January: a time for reflection and planning
And so it is January. A new month, and the start of a brand new year.
Although our gardens can be easily overlooked in January, it can actually be a fantastic month to enjoy a few moments outside. Yes, we have the promise of longer days ahead, and the anticipation of another spring, but we also have the perfect opportunity for a little reflection and planning. What worked well in last year’s garden? What really isn't working? What changes do we want to make so that we can really enjoy our gardens more this year? Time for a few New Year’s garden resolutions perhaps?
Inevitably the weather may have a say in terms of how many opportunities we have to be outdoors over the coming weeks. Cold, wet, windy and miserably dark are hardly the post encouraging conditions for giving our gardens the 'once over'. A dry and sunny morning will, however, provide us with the perfect opportunity to really examine the structural success of our garden.
Without the 'distractions' of flowers it is much easier to assess the success elements of our outdoor spaces. Every well designed garden makes a feature of things like paths, pergolas, hedges and focal points to create interest, height, proportion and balance.
I passionately believe that good garden design should provide beauty and functionality every day of the year and not just a few months over the summer, so let's make this the year that we ensure that our gardens are places that we really enjoy spending time in.
This month's star plants
Reviewing and planning aside, there are still lots of things to enjoy in our gardens this month.
Although we have had a few colder days and nights in recent weeks, our generally mild winters have meant that spring seems to have been starting earlier in recent years. Despite this, most of our herbaceous perennial plants should still be safely hidden underground. They will remain dormant for at least another few weeks so we will have to look elsewhere for our January interest.
It’s a great time, for example, to appreciate the role of evergreen shrubs and hedges. Clipped box (Buxus) hedges or parterres take on an important role as providers of winter structure, and few things look better with a light dusting of snow or a thick frost (see above).
Similarly, a host of other evergreen shrubs perform well at this time of the year. Many Mahonias will still be offering some yellow flowering (and don’t forget their scent), and variegated hollies (Ilex) and Euonymus provide welcome splashes of light and colour to light up the winter scene. Hollies are also, of course, just one of many plants to provide added interest with their berries- that’s if the birds haven’t stripped them all by now.
A good selection of deciduous shrubs are also important to us in January. The wonderful red and yellow stems of the ever-popular dogwoods (Cornus) add a joyful dash of vibrant colour, and witchhazel (Hamamelis) and Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn' provide flower and fragrance. We should also not overlook two other stars of the January garden: Helebores (both foetidus and orientalis) provide spectacular, if modest, flower, and the first appearance of a snowdrop (Galanthus) never fails to brighten the day.
Finally, let's not forget to enjoy the qualities of the many remaining seed heads and stems of last year’s summer and autumn plants. A heavy frost always serves to add a new dimension to these reminders of perhaps more colourful months, but even on milder mornings they provide important structure and interest. I always try to resist the urge to ‘tidy’ the garden for just a few more weeks so as to gain maximum visual benefit from last year’s display.
This month's garden jobs
Whilst a few 'traditionalists' may see January as the perfect excuse for a few hours of winter digging, I can think of many more enjoyable things to be doing. In truth, there aren't any truly essential jobs in the garden this month, but if we do find ourselves looking for something practical to do here are a few suggestions.
Some plants can really benefit from being pruned at this time of year. Trees, for example, are usually dormant and so it is the ideal time to prune out any dead, damaged, or diseased wood. This is particularly important following spells of strong winds or heavy snow.
Similarly, Wisteria benefits from having its sideshoots taken back to three or four buds to help keep it in check, with any new shoots being tied back to a supporting frame. It’s also a good time of the year to tackle ivy and other vigorous climbers that may be encroaching beyond their allotted space. Clearing errant shoots from drains and gutters is always a prudent task, and these plants can be cut back hard to keep them in check. Be assured, however, that this is likely to be one of those jobs that you will have to tackle again and again in the future.
But perhaps, as we said at the beginning of this post, the most useful task to complete in our garden this January is to review the success of the design and structure of our outdoor space. Maybe this is the year we will make the changes that will help us to enjoy our garden more?
Tythorne Garden Design provides professional fixed-fee garden design solutions for customers in Grantham, Stamford, Newark and surrounding areas. Let's see how we can help you to enjoy your garden more. Call us on 07900 224 239 or 01529 455 355.