I have found the perfect way to keep warm on a cold winter’s day – take up a pickaxe and smash up the concrete in your garden! Our gardens are continually disappearing under a sea of concrete and creating floods where there never used to be a problem.
Two years ago, when we moved to our present house, we inherited countless square metres of concrete in our back garden and whenever it rained, an extremely fast-flowing torrent ran from the back of our garden, past the front door and then flowed down the street.
Since then, we have managed to fill four maxi skips to the full with chunks of concrete and have enough for three more. Already, we have noticed the improvement.
However, if you find that do have to lay a slab of concrete for a shed like we have done, create a green roof to counteract the negative impact. We have almost finished our shed apart from the plants on the roof. I am waiting for warmer weather to plant out my pots of Stipa tenuissima, a wonderful silky grass that will waft beautifully in the wind.
December has not started on the right foot. Stormy showers and sodden ground on clay soil is the worst possible weather to do any gardening in. Instead, I am studying seed catalogues and surrounding myself with tropical indoor plants to obliterate the view out of the window.
I have treated my Bird of Paradise plant, Strelitzia reginae, far too well since I took this photo, with the result that the leaves are twice the size and there are no flowers at all. However, the glossy leaves overhang my computer and in the depths of winter I can feel that I am in the midst of a tropical rainforest. Who needs summer!
Many gardens are lacking vitality and colour at this time of year and yet they do not need to. The roses may be past their best but perennials such as the purple cone flower Echinacea purpurea, and Japanese anemones will continue flowering for some time. Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’ with its tall white flowers is brilliant for lighting up dry shady corners. I am planning to plant a long border of them in front of my dark Viburnum hedge where they will flower for several weeks.
Miss Wilmott’s Ghost
Plants that have already set seed can now be harvested. Many will sow themselves but it is always good to pass them on to friends. Miss Wilmott, a renowned Victorian plantswoman, used to fill her pockets with the seeds of Eryngium giganteum and when visiting her friends’ gardens, surreptitiously sprinkled them amongst the borders. The following year they would appear in a blaze of glory and became known as ‘Miss Wilmott’s Ghost’.
Many tender plants such as Hebes and Penstemons suffered badly last winter. Now is the time to take cuttings to ensure that you have a continuous supply. They all root easily round the insides of a plastic pot covered with a plastic bag and kept out of the sun. Dipping the cut ends in hormone rooting powder is often helpful.
For a reliable crop of lettuce to harvest throughout the winter and into spring, sow Lettuce ‘All Year Round’ now. Even after the heavy snow and frosts last winter, we still had an amazing glut of lettuces and had to give most of them away.
There is still so much to look forward to in the garden. Next month the ornamental grasses will be at their peak. Can’t wait!
Daffodils – don’t you just love them! There we were in the dark depths of winter and suddenly up pops spring! Treat daffodils kindly, dead-head them when they finish flowering and most importantly, do not tied them up in knots. If they are in the wrong place, dig them up in a hefty clump and place them where they will look their best.
Now at last, we can think about sowing some vegetable seeds: carrots, peas, broad beans, spinach, radish, parsnips and leeks can all be sown now. Tomatoes take up a lot of room on your windowsills so unless you are planning to grow an unusual variety, it is better to buy small plants when the likelihood of frosts has gone.
The same goes for the bright and gaudy trays of annuals that are on display at the garden centres. They will be an expensive loss if planted out before May, however tempting they may seem.
Another task this month is to cut your ornamental grasses right down to the ground. Leave evergreen varieties alone but the Miscanthus family must be cut as soon as possible. Miscanthus ‘Flamingo’ is one of my favourites and like most grasses, it brings a herbaceous border alive with its dark pink inflorescenses billowing in the wind.
Tadpoles are also a delight of early spring and if you only have a small garden, then why not go for a mini pond? Sunken or above ground, any deep watertight container will do but remember to put a ramp in sunken ponds for visiting hedgehogs. Planted up with Marsh Marigolds and an evergreen reed such as the Corkscrew Rush Juncus effusus spiralis, the pond will be attractive for several months and will not need watering when you go on holiday.
The sun is shining now so I am off to the garden!
It’s time to tuck the garden up into bed. Tender annuals will have succumbed to the frosts by now and need to go straight to the compost bin. Likewise the drooping brown leave still clinging to the stems of hardy perennials that have given their best for the year.
There are exceptions to this rule though: Phlomis russelliana looks absolutely wonderful in the depths of winter with its balls of flowers covered in snow all the way up to the top of its stems. This is a great perennial which should be planted more often. It is an extremely good ground coverer with large heart-shaped leaves and pale yellow flowers. A lovely contrast when planted next to Golden Hakone Grass.
Penstemons need to keep their leaves on too as these will give them some protection over winter if we are lucky enough to have a milder one than last year.
Traditionally, this has always been the best time to plant trees and shrubs and yet the allure of the Garden Centres with their extensive array of plants in shiny black pots, have made us change our ways. They may not look so glamorous at first, but bare-rooted trees and hedging plants will bound away next spring if planted now, and save you plenty of money for Christmas.
If you use herbs as much as I do, winter can be a little dull without them. Cover parsley and rocket over winter, pot up some mint and bring it into the warmth and it should keep you going until spring. A hot mug of fresh mint tea is very refreshing.
Heritage Broad Bean Crimson Flowered
This is a good time to order seed catalogues. For a change, why not try some heritage, rare varieties or wildflower seeds. You never know what might turn up and surprise you!
At last BT has given us our new phone number: 01249 248529, so do give me a call if your garden needs a fresh eye and you are not sure where to start!
About 120 pots of my favourite plants came with me to my new home including Iris St Crispin pictured here. It recently produced a single stem full of promise but unfortunately, it was decapitated in its prime by a very hungry slug! I have now declared war on all their kind and go out at dusk with a bucket of salty water to put them in.
Their numbers have now visibly declined, thank goodness.