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2011: Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov    
The Garden in January 2011
January 15th Signs of life

Walking round the garden today it was heartening to see signs of life after the cold weather. Euphorbias like Fern Cottage and Excalibur are starting to send up their new shoots. Euphorbia characias has its flowers unfurling, although it must be said that many look frosted. Euphorbia myrsinites with its corkscrew stems and cogwheel leaves is getting ready to flower as well.  Border Phlox are just starting to sprout and these will have attractive rosettes of often reddish leaves by February. 

Some bulbs are also well into growth. We don't have lots of Daffs or Snowdrops, but the Alliums are well through and showing how well they clumped up last year. 

In the trees and hedgerow the birds are starting to prepare for spring. Indeed a pair of Collared Doves have started nesting in one of our Hollies. Robins are establishing territories by singing and fronting up to each other. On a fine morning like today's the repetitive "teacher-teacher" of the Great Tit sounds fresh - latter on it does grate a bit! Our local Mistle Thrushes are shouting out their attractive, if somewhat overbearing song. We are waiting for the Song Thrush now to arrive and set up outside our bedroom window. Its enjoyable now when the sun rises after 8am but in May when the dawn chorus starts before 4am his loud voice its not so welcome!

January 16th Back in the garden at last

Today has been the first really nice day of the year and hopefully (touch wood) the very cold weather is behind us. So its time to get going in the garden again. No doubt there will be cold spells again before the spring arrives and gardeners have to be wary of the "false spring" we usually get in February. Looking back at last March's diary serves to remind me not to cut back the protective dead stems of perennials too soon, or at least to make sure the forecast is for a reasonable period of mild weather before cutting back to give the tender young shoots time to acclimatise. So I've left about 9" of stem on all my Asters just in case.

Today's task was to cut back some of my ornamental grasses including Miscanthus, Panicum and Calamagrostis. Its worth doing this now with hardy grasses to avoid the laborious task of cutting out dead stems after the new growth has started.  Small clumps can be cut with secateurs or shears (a bit too much like hard work with shears mind you), or with a strimmer. I cut mine back to leave about 9 - 12". The dead stems can be shredded and composted, burnt or used to protect delicate emerging shoots putting them in a thin layer across the bed.  

Molinia are far easier to deal with as they are truly deciduous and the dead stems have more or less already snapped off in the wind and now just need gathering up.

January 26th Woodpecker at work

Our local Greater Spotted Woodpecker has been hard at work hammering away at a pole forming part of our boundary fence.

This is an adult male, which you can tell by the red patch on the back of his head: females don't have this.

January 28th Phlox in growth

Even through the ground is solid with frost today the new shoots of Phlox are starting to grow.  Its too early to dig them and divide (split) them: wait until well into February at the earliest. The only work to do now is to remove all the old stems if you didn't do this in early winter and watch out for slugs that are active on milder days now.
January 30th Good (old) books

When its too cold to get out in the garden, like today, the next best thing is to read about gardens and plants. I don't know about you but I have some old favourites I turn to again and again. Some of these are no longer available to buy new but they do turn up in second hand book shops and charity shops (our local OXfam is particularly good).

For a good fairly detailed guide to hardy perennials you can't beat Frances Perry's "Collins Guide to Border Plants" (1957). The author had a great gardening pedigree, being the daughter in law of Amos Perry and growing up next door to E A Bowles and she writes in an easy, interesting style. The book is full of cultivation and propagation tips and packs more into its pages than most garden books. The colour plates by Pamela Freeman, Dorothy Fitchew and Paul Jones are works of art in themselves. Its interesting to note what noxious chemicals people used in their gardens as late as the 1950's and 1960's.

For a really detailed, semi-botanical exploration of hardy perennials you can't beat the two volume "Hardy Herbaceous Perennials" by Leo Jelitto and Wilhelm Schacht translated from the German by Michael E. Epp. This is a complete A-Z encyclopaedia covering herbaceous plants and ornamental grasses which is always my first port of call when encountering a plant new to me. In my view it is far more useful than other encyclopaedias on the market because it only covers hardy perennials and therefore covers them in more depth.  Originally published in 1950/51 mine is the third edition updated in 1985.

On a more modest scale is a simple book I bought in the 1980's when we got our first garden and I still return to now: "The Flower Expert" by Dr. D.G. Hessayon is straight forward, no nonsense and easy to use. Fairly limited in scope but a great first gardening book. The rest of the series are good as well except the "Garden Expert" which is a bit of a summary of the others really.

Somewhere between the two above is Phillips' and Rix's "Perennials" in two volumes ("Early" and "Late"). A good reference leaning more to plants in the wild rather than the garden. Still they are a cheaper option than Jelitto and Schacht.

One of my favourites reads is Alan Bloom's Hardy Perennials (1991) which is the story of the plants Alan raised or introduced and also contains an intriguing glimpse into a bygone age of nurseries and plant production. Alan's 1939 wholesale catalogue is reproduced and I was interested to note how many (or few?) of the varieties listed are still growing in my garden.

There must be more garden design books on the market than there are gardens and I must admit that most pass me by. I do go to a few for inspiration.

Andrew Lawson's "The Gardener's Book of Colour" is brilliant on colour theory and has some great photography of it in practice - I refer to this book a lot, as I do Christopher Lloyd's "Colour for Adventurous Gardeners".

There are many plant monologues around and these do turn up on the charity shop shelves quite often. In my view its always worth getting them as a reference as libraries never seem to keep them on their shelves.

That reminds me, keep looking in your library, ours sells off perfectly good copies of out of print monologues.

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