January and February can be dreary months. With the festiveness of Christmas left behind and the charm of the lights and decorations put to rest for another year the beginning of the calendar year can feel somewhat dull and empty with no sense of sparkle or excitement.
Very often it is the grey and damp weather in particular that makes us reluctant to embrace the great outdoors, and with that some rewarding and enjoyable hands on gardening tasks may be left for another day!
But now is the chance to counteract the overindulgence of the past seasonal festivities! Gardening guarantees good exercise, plenty of fresh air and replenishing the soul by discovering how nature is beginning to come back to life and discovering forgotten horticultural treasures around your outdoor space.
Of course, there will always be a list of essential garden jobs in preparation for the new gardening year like cleaning pots, green houses, patios, painting fences and gates, recycling your Christmas tree for mulch, etc. but why not start with a handful of gentle and enjoyable tasks to ‘ease in’ so to speak?
DISCOVER: The observant eye will quickly discover a wealth of changes in the garden since ‘putting it to bed’ in late autumn or early winter. By now there should be a show of:
- Tips of daffodils, crocuses, bluebells, tulips
- Snowdrops and winter aconites starting to flower
- Sedums showing new buds
- Ornamental quince with leaves and flower buds
- Ornamental cherries in flower (winter flowering)
- Winter flowering shrubs like Viburnum carlesii, witchhazel, winter flowering jasmine, Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’, Camellia, catkins and of course fabulous displays of winter stems from dogwoods
Last year’s mild weather has caused some confusion in the plant world so that plants like hazel, for example, have produced catkins in November/ December, which are now enriching the winter months turning a beautiful coppery pink as they catch the sunlight.
FREE THE SPRING TREASURES: Now is the time to cut back Hellebore foliage from the previous year to help display their beautiful spring blooms. If snowdrops or crocuses, etc. are covered by foliage of adjacent perennials or shrubs, these should be freed so their full potential can be appreciated. Likewise, carefully rake away accumulated leaves to reveal these spring beauties.
BIRDS: Birds are also active now so listen out for their enthusiastic song and watch them relentlessly trying to attract a female for nesting.
Maintaining bird feeders clean and well stocked can be made a daily task. Feeders often clog up in damp weather causing for the seed to rot or germinate. A well-visited feeding station is a joy to watch. If there is no water feature in the garden then a bird bath is essential for attracting garden bird species. This doesn’t have to give a forced impression or needn’t look too utilitarian: an old weathered concrete or terracotta bowl/ pot covered in lichen is ideal and can create an attractive feature/ focal point within the traditional garden. Alternatively, a modern container can achieve a similar purpose in a contemporary garden. Let your imagination take hold and re-purpose something old or new!
WORKOUT: For gardeners keen to engage in more sweat breaking activities there is a plot to be dug over! Vacant plots or borders that have not been dug already could now do with some work to break up the soil ready for more cultivation in spring. This could go hand-in-hand with a cup of tea afterwards whilst combing through your seeds and planning crops for the year ahead.
If the garden contains apple and/ or pear trees now is the time to see to them which can also involve some muscle strength especially if thicker branches have to be removed. Usually, and if the tree is easily accessible and not too tall, pruning will be more strategic than anything else.
Make sure all pruning equipment is sharp and in good working order to prevent damage to branches.
EARLY VEG: For the practical gardener thinking about early vegetables to grow is an exciting start to the garden year. Now is the time to start forcing rhubarb, sow leeks, onions, broad beans, hardy peas, spinach and carrots under cover.
HARVESTING: There is always an excuse to go down the garden if there are things to get for the dining table so pick up a basket and see what there is to be harvested from your range of winter vegetables, salads and herbs.
There are also some lovely flowers and catkins to pick from the garden that are wonderfully suited for indoor display:
- Prunus autumnalis
- Early Camellia
- Pussy Willow
- Hazel and Alder catkins
The early months of the year offer plenty of opportunity to get active outside whilst discovering the beauty of an awaking garden, and, with a bit of luck, there might be some sunshine too!