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


Flowers and foliage are often the first thing gardeners think about when choosing plants for the garden, but many plants have another explosion of colour that's every bit as spectacular as blossom or elegant leaves. Berries can smother a tree or shrub in a good year, often in late autumn and early winter when there's not much in the way of other colour around.

Visit our Mullingar garden centre in autumn and you'll find dozens of plants in full berry, and it's quite a sight. Here are our top picks for a spectacular autumn display.

  • Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is a really easy to grow shrub that just keeps on giving. Covered in pale straw-coloured flowers in spring, it follows with brilliant red berries and orange foliage in autumn.
  • Cotoneaster come in all shapes and sizes, from horizontalis, with herringbone branches which can be trained against a wall, to serotinus, an arching shrub to 1.5m tall. All are smothered in berries in autumn.
  • Firethorn (Pyracantha) comes with red, orange or yellow berries: plant all three for a firework display of densely-clustered berries in autumn, and train against a wall for a sculptural garden feature.
  • Holly (Ilex aquifolium) only has berries if you plant a male and a female plant: if you haven't room, there's a self-fertile variety called 'JC Van Tol'.
  • Rowans (Sorbus) are small trees whose berries are much loved by birds. Sorbus cashmiriana has pearly white berries, while 'Joseph Rock' fruits buttery yellow.
  • Beauty berry (Callicarpa bodinieri) has perhaps the most extraordinary autumn berries of them all: in an iridescent, jewel-like violet purple there's nothing else quite like them in the plant world.
  • Elder (Sambucus nigra) follows its frothy dinner-plate flowerheads with striking sprays of black berries: pick them as soon as they're ripe and you can make elderberry wine.
  • Species roses are the ones which produce ornamental hips in autumn to follow a riot of summer flowers. The hips of Rosa moyesii are sealing-wax red and waisted, like flagons of wine, while R. spinosissima has fat, spherical black hips.

Please ask the staff in our Mullingar garden centre for more information and advice about plants with good autumn berries.

January 21, 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