From the beginning of the month you could see the evenings getting that bit brighter , bulbs were pushing up and always you felt Spring was just around the corner … gardeners are big on optimism !
The resident gardeners at Petrovska Garden
And myself January 27th 2022
There is an excitement about the end of January always for me because for Irish people the 1st of February , St. Brigid’s Day , is the first day of Spring , the end of Winter and the light still there until 6 o’clock gives the feeling that the gardening year is beginning now !
January is the month when garden writers queue up to give their advice to beginners and not so beginners along with their new year resolutions and I particularly like the advice Rachel de Thame , a gardener I really enjoy reading , gave in her Sunday Times column where she lists 22 “ Tips for budding gardeners ” and then at the end says ignore them all and go with your instincts , plant what YOU like , ignore advice as after a while of trial and error you will find your feet as a gardener .
After 40 years of gardening and having built and developed two large gardens I have found that there is only one rule and that is right plant right place .
Follow that and you will be find as simple as this rule is , it is cunning because selecting the right plant means you have to read up and study what the right plant is for any particular place and you will learn soon enough after a few expensive mistakes .
Colour in the Garden in January
“Doing anything in the garden at the moment ” is a regular question throughout the year and as a rule both of us here would be in the garden every day doing something or other and unless I have a specific job such as planting a new tree or shrub , normally I base tomorrow’s work on what I have seen on my walk around today . Winter is where the hard pruning and planning for the summer months occurs and I always walk in the garden with the secateurs in my hand as there is always something that needs cutting back . A quick recap of the past month’s work would be collecting the cut wood in a trailer from ten trees from the Lower Wood area and storing it in the wood shed , planting eight new hydrangea shrubs bought in a garden centre sale , digging up a ten year old weeping silver birch and replanting it in the new water area , positioning and planting up a new large pot , digging out and planting five wild self seeded silver birch trees , pulling up and cutting out brambles across the entire garden , taking a hundred cuttings of golden willow and red dog wood and planting in the wild grass area … generally a few hours work every day .
January to mid February are the best months for moving any plants that are either not doing too well or in this case here where grasses I had planted in the front garden two years ago were doing too well … too well was not a problem and is to be welcomed normally of course but these had grown too big for the design and were obscuring the view to our dry stone wall . These were easy enough to dig out as they were too young in the ground and the root ball was intact but when this is not the case you dig around the roots and try not to cut too many of them when lifting the plant … at this time of year all growth is dormant , no need to be timid about it and I have moved trees and shrubs over ten years old in the past without losing any but I always pack in lots of potting compost , at least a bucket per plant plus a few spoons of osmocote , a slow release fertiliser in the base .
You can never have enough large pots in the garden and earlier this month I bought a new one in Clonmel Garden Centre … this was part of a delivery they received earlier last year when I bought the same pot but in cream / green but over the past few months I grew the like the sky blue version more and more so it joined our stable !
I sited the new pot , filled it with earth and planted it up in the first week of January and for the moment put in a temporary planting until I decide what will be it’s permanent plants … some primroses that when they finish flowering will go out into the gravel garden where hopefully they will flower again next year . This new pot will be seen all year from the house and is sheltered and west facing so lots of light that will allow me to grow a wide range of plants or even a small tree .
Planting a pot follows a routine that works for me and which I always follow , placing gravel and stones at the bottom to cover the drainage hole , filling two thirds with normal earth from the garden and the remainder with potting compost and finally a layer of gravel after planting which helps drainage , keeps weeds down and adds a nice finish .
This month I finished taking out brambles around the garden and a few months ago “ discovered ” gardening gloves and this has been a revolution for me and my relationship with brambles !
In forty years of gardening I have never used gloves , preferring to feel my fingers in the earth while weeding and as for pulling brambles with bare skin I have been lucky I never caught an infection as I ended up with my arms and hands lacerated by thorns . You need to spend money on good strong gardening gloves as the usual semi disposable type sold in supermarkets and indeed most garden centres are useless , pure cosmetic and usually given as gifts but after any serious use they will be ripped apart … think heavy leather gloves more biker in looks and a good pair will last years . I will only use gloves for brambles though as the politically incorrect part of me still thinks gardening gloves are for sissies and also I like my fingers to dig in and make contact with the soil .
In January as you walk around you get to appreciate any plants that stand out in this chilliest dour season before the spring bulbs appear and two flowering perennial plants stand out , Bergenia and Vinca minor which is the smaller leaf version of the periwinckle and which will happily flower away until April and which does really well in shade … there is a variegated version of vinca but it has a sprawling habit and I find the colour a bit brassy . When vinca settles in it will send out lots of planlets and these can be potted up so you always have a succession of vinca
Once you have a few bergenia you can propagate easily by pulling off a leaf with some root attached , fool proof and I regularly go around all my clumps of Bergenia at this time of year and take slips . I still will buy the odd Bergenia in garden centres if I see a large one potted up and then I divide it immediately and get at least three good plants from the one and these can be planted out at any time of the year .
A year on the new Water Garden area has come together nicely and it will be interesting to see how the spring bulbs I planted last October will finish it … a garden is never “ finished “ and there are always tweaks and in early January I came across this japanese style stone lantern in Clonmel Garden Centre , not all shiny and new but nicely weathered and it fitted in perfectly at the corner of the new pond .
Monty Don had a new three part garden series on BBC in January called Adriatic Gardens which although beautifully filmed as always , I was not impressed by . I like Monty Don’s TV work on Gardener’s World and love his writings but find his specialist TV programmes a bit off . The Adriatic series started with gardens around Venice , most of them private gardens owned by the super wealthy and I found them unexceptional apart from the fact that they existed on probably the most expensive real estate in the World but I found Monty too deferential to Count this and Contessa that for my liking .
The second episode was devoted to Croatia more especially to Dalmatia a place I know a lot about as I garden there myself throughout the year but again disappointing as Monty seemed so wide eyed incredulous that anything was growing there at all due to the Summer heat and the rocky soil and he came across as very condescending in his interviews with local people there. Then he featured Plitvice National Park and beautiful as Plitvice is , stunning in fact and I have both stayed and visited there many times but it is over 80 miles inland from the Adriatic Coast and in no way can qualify as an Adriatic garden .
One thing he did pick up on which I had never really realised before was that Croatians generally don’t grow anything they can’t eat and this applies right through the Balkans where anything such as home grown vegetables that will augment the family economy is precious so aubergines , spinach , tomatoes , olives , potatoes , onions are far nicer to look at than roses or perennial plants !
Sadly the final third episode of Monty Don’s Adriatic Gardens was equally disappointing with a huge chunk of it devoted to Athens and Hydra both of which are in the Aegean Sea and nowhere near the Adriatic last time I checked . The segment on Athens features allotments in the city … allotments for f ..k sake… Adriatic gardens ? … and a new public park … again who wants to see a newly made public park and certainly not allotments . The Hydra segment was equally embarrassing , two gardens for wealthy expats on Hydra with more money than any authentic Aegean sea garden ethos .
Monty obviously has huge clout at the BBC and good luck to him as he is a fantastic down to earth gardener and presenter and obviously part of his deal to stay with the BBC is to indulge him in making this type of one off programmes and after all if he walks away from Gardeners World who will they replace him with … Toby Buckland or Adam Frost , both smug gardening gurus who the public can’t stand so Monty has the BBC over the proverbial barrel !
This time last year in January I was knee deep in mud and water building the new water area in the Lower Wood on a project where I hauled stones in a wheel barrow from my neighbour , Sebastian’s , land and flag stones from Woodies , ten at a time in the car , all laid by hand for new walkways and rockeries … it looked like a WW 1 battlefield most of the time and that is why OPTIMISM as I said at the beginning of this month’s blog is the gardener’s best feature !
Proof reading the Blog for January 2022