Every morning I wake up and the world is a little darker. The view beyond the window is gloomy, not at all likely to entice me to step outside and see to garden chores. In fact, I have done very little since the beginning of the month, when I pruned the rose borders, cutting out scores of sprays in bud, leaving only a very few blooms which were fully out, in sheltered spaces. It always saddens me when I have to cut out hundreds of buds, but there’s no point leaving them. Trying to produce flowers in the cold season weakens the bushes and the harsh winds raking the garden at this time of year rock their roots. I have lost roses because I couldn’t bring myself to prune their luxuriant growth - as I thought at the time - now I know better. These will be finished soon, their leaves are tatty and the flower heads look better in this photo than in real life.
I have said before that every garden should have plants which die beautifully, you might say, mortality planned for and designed to please.
Structure is very important; a garden without good bones is as unattractive as a human pudding face.
But my favourites are the grasses, tall ones and short ones, golden, red, or purple ones. They all die back beautifully and provide a wonderful rustling sound in the wind.
This tall miscanthus sounds like waves on the seashore and I wouldn’t dream of cutting back the stall, swaying stems, which deepen from bright green to metallic grey and pale straw during their life and death.
Some varieties are hardier than others, it helps to find out which are suitable for your climate.
There are many other plants which can give life to the garden in winter. Think of berries for the birds, crab apples, coloured and/or peeling bark on trees, and thick, variegated holly bushes - or hedges - which provide shelter for birds and insects. I have a gigantic stump of a dead sycamore along the drive, totally smothered by ivy, with a huge climbing rose clinging on too, which allows a vast range of life to overwinter and gives me something to look at when all else seems dead.