Winter poppies brighten up the day.

Winter poppies brighten up the day. Photo: Thinkstock

The sign of a great gardener is winter flowers. Masses of annuals, not just winter-blooming shrubs. Half an hour at the nursery and an hour of soil preparation and planting will give you a decade or two at least of flowering winter shrubs.

No, great gardeners have flowering annuals all winter. I am not a great gardener. Our annuals are patchy at best. Some years they're non-existent.

There are some annuals that should be foolproof in our climate: pansies, primulas, Iceland poppies, planted in early to mid-autumn so they have time to get to flowering size before the cold really bites. Which I did. Except the dahlias that had died back in summer decided to grow again and even flower - the best display we've had all year. And somewhere under all that foliage the poppies and pansies were dwindling, or turned to clumps of mould.

A pumpkin is ready to pick when the stem begins to dry off next to the fruit.

A pumpkin is ready to pick when the stem begins to dry off next to the fruit. Photo: Supplied

So I have cheated. Or done the sensible thing, whichever way you want to look at it, and planted poppies in pots to grow big and blooming and be planted out when the dahlias die back. Again.

The other option is to buy advanced blooming potted plants at an exorbitant rate per plant, though when you think that each one will bloom for at least three months if well treated, they're probably cost-effective in the dollars for joy stakes.

The way to cosset an annual - says she who has managed to kill all the ones I've planted this season so far - is first of all to give them space and light. The crammed cottage garden look works in spring and summer, when they can shade each other. Winter blooms need all the heat and sunlight they can get.

And then feed, which needs discretion. Annuals by their very nature live fast and die young - and to do this they need tucker. But give it early, and only when actively growing and blooming, and only when the soil is damp or you can water it in, or you may burn the roots. Or, if you have made compost lavishly, grow them in pure compost. In which case they'll grow and bloom and laugh at moulds and mildews and leaf spots, and may not need any more feeding until they bloom their last next summer.

Our compost is kept for the vegies, on the theory that I want the best feeding for the stuff that feeds my mouth, not just my eyes. But one day, maybe, we will have a small mountain of compost and an even greater paradise of annuals. And then the wallabies will eat them.

A pumpkin is ready when the stem begins to dry off next to the fruit or the stars are twinkling brighter than any night since last spring and the air smells of frost and tin, in which case pick them even if they are zucchini small. In fact you can pretend as small pumpkins really are zucchini. Peel them if the skins are a bit tough, remove any seeds, and stir fry the flesh with olive oil, garlic and onions till soft. It will then taste of garlic and onion, because it doesn't have much of its own. But it's a good taste nonetheless.

Bring any pumpkins you intend to eat in the next month inside. But long keepers like Queensland Blues really do need ''curing'' - putting up on a hot rock or concrete paving so the skin toughens. Store on their sides, so moisture won't gather in the top or bottom. If they do begin to rot, move swiftly - a good mould can consume a whole pumpkin in a couple of days.

Do not, under any circumstances, let any of the rot near your kitchen, especially not near the cream, eggs and sugar of a pumpkin pie, unless you are trying to breed the ingredients for spectacular food poisoning. When in doubt, throw it out. But better still, bake it while it's good and make pumpkin cake or pumpkin bread, and freeze the surplus. But don't try freezing the pumpkin itself. When it thaws you will just get sludge.

This week I'm:

■ Picking the first Tahitian limes (for lemon syrup cake, but with limes).

■ Weeding the winter lettuces - they need all the sun they can get.

■ Encouraging the pumpkins to get a move on before the frosts arrive - not that there is much one can do to be truly encouraging, apart from moving them to Queensland.

■ Watching the pea seeds sprout, which is step one to pea feast in spring.

■ Picking the last of the hydrangea flowers, to dry for vases over winter.

■ Discovering that dahlias cut back hard in late summer - even accidentally - give a long and stunning bloom through autumn.