Garden Diary - January

Doreen Moody finds plenty of plants braving the dark days of winter

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Life never stops in the garden.

Although everything looks dead and dreary some plants are braving the short dark days.

During the first few weeks of the new year snowdrops are pushing their way through the sodden earth. Even at this late stage I am dividing some of the larger clumps to fill bare areas under the trees in the Tree stump and snowdropsplantation and to increase the mixed planting of spring bulbs around the stump of the large chestnut tree blown down in the storms before Christmas. As the ground around the stump is so thick with roots, I think it will be difficult to grow anything else.

I have been giving this problem some thought as it is such a large area. To attempt to take out the stump of a tree more than 100 years old would be costly and destroy a large area of the main lawn. As the tree was sound it will possibly grow suckers from the base but meanwhile I will try to disguise it a little.

There are a number of deep crevices in the top of the stump where the huge trunk snapped off. If these are filled with good compost, I can grow some rooted guttings of the golden ivy 'Buttercup', which makes such an impact on dark days. In addition, some rooted cuttings of the evergreen perennial pea variety 'Lord Anston' with its gentian blue flowers. It remains to be seen whether this is a pipedream or reality, but then that is what gardening is all about, a mixture of success and disappointment.

Iris stylosaFrom the first few days of the new year the fragile blue flowers of Iris stylosa have been in bloom in the narrow bed outside the greenhouse. It never fails to amaze me how they stand up to all weathers.

The clumps of Helleborus niger, the Christmas rose, are doing particularly well this year. I normally cover them with a glass cloche to protect the blooms but at the foot of a sunny wall the snow white petals are so far undamaged.

In the bottom border of the orchard, I notice that my self-sown seedlings of a different hellebore (Helleborus foetidus) are coming into flower. Helleborus foetidusThis variety has attractive flowers and foliage but a slightly offensive smell, hence its name. Beyond it, the large clump of Mahonia bealei has a great display of fragrant racemes of lemon yellow blooms.

The winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) covers the old stone wall in the orchard with myriads of golden stars, which go on for weeks.

Although the weather hasn't been really cold, with the dark depressing skies and frequent heavy showers, I haven't felt like tackling some of the jobs which need doing such as pruning the fruit trees and the ivies growing on the house. I went into the greenhouse to transplant some of my sweet pea seedlings to find to my annoyance that a mouse had been there before me and eaten them. Time to set a trap!
Winter sun over the main lawn

There are still a lot of leaves lying on the grass at the bottom of the garden. I must get them removed as soon as possible as the grass will be badly damaged, so when help next arrives that will be my first priority.