While keen gardeners and growers are spending cold weekends inside waiting for spring to arrive so we can start sowing, nature hasn’t stopped all winter. The perception might be otherwise, as trees are dormant and herbaceous plants have died back and have left bare soil. However, step outside while the kettle boils and you will see that your garden has been busy! The garden isn’t dead in January, far from it.
I have many perennial plants in the garden, which means that not everything dies back and that there has been some greenery over winter. Today, however, I wanted to focus on changes. My most mature hellebore plant is in flower! It has performed consistently well in a pot since I got it a couple of years ago. I have other hellebores, but I haven’t spotted any buds on them. I got them as young plants and put them all together in a pot. I will repot them in spring so next year I have more early flowers for insects.
I still have to find the best growing conditions for my rosemary. I think I’ll get a slightly bigger pot and add some grit to create more drainage. On the plus side, it has produced tiny blue flowers, which have been out since December! The move stressed the plant because it had to be indoors for a couple of weeks, that’s why it lost leaves in some areas.
My aim for 2018 is to restrict the colour palette in the garden somewhat. Blues, purples, creams and whites in the back garden, peach, dusty pink, cream and white in the front garden. Plus herbs and veg, of course! The purpose for this is twofold: 1) I’ll hopefully spend less money (!), 2) as a small garden, restricting the colour palette will help with uniformity and the overall feeling. The fact that I have chosen softer, cooler colours might also make a difference, we’ll see! That is why I jumped at the chance of bringing this Armeria ‘Ballerina White’ home a few weeks ago. As you can see, it is already forming flower heads, and might shortly surprise me with blooms. I’m hoping to propagate this plant later in the year, so early bees can feed off these flowers.
The crocus are starting to push their way through the violas I planted last autumn. They are the first bulbs to flower in my garden, as I do not have snowdrops this time around. Since I started gardening, I have bought my crocus, narcissus and tulips bulbs from Sarah Raven. This year is no different. The varieties I have are Crocus ‘Blue Pearl’, ‘Cream Beauty’ and ‘Snow Bunting’.
If you follow me on social media, you will know that I am fan of culinary and medicinal herbs, and that I want to increase my collection. Last summer, I found valerian in National Trust’s Quarry Bank Mill – one of my favourite places to visit when we lived up Manchester way. I was surprised by not only the beauty and simplicity of its pastel pink flowers, but also the scent it let off. It produces some very big and floppy leaves, so I was a little worried when it snowed and the leaves died back. Imagine my glee when, after doing some clearing last weekend, I found new growth. This is another plant I would like to propagate.
In the cold frame
Last November I bought a cold frame as a present to myself to getting a new job in Oxford – wiiiild. I have kept my pelargoniums in there all winter, as well as small plants, cuttings and deciduous specimens I got half price out of season. The rosettes on the sedums I bought last December are getting bigger. This variety is called ‘Stardust’, and it produces white flowers in the summer, with the potential odd pink one.
I decided to place the lovage in the cold frame after the snow damaged its leaves, as can be seen in the photo. The angelica I had completely disappeared – hopefully not forever! I haven’t grown the herb before, but it’s supposed to smell of parsley and be used in soups, stews and, if finely chopped, in salad.
Back in October, I took some cuttings from my Verbena bonariensis. I took 6 cuttings, and 4 of them seem to have taken. A sign that the cutting has started producing roots is when you see new growth. You can see in the photo that there are new shoots growing in the crook between the stem and the leaf. They’ve done surprisingly well in the cold frame, I didn’t expect the cuttings to survive the winter.
Another plant towards which I seem to have developed a liking is nepeta, or catmint. I got my first couple of specimens from Claudia de Yong‘s show garden at Gardener’s World Live in 2017. On the same day I bought my discounted sedums, I also took home Nepeta ‘Summer Magic (below) and Nepeta ‘Snowflake’.
In the front garden
The front garden is an area I want to pay more attention to this year. So far I have a mishmash of pots containing a sedum, some wallflowers, penstemon and hostas. I also have a jasmine I am hoping to train up the side of the porch, but although ‘Clotted Cream’ is a hardy variety, the snow has damaged the leaves quite severely.
I love pulmonaria, the foliage is great to maintain interest when nothing else is growing during the colder months. Imagine my surprise when, this morning, I found buds on the cusp of flowering! Already! While not exactly in line with my “pastel pink” theme, this pulmonaria ‘Raspberry Splash’ will bring some much-welcomed colour to the front garden in the spring.
In the hope to add some early colour, I have placed a couple of shallow pots with narcissus bulbs. I bought the scented collection from, you guessed it, Sarah Raven. I decided to place Avalanche on its own because it is early-flowering, I’m afraid I can’t quite remember what the other pot is! I have used the other varieties in bigger pots in the back garden, where the violas, crocus, tulips and hyacinths are.
On the windowsill
I cheated a little on my “no growing on windowsills because I have a cold frame” promise to my husband. The strong winds we’ve recently had have knocked over a couple of pots, and we had a couple of casualties. The white lavender took a fall, so I decided to try and get the broken stems to root. My hopes are not very high, as they are rather woody stems and cuttings should be taken from soft, green shoots. It’s worth a shot, though. The other casualty was the verbena. This time, I managed to take 5 cuttings from the one stem that broke off. I have put a lid with closed vents over both pots, so they don’t lose too much oxygen.
The first seeds I have sown have been in the soil for a week, so there are no signs of germination as of yet, particularly the peppers, as they are slow to germinate. Pepper ‘Alma’ and ‘Hot de Cayenne’ are covered; I also have strawberry ‘Musk’, ‘Yellow Wonder’ and ‘Temptation’ as well as cinnamon basil, sweet basil, aquilegia ‘Black Barlow’ and Angelica archangelica.
Spend some time outside in your container garden next weekend, and observe what is growing. I guarantee there’s more life than you may think!