I hope, like me, that you managed to protect your tender plants and wrap up your pots before the snow and freezing weather hit us. January and February are often the worst months of the year (in gardening terms) – wet, cold, windy and this year freezing cold and snow to boot!
All your bulbs should now be in, but if, like me, you didn’t manage to plant them all before the ground froze over, do it as soon as you can. They may not flower as well, but it’s better than leaving the bulbs to rot in the shed and they probably won’t be any good at all next year.
If the weather conditions are suitable ie the ground is not frozen or waterlogged, this is a good time of the year to plant bare root roses, trees and hedging whips. They will get their roots into ground and as soon as the temperature increases they will start to grow – giving you a head start in the spring. Bare root plants are also a lot less expensive than their container grown counterparts.
The evergreens in your garden will be providing the colour now, as will berries of holly and cotoneaster. Have a look at your garden and make a note of the areas that look a bit grim and that could do with a bit of winter structure and a bit of colour. Colour and interest can be created with grasses and seedheads left on over winter. They also look good covered in frost. For additional colour Nandina domestica commonly known as Heavenly Bamboo gives you fantastic red leaves and bright red berries which can be brought into the house to give a festive feel to your flower arrangements.
Balance rounded evergreen shapes such as Choisya ternata with spiky architectural shapes such as phormiums or Chaemerops humilis (Chusan Palm),
or plants with extra large leaves such as Fatsia japonica. Fatsia might look tender, but in fact it will stand a good hard frost and perk up again as soon as the weather warms up. These plants have their own ‘architecture’ – spectacular shapes that bring a distinctive year round presence to a garden.
Some plants can be clipped and shaped – the small leafed Ilex crenata is often used, and of course we all know box (Buxus sempervirens) and yew (Taxus baccata). Remember though that the beautifully tight shape of these plants is usually defined by their age and specimen plants can be expensive to buy for this reason. You don’t have to go to the extremes of Levens Hall in Cumbria, but you can use smaller topiary shapes to mark the end of a border, or to provide repetition throughout your border.
I’ve probably mentioned it before, but there is no beating the bleached white stems of Betula utilis jacquemontii. Underplanted with feathery grasses that catch the light, low growing black grass Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ and white hellebores – lovely.
To end on a sad note this month – I read that one of our most remarkable trees fell victim to vandals in early December. Someone took an axe to the oldest of the Holy Thorns near Glastonbury in Somerset. The old and gnarled hawthorn tree is, according to legend, decended from one planted by Joseph of Arimathea. And – it’s not the first time it has happened – Cromwell’s soldiers hacked down Holy Thorns in the 17th Century to discourage pilgrims visiting the trees. I suppose they did have a reason!!
Joseph of Arimathea was, according to the Gospels, the man who donated his own prepared tomb for the burial of Jesus after Jesus’ Crucifixion.