January garden

I am not a winter gardener.  In the cold and wet I am much more likely to be found by the fire inside than outside pruning fruit trees.  When I started to garden seriously perhaps twenty years ago I would get all keen from March to July, go away on holiday in August, come back to a tired flopping mess and basically give up again until the following spring, apart from a few bad tempered forays outside during the autumn to tidy up.

Gradually my gardening time extended.  I started planting bulbs in the autumn.  I planted one or two evergreen shrubs so that the garden was less of a blasted heath in winter.  And that was about it.

Coming here has made a difference in two major ways: firstly I have become much more interested in autumn.  This is partly because the light here is liquidly beautiful in September and October and the hedges are full of hips and berries.  The michaelmas daisies which were here already in their hundreds throng with butterflies and I found myself falling in love with a season which had for me previously been too heavy with the loss that was to come.  Maybe I have just got better at living in the now as I have got older.  I would also not underestimate the impact of Karen at An Artist's Garden.  She loves autumn and her own garden shimmers and glows in autumn in a way which was a revelation to me, eye-opening, exciting.

Secondly I have become addicted to early flowering bulbs, mainly snowdrops so far but naturalising crocuses too.  That is a country thing I think.  When you have a couple of acres of empty scrub as opposed to the suburban gardens I have always had before you can afford to give space to naturalised bulbs.  That is how I love to see them, in sheets and drifts and streams.  I can't say I have got there yet.  You wouldn't believe how many bulbs you need for a drift and so far mine are more puddles.  But I know what I am aiming for.  Winter in deep country is also a far more profound thing that a city winter with streetlights shining and shops and bars and restaurants offering warmth and food and company.  Winter is hard and cold or wet and cold.  Grassy paths turn to mud.  Ice and snow create a ferocious cruel beauty that reminds you how vulnerable people are, away from their cars and their central heating.  Winter is hostile.  So the signs that winter will end are far more precious out here.

This morning I went looking for signs of life.  The snowdrops are pushing up their glaucous green snouts in the side garden although there are none yet to be seen by the dogwoods or at the bottom of the stone wall by the gate.  The marbled leaves of the arum, bought as a tiny plant and still small, are full of quiet beauty.  There is a flower on one of the hellebores and fat buds crowding at the base of the plants.  There are even some signs of the early native daffodils pushing up amongst the dead leaves in the curve of the fallen tree by the swing.  The witchhazel is starting to flower.  All this makes me realise how very much I need these signs of life and hope.

So I have just ordered nine more hellebores from Sarah Raven's site.  We will have primroses here too and Carol Klein's wonderful new gardening programme (which I think deserves a blog to itself) last night showed how easy it is to sow seed from primroses so that is another thing I will do in the spring.  And now I will make a big vat of chicken soup and some cheese scones.

What do you do in January?


  1. I feel a bit like you - the great indoors has more allure when winter is at it bleakest.

    However the last few days have been blessedly mild and I find myself drawn into the garden. Yes, snowdrops are just pushing through the soil and even daffodils in the troughs outside the door. In reality there is every possibility we'll have another shot of wintery weather before we can call it spring.

    I have ordered seeds too and when they arrive I shall sow onions in the greenhouse. I'm just itching to get cracking!

  2. I am finding it difficult to 'get going' this January, at least physically if not mentally. I'm hoping the new growth, the buds and flowers, will have an effect - perhaps that is why we like them so much?

  3. We all have to remind ourselves that nothing really benefits by being sown or planted too early. Everything in its time!

  4. Hi Elizabeth, what a lovely post! I'll look forward to seeing photos of the puddles, which no doubt will soon turn into streams and then rivers. It makes perfect sense to me that, surrounded by "outdoors" so much more immediately, your own response to it, and to the garden, is changing. I've just been up to the allotment which was cold and wet and unworkable, so plan to curl up with a cup of tea and some plant porn and dream of sunny days...

  5. I walked out round the garden yesterday, cutting down the grasses, and found snowdrops beginning to pierce the earth under the white birch trees. Also the winter irises are coming up, very pale blue green leaves and the promise of their medeival colours to come. All lovely, but so is a warm fire and hot tea beside it!Love your blog.

  6. I'll be over in a minute so put my soup on hold please Elizabeth! I know what you m ean about winter gardening. Many moons ago when gardening was my paid job I loathed the wet and cold days outside. Now I am not much different, always feeling cold and hating the sodden ground on my hands, but I do so love the early flowers that i can almost forget the rest of it. x

  7. Elizabeth - I am so touched by your comments about my garden - it has made me quite emotional. Thank you.

    I also look forward to seeing your "drifts" and you know how much I enjoy your garden - whatever time of year it is.

    In answer to your question about what do you do in January - well, I am Mrs. Grumpy personified and I put on weight!

  8. It's early morning here, but the house smells of the chicken soup I started before going to bed last night. Nice to think that both our houses smell so good!
    What a wonderful word picture you gave us this morning. Gorgeous words, gorgeous images in my head now.
    Like you, I'd like drifts of snow drops and as yet only have pockets here and there - or puddles, as you say. I love the garden in spring and in autumn - summer takes care of itself, and there's always so much to see, but at the beginning and at the end it's all somehow much more precious.

  9. mountainear - me too, just longing to get going and far too early and much more winter still to come! Trying to enjoy the snowdrops and hold back!

  10. I prefer spring and autumn to winter and summer although winter is my least favourite season. I love the way things change so dramtically both in spring and autumn. In spring we are looking forward to growth happening but in autumn it is a chance to tidy up, reflect and plan for the next year.

    Primroses and Primulas are easy from seed, I have grown masses. They will germinate from less than fresh seed as well

  11. I'm not a winter gardener either. Oh, or spring. Or summer. Or autumn. But I do like the way you write about it!

  12. Mark - I think you are right that spring helps us to get going. Must not give in to the idea that it is round the corner or I will be desperately disappointed when it turns cold again!
    Cro - yes oh wise one. You are spot on. I sowed a bit later than usual last year and you would not have known the difference. In fact, I think fewer things died!
    Plantaliscious - yes, it is interesting to find how much your gardening changes when you change the place you do it in. Partly, to be honest, that may be because it is harder to garden up here!

  13. I always begin to feel the first stirrings of excitement when the snowdrops push through. No sign yet.

  14. Oh, I love my hellabore they are so forgiving. I was so sorry to hear about your brother. Our son-in-law (32) had a stroke two years ago from untreated high blood pressure. He's since lost 50 lbs. and eats almost NO salt. I don't know if he'll ever get his right hand and arm back and he has alittle limp. Were just glad he's alive and proud of the changes he's made. He has 6 girls to raise!
    How is he doing? take care

  15. I cleared and tidied in my garden for a few hours this morning. I have tides of nasturtium and forget-me-not foliage that promise color very soon. The trees are all bumpy with the beginnings of leaf buds. Rhododendron showing promise, a few violets in flower. Slugs and snails will consume poison and die tonight. I miss snowdrops.

  16. Far too little. But I must go now and start trimming the hedge.

  17. I ventured out for the first time this week and found snowdrops in flower and other bulbs bullying their way through the leaf litter I didn't clear - it lifted my heart!

    It's funny that it seems to be only as we get older (and presumably hence less time left) that we have the patience to apply ourselves to long-term projects - like developing a garden, knowing what we envisage may take years...

  18. What a lovely blog Elizabeth, to escape to the garden in January from my computer, thank you. I am such a haphazard gardener, but adore flowers, there is no plan to my gardening, but after years of planting bulbs and transplanting bulbs, springtime comes in its full glory....
    We are all still finding our feet here after the festivities, and the whole island seems to be succumbing to winter bugs...

  19. We are probably in a similar climate to you and are about 400m above sea level. I planted 52 garlic cloves in pots and set them on the shelves of the greenhouse. Already their white roots are visible, pushing down into the soil.

    In October I planted 180 onions and they're looking great.

    And my broad beans are abot 2" high.

    All have been undaunted by the weather, I used Carol Klein's book Grow Your Own Veg as reference.

    Roll on Spring

  20. In January? I come over to your house and have some of that soup and some scones!
    I'm glad to hear you're getting more hellebores. They are one of my favorites (and you know, that's important). I saw tulips coming up this morning at our house, around the base of our peach tree. They seemed so unlikely, I had to look twice to realize what they were. It seems early still, but I am so glad for signs of new life. I hope your family are ok Elizabeth.

  21. This is a beautifully-observed, elegantly-written post, Elizabeth. It makes me want to be a gardener, which I certainly am not. I liked what you had to say about how different winter is in the country - city-dwellers like me don't really think about that.

    Lovely. Now I'll try and do something similar now that you've inspired me.

  22. I'm still aspiring to puddles of crocus! Every autumn I mean to plant bulbs and I'm always too busy. Maybe this year.

  23. Linda - what a good reminder. I love winter irises and love your description of them as having medieval colours!
    Pipany - you are so right. When you get the early flowers, all is forgiven.
    Karen - ah yes, I put on weight too!
    Pondside - yes it is more precious isn't it? more precarious too.
    Helen - thanks for the encouragement to try primrose seed. I will do it this year definitely.

  24. Fran - I am not a rider on buses either but I love the way you write about that too!
    H - hope your snowdrops are showing now.
    John - thank you. I think you are quite close to where I live!
    Linda - thanks for your good wishes. I am so encouraged to hear of your son in law's progress.
    English Rider - I love your phrase about things being "bumpy with leaves"! Perfect!
    Fennie - I wonder if you did indeed trim the hedge? or had another cup of tea or glass of wine?

  25. Brokenbiro - what an interesting thought about coming round to things with a long time frame as we get older, and perhaps won't see the results.
    Posie - I love the idea of your island and its spring flowers.
    Lou - I am envious of your broad beans. I read every year about sowing in autumn but the only year I managed it the mice had them all!
    Frith - you have tulips? how fabulous. no sign of tulips here yet.
    Deborah - thank you. Praise from you is praise indeed!
    Geranium cat - it is so easy to miss the moment for bulb planting but so worth it if you can!


Post a Comment

Comments are the best thing and the conversations they produce are the whole purpose of blogging for me. Do tell me what you think!