January can be a depressing month when you look out of the window and observe sad ragged plants and leaves, dead brown stems and all that bare soil. On mild days it’s tempting to get out there and start clearing and tidying the beds up but that would be a shame to do it too early. For an untidy garden is a loved garden by the birds, insects and other creatures. The debris from summer and autumn harbours food and shelter for many birds and creepy crawlies, places for them to hide in hollow stems and under dead leaves, also home to woodlice, snails and slugs and worms. All things that bring life and food to the soil too, keeping and maintaining a healthy garden.
We have two methods of gardening here on our patch of England. My husband grows bedding plants and vegetables in one part, I look after the back garden full of perennials and shrubs and annuals via the scattering of seeds. He pulls out everything from his main flower bed in the autumn, digs it over and leaves bare soil all winter for the rain and frost to work on in readiness for the new season.
I leave my part as it is, allowing everything die down naturally, letting most things rot where they fall. The one exception is clearing away the leaves from the hellebores in order to revive the plant and let light in on the flower shoots. Apart from a cutting back a few shrubs that if left unchecked would be damaged by the high winds we have here, and an early heavy pruning of the buddleia in October/November, everything else, be it the dead flower stems of the phlox, day lilies, whatever, is left. I’m a firm believer in letting Mother Nature do the work it does best and let it take its course. It knows what to do, and when. Leaving plants as they are protects the roots, helps keep the frost off from the bases of plants. When one considers in the natural environment, Mother Nature doesn’t go round pruning plants and sweeping away leaves, so why should I. Of course, if I do see anything that is diseased I will gather it up and dispose of (not onto the compost, I might add).
The garden may look untidy, but we’re not out there in winter, are we? We’re indoors in the warm, planning and ordering our seeds and plants. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see outside. Right now the hellebores are coming into flower, one – the Christmas rose Helleborus Niger – having been in bloom constantly for 12 months!
The snowdrops are out, as are early crocus, especially those naturalised in the front lawn although these were a little late this year. Most years they are up and open on New Year’s Day! The daffodils are coming through. The wallflowers starting to bloom. Winter pansies and primulas nodding their pretty flowerheads in the wind. They survive the frosts and snow insulates them, not that we get much of that where we are located.
Even our camellia is in flower, with lots of buds to open, and has had several flowers on it since before Christmas.
All these are a sure sign the season is moving on. Yes, we still have weeks of Winter to endure, but dawn is breaking a little earlier each morning, the evenings lighter for longer every day, and before we know it Spring will be here. Then is the time to get busy tidying up, seeing what’s survived and what has succumbed, enjoying the thrill of finding plants poking through the soil. Time to cut back the clematis (I always do all mine regardless of variety in early Spring), cut back perennials that need doing, pruning and clipping where needed with the exception of the honeysuckles. I find the two I have flower on last year’s growth so if they are pruned in Spring, I get no flowers in the Summer.
Meanwhile, we enjoy a house full of flowering plants. Hyacinths that have been scenting the house over Christmas will be planted out in the garden where they delight us for years to come. Several Christmas/Holiday Cactus are dotted about the house. A beautiful scarlet amaryllis that has this year thrown up three tall flower stems. And of course, my lovely orchids which flower year on year. And, of course, It wouldn’t be our house without orchids in every room.
Until next time…
Lovely, informative post, Kit. I’m always tempted to get out in the garden and tidy up at this time of year, but reckon I’ll leave things as they are for now. Love the reminder that “Mother Nature doesn’t go round pruning plants and sweeping away leaves”. That’s good enough for me 🙂
Have been sorely tempted the last few days to get out there and start tidying but resisted the urge. Ground’s far too wet. 🙂