In the Garden: January

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Hasn’t it been a confusing month! While gardeners in some parts of the country have complained of the bitter cold and the lateness of their bulbs, those in other parts have been basking in clement, agreeable, if not exactly seasonable, weather. Here in Edinburgh, I am not sure what to make of the alternating balmy days of 11 or 12 degrees, and the frozen days of one or two below zero. But my bulbs are appearing just as they should, with Galanthus nivalis, the common snowdrop, already flowering in some of the more sheltered spots.

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Looking good

The mild days have brought on some unseasonable growth from all sorts of plants besides the bulbs. Here are the brand new leaves, good enough almost to eat, of my Acanthus mollis. (As you can see, these clement days have also brought out the molluscs from hibernation.)

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New buds are appearing on the honeysuckle beside the front door and the Hydrangea petiolaris:

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And the raindrops look especially becoming on new foliage of Aquilegia:

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The Scarcococca flowered briefly, and quickly produced its shining berries:

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And the seedheads of the hostas are providing elegant hidey-houses for overwintering insects:

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But the stars of the garden are the hellebores:

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Helleborus ‘Winter Bells’
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Helleborus argutifolius

Jobs

1)  I have no greenhouse, and there is no room in the cold frame for tender plants, so I have wrapped hessian protection around my potted pelargoniums and alstromeria to ward off the worst of the frosts.

2) To prevent blackspot, last year’s hellebore leaves can be cut back and composted, allowing the new buds to shine through.

3) Squirrels just love to nip off the buds of emerging bulbs, and I have already found buds of my Iris ‘George’ on the ground. I like to paint on an unappetising concoction of garlic and paprika or cayenne pepper (but not chilli pepper, which can be harmful to wildlife) to put the squirrels off.

4) With all of summer’s growth dead and gone, now is a wonderful time to assess the garden and make any architectural or structural adjustments. I am building an extension to the brick terrace at the back of the house, and thinking hard about which shrubs to add for winter interest and structure.

5) I do not keep the garden too tidy, as a scruffy garden is best for wildlife, and though the jury is out on tidying up dead leaves, I err on the side of messy and leave them where they lie. However, where they are lying too thickly or have formed a mat over new growth, it is good to tidy up the leaves, and any dead or rotting stems that are not providing winter interest.

6) Having tidied up the garden and planned the garden’s permanent structure, now is also an excellent time to order seed for the coming year and make a sowing plan. I have ordered cornflowers, ammi, and sweetpeas, and will start sowing in early to mid February.

7) This is almost the last chance to trim hedges before birds start nesting. In the UK, it is illegal to cut a hedge that might contain nesting birds, which is usually from early spring until mid to late summer.

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January garden view

The following photos show views of the front garden in mid-January, as the first bulbs were emerging from both ground and pots.

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And a view of the back garden, which is still something of a building site, so I have cropped in close!

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So that is it for January, and not a moment too soon, some might say. Things start ramping up in February, with snowdrops and irises in full bloom, and pots just bursting with emerging bulbs. Which jobs have you been getting up to in the garden this month, and what have been your favourite sights?

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26 Comments

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  1. It is so refreshing to see a town garden, so many have been lost to make parking spaces or used for development. It is interesting that I have a similar range of plants showing new growth, I just hope that they survive whatever the weather throws at us in February and March.

    • Thank you … Edinburgh is quite special in the number of front gardens that have been preserved in many areas. We also have a wonderful garden-share scheme in which people who don’t own gardens are matched up with those who do have them but have no time or inclination for gardening. Paved-over gardens are very sad!

  2. Everything is well ahead in Donegal too. It has been such a gentle winter.

  3. Good luck with the squirrels. Emerging daff and tulip spears are thrilling me here.

  4. Go good to see your garden springing back into life. I think we can safely say mine is friendly to wildlife at the moment! It’s a difficult one though, because it really does look a mess. I will have to get in there and wrest back some sort of order.

    • It takes a lot of skill and thought to strike the right balance between aesthetics and wildlife friendliness. Personally I prefer to wander around a less-than-perfect garden, as I live for nature, and nature is not tidy. There are only two things that should be tidy in my opinion: topiary, and grass edges. Everything else should leap about with wild abandon, all mossy and messy and as unplanned as possible.

  5. Your photos are beautiful as usual! It is really interesting to see what gardeners are doing all over the world. I see you have the same issues with squirrels and the same philosophy about wildlife, as I do.

  6. Surprisingly, your garden looks at much the same stage as mine in the south-west of France does at the moment. Thankfully we had a period of very cold weather that has kept things in check this year. I don’t like to see the plants appear extra early as it usually means problems later. Amelia

  7. I would say your new growth is generally ahead of ours here and temperatures in double figures have been almost completely absent for some time. It’s brightening up a little today though after a couple of very grey days. Your excellent photos show the emerging foliage so well – but I was surprised at how quickly your sarcococca was over as flowers here last for ages and berries are slow to form. I wonder why that is?

    • My poor sarcococca is in very dry shade as the trees on the pavements do suck out a lot of moisture, as does the privet hedge. Perhaps that puts mine under a certain amount of stress. Its flowers are blink-and-miss-them and I have yet to get a whiff of their lovely scent. It’s a slow-grower, but I do hope it gets a better foothold in coming years.

      • Yes, I can see that would make a difference and in fact is the sort of situation mine was in until I moved it to the newly created hedge border where it is in itself beginning to form a low hedge in an existing gap. It had barely flowered before and grew slowly – but is thriving now. Worth considering an alternative location…?

      • I am sure you are right, perhaps it needs a new home. I will put my thinking cap on…

  8. Yes your new growth does look ahead of mine too. My Hellebores are not quite flowering yet. But its good to see the signs isn’t it. We have had so many grey days in January so hoping that February will bring a bit more sunshine. Lovely photos especially of the Hellebore ‘Winter Bells’, that looks a great plant.

    • How interesting that you have had such a grey January, as we have had several very bright blue days this month. Edinburgh does have odd weather though, which is often at counterpoint to everyone else’s. Fingers crossed you get a better month in February. Yes, ‘Winter Bells’ is very pretty, although it took me some time to warm to it as previously I had a much smarter, more vibrant plant called Moon something or other. This one needs moving to a spot that will bring its elegance out to greater advantage.

  9. You’ve been having a warmer time than I have here in Italy! Your garden is full of the hope of spring.

  10. Beautiful photos, beautiful plants. We don’t get much rain here so I can’t grow most of your plants well but I love to look at your photos! I spotted one succulent hiding beneath a burlap bag (those grow best here). Those winter bells are quite amazing!

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