WINTER GARDEN: Proston gardener Helen Young.
WINTER GARDEN: Proston gardener Helen Young. Rhiannon Tuffield

Secrets of a winter garden

HELEN Young has been an avid gardener for as long as she can remember but it took the Proston woman more than 70 years to come to know the roots of a garden like the back of her hand.

Initially a dairy farmer and nursery business owner, Helen and her husband Noel moved to a property at Proston when they retired, allowing the pair the time to grow a garden of which they could both be proud.

Although she has retired from farming, Helen rarely has a day of rest. As the president of the Wondai Garden Club, she is constantly planning garden shows, selling plants and giving gardening advice.

She also spends almost every day with her hands in the soil.

WINTER GARDEN: A seedling lemon. Citrus are hardy and like shallow soil and plenty of mulch.
A seedling lemon. Citrus are hardy and like shallow soil and plenty of mulch. Rhiannon Tuffield

Wherever Helen has gone, she's always had a garden and has graciously earned herself the title of somewhat of an expert.

The Youngs' garden at Proston was a house on a block of bare land when the pair moved there. Now, vegetable gardens flourish among grape vines, and fruit trees, roses and hundreds of plant species circle every inch of the garden.

As temperatures have cooled, only some parts have remained in colour but Helen says winter is just as vital as any other month in terms of maintenance.

While a lot must be done in summer to keep a garden happy, Helen says to leave the heavy work for when cooler temperatures set in.

Pruning is a must in winter if you want good quality flowers, although a garden will grow wherever there is sun and water.

"If you want to dig up new garden beds or build walls, do it in the cooler months,” she said.

"Prune shrubs and trees while they're dormant. Fruit trees and roses definitely need pruning to encourage them to regrow in the warmer weather. You have to keep removing the oldest wood.”

Fruit and deciduous trees as well as ornamentals, salvias and roses should be planted through winter to allow for nourishment and hydration from the rain before the hot weather heats the soil. If you're an area prone to heavy frost, Helen recommends holding off planting until the end of August.

WINTER GARDEN: The iceberg rose.
The iceberg rose. Rhiannon Tuffield

"If you plant too late into spring, when it starts to get hot and the plants aren't established, it will put them under enormous amounts of stress,” Helen said.

"Cooler weather is what the plant needs to establish a root system before it gets too hot and dry.”

Her third secret is soil health: The milder weeds in Helen's garden have often been turned back into the soil to act as green manure.

The leaves of an old currajong tree that are often dropped in winter are put into compost then scattered among the roses.

"The best approach to keeping a healthy garden is through the health of your soil. This is something you can pay a lot of attention to in the winter. Really work on conditioning your soil during the winter and get rid of the perennial weeds so when it warms up and you get rain it's all there then.”

Helen says the key to a good garden is something that looks effortless, despite the hard work.

"I like the natural cycle through the garden during the seasons, as it gives you a chance to clean everything up properly,” she said.

"I always think it doesn't matter if you just have a few pots or a thousand acres, the principals are still the same.”