Now is the time to look through your windows at your garden, and walk amongst the last of the fallen leaves assessing whether it works as a beautiful space in the coldest month.
Your garden can hold just as much beauty as high summer but with an altogether different feeling.
Some people don’t like topiary but good quality, sculptural shapes can actually make wild, English Cottage planting feel even more carefree and relaxed. Topiary, like columns and pyramids, can act like the kings and queens of the garden, stately and unchanging, allowing colourful and fast growing perennials to froth about at their ankles. If you chose Yew then its dark tones can be used as a backdrop to roses, Dahlias and Phlox when Summer arrives. Hornbeam, which can be shaped into mounds, columns and retinals, have a ever-changing set of hues, from fresh green to old copper as the year progresses.
Evergreen hedges can also bring a garden alive. They can divide areas in the garden, paradoxically making the space seem bigger and more like an adventure to walk through. They can be shaped into curves, geometric blocks and undulations which, when planted amidst ornamental grasses, can rise up from the January mists like some great seaworm.
Another structural element is tree branches. Trees like Tibetan Cherry, Birch and Cornus Midwinter Fire can light up in the pale Winter sun like torches. If you buy clear stemmed Betula Snow Queen, or multi stemmed Prunus serrula you will see that these trees have all year beauty and create views underneath their branch structure creating different windows to view your garden through.
Originally coming from Australia, I never quite believe the Summer will return, so when I see colour in the middle of Winter my heart sings. Trees like Witchhazel and Viburnum bodnantense offer hope under the weary grey skies as do shrubs like Daphne, Sarcococca and Mahonia.
If your garden is big enough it is worth thinking of creating a Winter show piece with performers clustered together. This will become the heart of colour in January. Background shrubs like Cornus, fronted with Hellebores, Cyclamen, Crocus and Snowdrops
Yesterday I saw a sparrow swoop on an old head of Fennel seeds and pluck one before it swooped away. Over the last ten years people are seeing the beauty of letting their gardens go to seed- literally. Old seed heads represent the liquid energy of the last Summer’s sun baked into nuggets of protein. The best seed head plants are Sunflowers of course, Phlomis, Fennel, Aster, Sedum, Seaholly. Echinops, Heleniums and Teasels. They also catch the frost and spider web patterns and give a wonderful aged beauty to the beds- Spring becomes so much more a miraculous contrast.
Climbers that can urge forth colour in this grey month are some of the Clematis such as ‘Jingle Bells’, ‘Alpina’ and Winter Beauty’ as well as Jasmine nudiflorum which is an underused climber that is tough on a North wall as well as generous with its blooms.
What to do this January in your garden
The biggest jobs are the pruning of deciduous plants like Roses, Wysteria and fruit trees.
The best place to go to learn proper pruning methods is a professional gardener, the RHS Pruning Manuel or Youtube !
Example- If you type in “Pruning a small apple tree” you will get all sorts of well meaning gardeners showing you what they do. Choose to listen to an expert though there are different options. Try RHS first. Also make sure the apple tree looks like your one as there are different types.
Also in January you can sow in your greenhouse all sorts of vegetables ready to be transplanted in Spring into your plot.
Plus you can start to force your Rhubarb by placing as big a pot as you can find over the heads.
Where to visit this January
If you want to walk off those extra Xmas calories you can take a trip up to Kew Gardens. They have such a huge range of trees even in the middle of winter there is so much to see. Plus you can hang out in the cafes or Tropical Greenhouse for a warm break. They also have after-dark tours.