David Howard' for a classic herbaceous border. Single-flowered dahlias suit natural planting styles: in our Mullingar garden centre you'll find delicate pure white 'Twynings After Eight' and what are popularly known as 'The Bishops' – 'Bishop of Llandaff' in scarlet, yellow 'Bishop of York' or lilac 'Bishop of Leicester'.

All, however, are frost-tender, so need special care over winter.

In a well-drained soil in a warmer area of the country, you may be able to leave your dahlias in the ground: insure against hard frosts by covering the ground around the plant with a mulch up to 15cm thick of dry autumn leaves or coarse bark chips. Hold it in place with a double layer of fleece, pegged down to stop it blowing away. In spring remove the mulch to allow the plant to shoot up again.

If you're reluctant to risk losing your tubers in a hard winter, though, lift and store them in autumn under cover. Here's how:

  1. Once the foliage has been blackened by frost, dig up the tubers and let them dry for a day or so. Then brush off excess soil and trim back the stems to about 15cm above the roots.
  2. Line a shallow tray with newspaper and place your tubers on top with the stalks uppermost. Pack loosely with dry compost or sand, so the tubers are just covered.
  3. Store somewhere dry, cool and frost-free: a garden shed won't be reliably frost-free unless it's heated, so cover your dahlias with sheets of newspaper if a frost is forecast.
  4. Inspect your tubers regularly through the winter and get rid of any showing signs of rotting or disease, as otherwise it'll spread quickly to other healthy tubers in storage.

Please ask the staff in our Mullingar garden centre for more information and advice about storing dahlias over winter.

January 20, 2021 — Ciarán Haskins


Going home-grown for Christmas makes the holiday a real celebration of your garden's abundance. And one of the nicest things you can do with all those delicious and beautiful things you can pick from your garden is to hang them in your home as very special decorations.

In our garden centre you'll find plants for pickable Christmas decorations, as well as  pinecones, seasonal ornaments, silver and gold spray paint, tinsel and baubles – in short, everything you need to put the finishing touches on your fresh-from-the-garden Christmas. You're only limited by your imagination - so here are a few suggestions to get you started.

  • Home-grown baubles: The spherical flowerheads on the ornamental onion Allium christophii dry to starburst seedheads that look fantastic sprayed silver and hung from ribbons.
  • Christmas tree chains: a packet of red popcorn seed, available from our garden centre, grows just like sweetcorn: string the pretty pink kernels into long tinsel-like decorations.

  • Tussie-mussies: pick spicily fragrant sprigs of witch hazel, viburnum or Christmas box and tie together with herbs into a little Victorian-style bouquet to hang from the ceiling.
  • Wreaths: for this you'll need berrying holly, ivy and a wreath frame, all available from our garden centre. Weave the greenery onto the frame along with pinecones, brilliant red chillies and perhaps some dried orange Chinese lanterns (Physalis alkekengi) and hang on your door to welcome Christmas visitors.

  • Banister garlands: just like wreaths, but this time wound around your banisters and bound in place with florists' wire. Add pine branches, berries, dried flowers and rosehips to complete the picture.
  • Golden bells: take three pinecones and spray them gold, then wire the stems together in threes to make a little bundle that looks just like bells to hang in corners or from the ceiling.

  • Floating flowers: choose a shallow glass bowl from the range in our garden centre, fill it with water and float Christmas hellebore flowers and candles on it for a uniquely beautiful centrepiece for your Christmas table.
January 19, 2021 — Aine O Meara


Of all the fruit you can grow in the garden, a grapevine is among the most productive and beautiful. All you need is a sunny wall, fence or pergola for it to scramble up and it'll cheerfully cover the whole thing with big elegant leaves turning brilliant colours in autumn, and of course fat clusters of fruit dripping with sweetness.

There are dozens of varieties of grapevine and we've got a great selection in our garden centre in Mullingar. For sweet fruit for the table, go for a dessert variety: 'Brandt' has small but very sweet dark-skinned grapes (and spectacular autumn colour) while 'Phoenix' is a reliable modern variety good for both eating and winemaking.

If it's a vineyard you're after, there's an even wider choice. 'Seyval' makes a light, fruity wine; while 'Pinot Noir' ripens well in a good summer for a classic deep red claret.

Here are our top tips for growing successful grapevines:

  • Choose a sunny site, ideally a south- or southwest facing wall and sheltered from the wind. Vines do best in free-draining soil like sand or chalk: if you're gardening on clay dig in a barrowload of grit before planting.
  • Add well-rotted farmyard manure (found in our garden centre) to improve soil before planting, as grapevines are in the ground a long time.

  • Add a handful of slow-release fertiliser like pelleted chicken manure or bonemeal to keep your plant happy all season.
  • Plant when vines are dormant – from late autumn till early spring, as long as the ground isn't waterlogged or frozen.

  • Put up a sturdy training system before you plant: stretch wires 30cm apart up a fence, or attach trellis. You'll find all you need in our garden centre.
  • Water thoroughly in dry weather: if grapevines get parched at the roots they're more likely to suffer from mildew, ruining your crop.

  • Prune each winter once the vine has dropped all its leaves and is completely dormant to remove some of the year's vigorous growth and keep the plant productive and healthy.

Please ask the staff in our Mullingar garden centre for more information and advice about growing grapevines.

January 19, 2021 — Ciarán Haskins


Gardeners demand a lot of pruning tools, especially in winter when there are roses, clematis, apple trees and fruit bushes to do. There are other cutting tools in regular use, too: hedging and topiary shears, and blades you might not think of as blades like hoes and border spades, both of which need sharp edges to cut  through the earth.

Keeping your tools razor-sharp is key to efficient working. Blunt tools take more effort to use, and worse, they can tear at branches rather than cutting them cleanly, causing snags and ragged edges that invite rots and other infections to set in. Hoes and spades, too, are far more effective if they're sharp enough to cut through obstacles rather than bludgeoning them with brute force.

You'll find all you need to keep your tools honed to perfection in our garden centre Mullingar, from sharpening stones to specialist sharpening tools for curved blades such as secateurs. To use them well and get your tools cutting cleanly, follow our top tips:

  • Work out which side has the flat cutting surface: for bypass secateurs, this is the curving blade that scissors past the 'anvil' one. This is the edge you need to keep sharp.
  • Work at an angle of about 30° to the blade and run the sharpening stone along the angled side – if you look at the blade sideways on you'll find out which that is. Work from hinge to tip, always moving the stone away from you to avoid hurting yourself. Keep doing this for a few minutes and you'll find you have a rough edge forming on the underside as tiny shards of metal shear off.
  • Use a circular motion to gently remove this burr from the other side of the blade, though working flat to the blade this time as you don't want to take the edge off again.
  • Consider a professional tool-sharpening service for larger-bladed items like hedging shears or petrol-driven hedge trimmers. These only need doing around once a year and it's easier to get the professionals in.

Please ask the staff in our garden centre in Mullingar for more information and advice about sharpening gardening tools.

January 19, 2021 — Ciarán Haskins


Your tools are your best friends in the garden. They'll stand by you through thick and thin: they're the first things you reach for at times of trouble, and your companions through your greatest triumphs.

Well-made, good-quality tools like those you'll find in our garden centre can last you a lifetime if you take good care of them. So make it a part of your annual routine to spend an hour or two at the end of the season getting them in good shape before storing them away for the winter. Here's how:

  • Give them a clean: let your stainless steel spades and forks dry for a few days so the mud is easier to brush off with a stiff-bristled hand brush. Get every last bit off including the mud wedged in to the neck of the tool head.
  • Repair any breakages: bent fork tines can be straightened with a piece of hollow metal piping: just slot it over the end of the tine and pull. Replacement wooden handles are available in our garden centre, and you'll also find spare watering can roses to replace the one you lost, and new blades for pruning saws.

  • Oil non-steel tools to prevent them rusting in damp weather. This can be as easy as wiping them over with a rag soaked in paraffin, or alternatively fill a bucket with sand and mix in some oil; then dig your tools into the sand to clean and oil them at the same time.
  • Hang everything up out of the way so they won't fall over into a hopeless tangle which you'll have to sort out before you can use them.. Hang spades, hoes, forks and rakes blade-upwards, on double nails banged into the wall, and add some single nails to hold hand trowels, forks, and shears.

  • Get powered tools serviced at a reputable garden machine company once a year, to change the oil, sharpen blades and generally give them the once over before they're back in regular use again.

Please ask the staff in our Mullingar garden centre for more information and advice about looking after your garden tools.

January 19, 2021 — Ciarán Haskins