I’m really not a fan of the aforementioned festive season, but I’ve suddenly realised that I lurve January! The inclement weather gives me the perfect excuse to be bone idle guilt free. Mind you, some things can’t wait, especially when you are up against the horticultural prowess of Diane, she of the London Gardens Society Best Large Back Garden 2016/17/18. (When will it end?) The task at hand is simple muck spreading. (Some might say we are experts in the wider sense already!) So I was galvanised into action after a phone call from Diane on New Year’s Day to tell me, smugly, that she had managed to lay seven bags of well-rotted horse manure over her borders that very day. And I, readers, hadn’t even placed my order yet! Quelle horreur! Within the week I had spread three-bags-full but more supplies were required on both sides so off we went to Crews Hill, Horticultural Retail Epicentre of The World. A dozen bags duly loaded into the vehicle, off we went to Myddleton House, home of celebrated horticulturalist E A Bowles, (ancestral connection with our very own Duchess of Cornwall having never occurred to me before).
What a lovely way to spend a dull January morning. The grounds were empty bar a couple of in-house landscapers who were rebuilding a dry-stone wall. We wandered around admiring the snowdrops and hellebores in the crisp echoey stillness of a typical winter’s day, the fragrance of hamamelis contorta and chimonanthus praecox filling the air. Mistletoe was abundant in the tree canopies but also at ground level, where we were fascinated to see how it grafts naturally onto its host. The ornamental grass borders looked so orderly combined with sedum spectabile – my sedum never looks that erect even when it’s in its prime. The hot houses were full of exotic succulents, tillandsias and cacti in pristine form. Reminded me of when I was a gel; I lived opposite Broomfield Park in North London and used to love to sneak into their huge lofty greenhouse. Somehow it seemed forbidden and eerie, with its seemingly bottomless irrigation channels sunk into the floor under the benches. (Didn’t care a hoot about the plants but just loved the otherworldliness of it.)
…But the rivalry doesn’t end there. There’s even Green Bin One-Upmanship! With the regular collections having been suspended for six weeks over the New Year, it’s a competition as to who’s created the most waste: “I’ve filled up my two garden bins as well as my two allotment bins.” “Well, I’ve filled up our bin and ALL the other neighbours’ bins in the entire street!” And now she informs me she’s had her silver birch trimmed. I tell you, she doesn’t let the grass grow under her feet (boom boom!)
Anyway, back to the matter at hand. There’s something so satisfying about spreading the mulch. Apart from the opportunity it gives you to get up close and personal with your plants, to get a sneak preview of spring as bulbs, shoots and buds start appearing, the borders look so finished once its down. (Reminds me of the flattering effect a layer of moisturising foundation can bring to one’s tired and dull complexion, my dear!) Mind you, it seems impossible to imagine the garden at full tilt in high summer with so much bare earth exposed right now. And of course there is the small matter of my digging up half the garden last autumn ‘cos I was bored with it all. Pity the poor transplanted perennials cowering their pots, exposed to the elements, until I’m ready to replant. (Hmm, wonder how soon I can start – steady on, its not even Valentine’s Day yet!) Seems everyone’s at it now, Rosie’s been out mulching the borders in her garden in all weathers. I really can’t be lagging behind so it‘s off to the nursery to buy bark chippings for the fernery and gravel for the stumpery.
Every year, a clever acquaintance makes a note of all plants flowering in her garden on New Year’s Day. Wish I’d the wits to think of that. So here’s my list of flowers for mid-January instead, some bang on target, some way off the mark seasonally speaking:
- Hesperantha Major formerly known as schitzostylus (so annoying all these name changes.)
- Salvia Black and Blue insinuated itself up the fence alongside a variegated trachylospurnum, its flowers cascading like wisteria. Hope I can bring that through the frosts, what a combination!)
- Salvia confertiflora
- Salvia Uliginosa
- Coronilla glauca Citrina
- Rosa Mutabilis ish, one or two bedraggled blooms amongst the orange hips.
- Viburnum tinus Eve Price
- Hellebore hybrid Spring Promise aptly named and much admired in the front garden, underneath the contorted hazel.
- Fuchsia thalia on the patio
- Fuchsia thymifolia
- Melianthus major no natural timing this one, always produces buds just before the first frosts!
There are an amazing amount of little treasures to be seen out there if you go looking. Over the holiday season David and I did our usual New Year’s Resolution walks in Kenwood on Hampstead Heath. Some might find the low light levels rather bleak but I love the paired down landscape, the bare trees, clear ponds and uninterrupted views of The City. You share your strolls with every dog and his man, chitchatting with owners and catching snatches of conversation as your pass. Cormorants and parakeets, magpies and crows, sparrowhawk.
Talking of birds, I’m looking forward to introducing three newcomers to the results of my Big Garden Birdwatch: goldfinches, starlings and a black cap. Must be the extensive array of seeds on offer, costing me a fortune. Black sunflower seeds, white sunflower hearts, meal worms, three flavours of fat block, oh and mixed birdseed for the squirrels. So worth it.
I feel quite inspired now, so it’s back to the T&M Spring Catalogue to place my Trial Plant Order. Colour colour colour 2019.
Roll on Spring! Love, Caroline
Caroline Broome has been gardening for more than 20 years. Having passed the RHS General Certificate, she has since developed her East Finchley garden into a “personal paradise” that she and her husband invite the public to visit each year via the National Garden Scheme. Learn more about our contributor using T&M’s ‘Meet the experts’ page.