Cyclamen prefer to stand in a basin of water for a while rather than water from the top. Archive photo. | ARCHIVO

One of our readers, John Little writes this week.... “I read your column each week and have often found useful tips for my garden. This week I was a little surprised to find the topic was a nativity scene. Very traditional, that is true, though amongst your readership I would think the connection with religion is somewhat less than that of the local population. However that aside and remaining with tradition (of the Catalan lands that many would say we are part of) why did you omit one of the most traditional parts of the nativity scene. I refer of course to the Caganer. It would have made a useful end paragraph, interesting, funny and informative for your readership, the majority of whom I imagine are not aware of this impish little chap.”

Thank you for your comments, first I would like to point out that I made no reference to religion although I am a Christian myself. The Nativity scene is open to anyones own interpretion bearing in mind that it is an historic fact dating back to Roman times. It is said that Alcudia was the capital of Majorca in Roman times and had a greater population than London. There have been gardens back to those times and before and one of the main points of this column is to compare gardening in this slightly warmer climate with that of Northern gardens, the planting of spring vegetables now as opposed to April or May for example. I also occasionally mention a Saints day instead of an actual date, ‘ prune your roses before Sant Antoni to be sure to have new flowers before San Jordi’ is that a ‘connection with religion’? As to your reference to the Caganer, the impish little chap squatting behind a bush. I have never considered him one of the principal figures of the Nativity Scene but thank you for mentioning him.

And so we get down to gardening, as I have just mentioned it really is time to prune the roses, there are those who traditionally say they should be pruned on Christmas day, others say that as long as it is before the Feast of Saint Anthony on January 17, this ensures that new growth and flowers will be in full bloom for Saint George which falls on April 23. Saint George being the patron saint of Catalonia and in this case the Saint has a flower to enhance his name, the rose. So is this gardening or religion I ask Mr Little?

A long with the roses the grape vines must be pruned about now. It is best to cut them back now whilst the sap is low and before the tiny new green leaves begin to show. Cut each long vine back to about two buds from the main trunk. Another local tradition is always to do the jobs of ‘cutting back’ during the time of the ‘waning moon’ so besides all else we must be sure to study the phases of the moon, plant whilst it is the waxing moon and cut back during the waning moon.

There really isn’t much else we can do in the garden but then who wants to work outside when its time for Christmas and New Year, but its never too late to plant Garlic, Onions and those spring vegetables. All the root vegetables should be ready for digging up, many of them go with the winter dishes of soups and stews along with the cabbage family. Indoors do be careful with the Poinsettias, many potted plants need more regular watering when the house is heated. Some prefer to stand in a basin of water for a while rather than water from the top, Cyclamen is certainly one of these, both the miniature one and the larger flowering variety. Be very careful when pulling weeds from the lawn if you have bulbs planted there, Daffodils and Jonquils will all be showing their new green leaves which we dont want to damage, a great deal will depend of course if you have left the bulbs in the soil from last year and if you remember where they are.

There is a handy little Calendar published every year just written for the Balearic Islands and each month gives a few gardening tips amongst the other information. It is written in Spanish so will help you polish the language and only costs 2.50€. I find it a helpful little booklet. This month of December for example it reminds us to be sure to add fresh compost and /or manure around the fruit trees.

Prepare the holes where new trees are to be planted and of course get down to pruning all the rest of the trees and bushes that are going to need to be cut back.

There is litttle else to say other than have a very Happy Christmas.