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Last Month in My Garden, January 2017

The start of the growing year has been slow; cold weather has kept most plants underground. This has been an advantage as I continue to clear away dead herbaceous growth and prune shrubs. It is always upsetting to pull off a handful of stems and find that I have decapitated a snowdrop or winter aconite but recent damage has been little. Under the rotted hemerocallis and crocosmia leaves, many shoots are waiting to come up but they have not made much progress yet. Where possible, I cover them again with mulch. Some people like to clear all their herbaceous growth as soon as it is past its best. I find that in autumn each stem has to be cut separately and I do not have time for that; in January the stems are often sufficiently rotten to pull out or snap off quickly. It is still a very time-consuming job when there are a lot of borders to clear but luckily there have been plenty of dry days. Some have been quite spring-like and the birds have been singing enthusiastically. When it has been milder, I have been able to get down to weeding and careful clearing around snowdrops. These have been coming up steadily and quite a lot showed some white; their stems elongated but there were few really in flower. The December varieties hung on until the end of January and hopefully February will bring days warm enough for the newcomers to open at the usual time. I am opening the garden as part of the HPS 60th Anniversary celebrations – on Sunday February 12th, 11 am to 4 pm. This has made the winter clear-up more urgent than usual and I have been vowing to try to do more tidying in late summer!

Galanthus elwesii ‘Mrs. McNamara’

Galanthus plicatus ‘Wendy's Gold’

Winter flowers are known for scent but usually need a warm room to bring it out. In addition, I do not often get my nose down to the level of snowdrops in the garden; some of them are scented. Similarly for Sarcococca confusa, which came into flower during January. A friend says that hers scents the garden but that is probably because it is in sun, whereas mine is in shade. Viburnam farreri and Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’ are taller and grow near paths so I can get close to them; the pink flowers of the former were browned early in the month and did not recover; the lonicera opened in the second half of the month and escaped. The spring Mahonia japonica slowly started to flower but it has never scented the area around it in the same way that the autumn/early winter Mahonia ‘Charity’ does, presumably because of the temperature. However, I was pleasantly surprised one day by a powerful waft of witch hazel. I planted the hamamelis four years ago in a position where it does get winter sun but is not near a path so I am pleased that it can spread its perfume.

Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’

January 20th

January 31st

The garden wildlife has been “quiet” recently, although something (probably the Muntjac) ate most of the heuchera leaves at the beginning of the month. I was annoyed by that because heucheras give reliable winter colour and some of the clumps are quite large. One reader told me that deer like strawberry and beetroot leaves; fortunately my strawberries are caged but I shall go ballistic if deer visit the vegetable beds this year! Tidying a clump of hellebores, I found that many of the leaves had been bitten off. That was not a problem but I was far from pleased when another clump had many buds destroyed. The damage was hidden by the leaves and was probably caused by mice or voles. (Pheasants do attack hellebores but they tend to bite off the mature flowers.) I enjoy watching most birds in the garden, particularly on feeders outside my kitchen window. Peanut-eaters are usually tits – Blue, Great and Coal (my favourite). Long-tailed tits are irregular visitors but a small flock came quite often at the end of the month; I spotted five of them surrounding one fat-ball, their tails pointing outwards. Goldfinches used to be regular visitors many years ago, when there were a lot of thistles in the garden. Now the thistles have, fortunately, gone (although there are plenty on the adjoining common) and, sadly, the finches with them so I was pleased to see six feeding on Symphyotrichum novae-angliae seeds.

Looking back at what I wrote on my first blog last year, this January has been very different. Early daffodils have done nothing yet; even on the last day of the month there was just one bud showing a hint of yellow. However, there is considerable promise for February and, after a long wait, the flowers will be much appreciated.

Hellebore January 31st
Posted by Margaret Stone

Vist Margaret's garden on one of the NGS open days.

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