Anna Pavord: Weekend Work

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The Independent Online

What to do

Plant a tree this Christmas. December is a good month for this, as long as the ground is neither flooded nor stiff with frost. But the smaller the space the more carefully you must choose. The ornamental pear, Pyrus calleryana 'Chanticleer' can eventually get up to 50ft tall but the final spread is less than 20ft. I planted one when we first arrived in our new garden and though it has shot up, it is still a shapely column, little more than 5ft across. The leaves, still on the tree at the beginning of this month, turn a clear butter yellow before they fall. There's no fruit to eat, but excellent white blossom in April.

Digging, in my book, is not as important as mulching. So get your hands on whatever weed-free mulch you can find (I mostly use mushroom compost) and spread it around liberally. A mulch suppresses annual weeds and makes it easier to ease out perennial ones such as bindweed and couch. It feeds the soil and as it is pulled down by worms makes it easier for the ground to hang on to moisture. It thickens up light soils and lightens heavy ones. You can use your own compost for this too, but however proud of it you are, it will contain weed seeds.

What to buy

London shoppers can buy an instant Christmas at The Chelsea Gardener, 125 Sydney Street, SW3: trees, tree stands, door wreaths, foliage, Christmas decorations, lights, they are all there. Nordmannia Christmas trees (favoured because they don't drop their needles) cost from 29.50 for a 4ft tree to 199.50 for a massive 12-footer. The shop is open today (10am-6pm) tomorrow (12-6pm) and Monday (10am-2pm). In your local garden centre you may find a selection of small conifers potted up to use as mini Christmas trees. The Bishop pine, Pinus muricata, is particularly attractive as a young tree with bright green bristles whirling out from its horizontal branches. And afterwards it will make a really handsome specimen outside.