As a gardener, I quite like this time of year, January is my planning ahead month. There’s not a lot of colour or growth so I can see the shape and layout of my garden more clearly. Where there are gaps, what might complement existing shrubs, and of course those few December jobs left that I didn’t manage in the gallop up to Christmas. And it’s when I browse my favourite plant catalogues to order in for 2018 – sorry, not sorry, bank account.
Walking around, I can see that a couple of our benches have seen better days. Garden furniture, even if you look after it, will only last so long and the winter sales are an excellent opportunity to buy some lovely new things. This year I’ve also entered Sloane and Sons’ competition * where one lucky UK resident will win this Lutyens style wooden bench at the end of January (full details on their website if you want to try your luck too). Fingers crossed…
One of my favourite gardening jobs takes place on a cold winter’s night, with a large glass of wine and a couple of snuggly cats. My absolute go to bulb, seed, and plant suppliers are Sarah Raven and Gee Tee Bulbs. They both have an amazing selection of plants and their customer service is second to none. Seriously, I’m like a child in online sweet shops, my husband always has to hide his credit card.
Our lovely Christmas Rose helleborus niger (the photo at the top of this post) is flowering happily, and some other hellebores are just beginning to bud up too. So it’s time to cut back the old leaves around their bases to get rid of any fungal spores that can infect the new growth. I usually wait until I see all the new buds as otherwise it’s quite hard to see where I planted them, thanks to the massive amount of yellow flowering Lamium galeobdolon (dead nettle) ground coverage.
Hellebores come in all shapes and colours and I remember planting some freckled pink ones too last year, just not exactly where!
Clematis, roses, salvias
Late summer flowering (Group 3) clematis are also good candidates for pruning this month. I had a few new buds coming through on my purple climbing Viticella already so I’ve cut that back hard to about 30cm above ground level. And I’ve hard pruned my yellow Tangutica ‘Bill Mackenzie’ too as it was getting very tatty and starting to pull its trellis off the wall. This seems drastic but it’s what these later flowering clematis need, otherwise you end up with a few buds on the very top of old brown stems instead of new lush green growth. I’ve pruned all my bush roses and salvias quite hard too, to stop them getting too leggy when spring arrives.
Apples and grapes
January is the best time to prune apple trees, before the new spring buds start growing. Ideally, you want to remove any dead, damaged, or diseased branches, and any that are crossing and rubbing together. You should also prune back last summer’s growth by about a third. The best shape to end up with is an open, airy structure that will allow plenty of light and air for spring blossom and summer fruit to ripen. Or, if you have no desire to wobble around on a ladder, you can get a professional in to do the job, which is exactly what I’m going to do!
This month is also the best time to prune back grapevines. If you leave it too late the sap will be rising and the branches will “bleed” so the vigour will just flow straight out of the plant. Not ideal if you’re hoping for a healthy grape crop in early autumn.
Not strictly a gardening job but I wanted to share a tip with you. If you had a real Christmas tree this year then rather than put it out for your local Council to recycle, ask around to see if you have any goat farmers near you. There’s not much green growth at this time of year and goats will be very grateful. They’ll eat the lot: needles, bark, and branches. Win, win.
As you may recall from last month’s post, we’re trying hard to look after our wildlife during these winter months. We’ve got some new bird feeders and Flora is keeping her pine cone topped up with peanut butter and bird seed for the smaller tits and finches. We love seeing how many visit each day – including our resident robin.
Did you realise quite how busy January in the garden could be? As I said, it’s one of my favourite months, and never more so than when I can sip a cup of tea on the bench next to our gloriously fragrant Daphne odora on a rare sunny morning. What jobs will you be doing this month?
* This is written in association with Sloane and Sons Garden Benches, but all opinions and photos are my own (except where indicated), and this is an honest, unbiased post about my garden.