Wednesday, 30 January 2013

A Year In The Life Of A Lady Gardener - January

The terms January and Gardening do not easily sit on the tongue in the same sentence; the mere thought of going out now to do some work makes me want to curl up under a soft blanket with the lights low and a box of chocolates within reach. Looking out of the window is another matter. I might also go and take a photo on carefully selected days. Yet there are many gardeners - me included - who praise the understated beauty of a garden dressed in muted greens and browns on a sparkling cold day. I believe that grasses, phormiums and sedges rimed in delicate frost patterns achieve the pinnacle of their appeal at such times.

This January has been a very mixed bag. We had mild days at the beginning of the month when the Chaenomeles speciosa burst into bloom on its sheltered stretch of wall.  The plant is better known as Japonica,  Cydonia or Ornamental Quince; as is the case with many plants botanists and taxonomists frequently decide to rename them when new scientific details about them emerge. 

A Jasminum nudiflorum clings to the stretch of wall next to the Quince; the two flower side by side, making a most unsuitably colourful display for late December and through January provided there is no snow and ice. Winter jasmine and ornamental quinces flower on leafless stems - hence nudiflorum. Both plants are fully frost hardy and very popular. The jasmine becomes a bit of a nuisance when it’s left unpruned - in March I remove one third of flowering shoots to keep it in trim. The ornamental quince is better behaved because its stems are thick and woody. Tie in as many branches as you have room for and cut back some of the oldest branches in summer.

Then came the snow and for a while the garden was covered in a thick layer of white fleece. There’s a whole different kind beauty then which has little to do with gardening. When the snow started to melt Mahonia Japonica (Oregon Grape) came into its own. I grow one large Mahonia J. which has rich wine-red to purple leaves in winter; when partly covered in snow the large leaves look like German Christmas cookies. Most Mahonias are fully frost hardy too, they grow well in shade. I am looking forward to clusters of yellow, sweetly scented flower spikes in February and March. Mahonias don’t need much pruning, I simply cut out unwanted stems in April.

Ligustrum Aureum is a very fancy name for the large hedging shrub we all know as Golden Privet. I inherited this bush from the previous owner of the house. Plants have a lot in common with books, I find it very hard to discard either unless they annoy me or don’t earn their keep; the privet is still here after fifteen years. The poor thing hardly ever gets a chance to flower because Gardener and I prune it back to a medium sized ball shape every spring, before its flowering buds form; in summer it sits in a large bed providing a backdrop for more showy plants.However, in winter it lifts a whole corner of the garden out of darkness with its golden leaves; it also provides shelter for birds. So, as shrubs go, it’ll stay.

For the moment snow and ice have gone. To my great surprise I found Beloved’s rhubarb beds showing advanced signs of life. The thing to do now is to mulch the beds generously with manure and put terracotta forcing pots over one or two plants. Pale pink early rhubarb is a prized delicacy in the UK. My relationship with rhubarb is barely luke warm, I can just about be persuaded to make a rhubarb crumble if Beloved asks me nicely.

The temporary lull in winter weather has brought forth a variety of welcome early flowering herbaceous plants. I will have to go out very soon and cut the foliage from the hellebores which send out the first flower shoots at Christmas, hence the name Christmas Rose, to give the flowers their time in the limelight. The leaves  often get rusty and become very unsightly. New, deeply lobed leaves sprout quickly and will be fully formed by early spring. Hellebores are delightful plants, the large, saucer shaped flowers may be pink, purple or white, depending on variety. I have some varieties which flower later in spring, called Lenten Rose, whose flowers are speckled pink or brownish on cream. Gorgeous.

Any small trees or shrubs which leave space between the ground and branches and/or foliage are perfect for underplanting with spring bulbs. This ornamental weeping pear has a succession of snowdrops, grape hyacinths, daffodils and tulips growing round its small trunk. By the time the weeping pear’s drooping silver branches are fully out the flowers will disappear underground again.

Eranthis, better known as winter aconite, is another perennial that brings much needed colour to  shadier areas of the garden in winter. It’s a tiny plant, no more than 10-15 cm tall; like snowdrops, it must be transplanted ‘in the green’, the tubers hate drying out. If it likes your garden (many people say that they have no luck with it) it will return year after year, growing en masse like a carpet under the bare branches of deciduous trees. Just as the canopy restarts casting its shade, winter aconites die back and disappear underground.

I  recommend that those of you who garden go out and take a closer look at the small wonders braving winter out there; I was amazed at how much life there is. Writing these monthly posts is teaching me that the cycle of life in the garden never really stops and that not only the seasons, but separate fragments within the seasons have their own small deaths and rebirths.

Until February.


  1. A thoroughly informative and entertaining post, Friko. I confess to being envious of both your garden and your knowledge of gardening. Glad to see that your spirits are being lifted from the dreariness of winter.

  2. You point us to the tender shoots of Spring & hope, for which we thank you, dear F.

    Happy Aloha
    from Honolulu,
    Comfort Spiral
    ~ > < } } ( ° >

  3. the aconites.....

  4. Oh, how pretty, Friko. And coming so soon after your depressed period, these must be doubly welcome.
    I love that you have Oregon Grape. It grows wild in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia where I grew up. I tried moving some to the other side of the mountains, to the Thompson Valley, but it wouldn't grow there.
    We won't see any garden colour here for months yet. "Planting weekend" in Alberta is the May 24 long weekend (have you been in England long enough to remember when the 24th of May was called Queen Victoria's Birthday?).
    And your rhubarb is up already! Rhubarb is super-hardy, I know, but even when I lived on the BC coast, I don't remember it coming up in January. Perhaps it did, though, and I've forgotten.
    Next time your beloved asks for rhubarb crumble, try mixing the rhubarb half-and-half with apple slices. They'll have to be store-bought apples, unless you have some of last year's in a root cellar, but the apple takes the tartness out of the rhubarb and makes a much nicer dessert, I find.
    I enjoyed your photos so much today. I braved the frigid weather today, and managed to fall down...I think maybe I should write something about it in my blog.
    Luv, K

  5. Ah yes...(old collaborateur Chevalier)I remember it well...

    But my mahonias were in bloom in November/December while my Japanese quince won't budge until April....and my rhubarb didn't stir its stumps until March.

    Here, of course, I have none of these.

  6. seems more and more are braving that winter this year...none of mine as beautiful as yours of course...the orange and yellow flowers in particular....lovely friko...

  7. I love that golden bush. It does brighten a winter garden. I envy your changing of the seasons sometimes.

  8. I did enjoy looking at all your lovely photos and also am envious of your knowledge of all of your plants and shrubs. But it is rightly so that you should have this with a garden like yours. It is lots of fun to enjoy your garden through your eyes.

  9. Some of what you show and mention here is familiar to me from my parents' garden; you are right, there is always something going on in a garden, it never really stops!

  10. I like to see colors appearing one by one, glinting off the sunshine, in your garden after the onslaught of snow queen. I agree with you that cycle of life is in constant change in the seemingly dormant garden.


  11. What a perfect post: beautiful pictures and so instructive. Your garden is a joy for us all to enjoy and I thank you for sharing it with us. Wonderful stuff, Friko!

  12. heerlijk om zoveel kleuren ondanks de sneeuw te ontdekken.

  13. Your garden makes my jaw gorgeous and you are so knowledgeable....I am thoroughly impressed! I loved this and seeing all the new life is so encouraging, esp. this time of year...I am frozen. So I will go look! Thanks for the tips

  14. I love the picture of the red leaves with snow on top. Very informative post, Friko. When I get home from my Florida trip I'll go out and check to see what's coming up. Here in Florida it's summer right now!

  15. Gorgeous shots indeed!

  16. A wonderful tour Friko. I too love the winter-flowering plants. It seems winter is the time for the small things to shine as they are mostly covered by other growth in summer.

  17. My woodland wildflower baby blue eyes is starting to bloom. And soon the African lilies that started coming up in December will start to bloom carpeting the yard in reddish pink flowers. The ground orchids are blooming (bletilla). They are so easily coaxed out after a few warm days that they hardly ever get to bloom in full as the first peekers usually get nipped by a frost. The blooming trees are starting here. Spring is early. I'll have to seek out some of the ones you mentioned.

  18. Oh my, you have a lot going on.
    Now not much at the edge of the woods by this cottage.
    Some buttercups emerging - and
    a lot of cleanup after storm that passed through
    2 nights ago. Screens blew off my porch
    and outdoor furniture has been rearranged :)
    Very cold tomorrow and then next week warmer
    so maybe some plants will surface...

  19. Your garden design is to be admired - lots of hard work but very rewarding.

  20. I inhaled this entire post - beauty in every image and a balm for this knee deep in snow gardener. 7" of the new white stuff yesterday and heading to 17 degrees below zero tonight. It will be another 3 months before we have a hint of color. Like you rhubarb is not high on our list in this house. We don't even grow it. We are surrounded by farmland and old houses where rhubarb has a place of honor in the garden and come springtime it will show up in everything. Thank you for taking us on your garden walk this month. Especially fond of the flowering quince which would never survive our winters.

  21. Wow, Friko, your garden is putting on a wonderful show this January! Bravo to you and Gardener for your direction.

    Over here in New York, it was almost 20 degrees C very, very early this morning, but fierce insistent winds have now got the reduced to a mere 5 degrees. Tomorrow will be even colder, and we may have snow this weekend. Yes, Friko, I know this was more weather reporting than you might wish, but I offer it to show you just how much I love seeing your flourishing garden.


  22. This is the dream time for gardening in the Northern hemisphere. It keeps many of us going through the last few months of winter with an occasional smile on our faces.

  23. I love this post, Friko, and have made note of your garden offerings to check if they'd grow in Denver. (I know snowdrops and aconite do.) My mountain gardens are covered with snow until late spring, and as soon as they feel the warmth of the sun, my perennials start showing. Because we have such low snowpack this winter, some of my seed heads are still showing.

  24. What a delightfully encouraging post, Friko, reminding us that nature is never completely asleep, even in the most unprepossessing weather. Those photographs really lifted my spirits.

  25. Frico, your garden woke and starts growing. I love hellebores, they are the signs of spring! Have a nice weekend!

  26. Hi Friko .. you remind me of family in many ways .. we used to have japonica and I loved it .. swathes of snowdrops and daffodils and bluebells .. not sure about the grape hyancinths ... my uncle and his hellebores .. my mother and the Mahonia .. my uncle who hated rhubarb and buried it under the compost heap - 30 years ago .. so when I asked if he had any ... was duly informed of the storyline!

    I'm so pleased you're enjoying your monthly garden posts - they're so informative and I love reading them .. even though I have no garden .. I still see the plants out there ...

    Cheers Hilary

  27. Love the colours and life poking around your wonderful garden, Friko.

    thanks for the memories of my eternal spring.... :)


  28. My Skimmia and other berries are bright red. Holly berries disappeared long ago. Hellebore in bloom and many bulbs poking up. Walking the dog I see many Jasmine shrubs along the fences and a few Quince too. All this DNA testing leads to new conclusions. I love this time of the year....if its sunny. Dianne

  29. More than anything you encourage me to go for a walk round the garden to see what is there, though I suspect it will be one small bunch of snowdrops and some hopeful daffodil shoots. Your garden is truly full of hope and wonder. Signs of a true gardener. Freda from Dalamory (

  30. February already , and it's such a relief to think that blue sky, flowers and wide open spaces are not very far away . Meanwhile , I'll just hang over your garden wall and enjoy your lovely display .
    Thankyou !

  31. I really can't believe that one bit of that is January. You want January, you come over to Michigan and really stay inside! How I would smile for just one tiny bit of bright color that isn't a bare branch, a white yard or an evergreen. It will happen -- but not in January!

  32. Our quince, hellebores. and winter jasmine were all beginning to bloom -- they are under several inches of snow right now.

  33. You do have a garden for all seasons – it looks pretty during the winter as you show us. A friend gave me some Oregon grape years ago. The bush is now the size of a large car and is full of yellow blossoms. The birds love it and now we have more Oregon grapes growing in the woods – and the neighbors have some as well! One bush, in the shade, grew up. It is now showing its yellow blossoms by my bedroom window, on the 2nd floor, where I can look at the birds, very close. But I don’t have much of a garden so we like to visit gardens – we did last week. There were many camellias in bloom there and I took too many pictures. I could have posted several dozen on my blog, but posted only a dozen or so.

  34. Dear Friko, in Minnesota I had several perennial gardens begun and treasured during the thirty-two years I lived in the house on Sixth Street. Two rock gardens in the front, a long side garden by the driveway, and an even larger garden behind the bow window in the kitchen. Working in them stilled any stress within me.

    But never ever did I have even the beginning of the knowledge you have about plants. On a scale of 1 to 10, I was a 2 and it would appear that you are probably a 9--and miss being a 10 only because you aren't a full-fledged botanist!

    In writing all this, I just want to say that you've inspired me to plant a garden here in the yard of my new home. It's time. Peace.

  35. Thanks for the tour, Friko. I'm beginning to think I know your garden as well as my own tiny plot. I wish I had room for all those colourful shrubs! But I do have some spring bulbs shooting up so there's plenty to look forward to.

  36. Truly, I am a bit envious. I know nothing about plants, but truly love walking the many botanical gardens where I live. I plan on educating myself this spring, starting slowly. I am keeping my fingers crossed, but am hoping to go to Charleston, SC early spring and tour some house gardens in the historic area and surrounding plantations.

    "This ornamental weeping pear has a succession of snowdrops, grape hyacinths, daffodils and tulips growing round its small trunk." This particularly pleased me. Lovely! I'd love to see a photo of the whole back yard. Do you have one?


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