Jane Moore starts the gardening year as she means to go on
I always find February a good month in which to take stock and plan ahead. After the Christmas season has dissipated, the gloomy fug of the January blues tends to set in. This, coupled with my headlong dash to get my tax return in on time, which of course I have put off until the last possible moment, means I start the year in a dreadful state and only really get myself back under control by February.
Contradictory as it may seem, I am by nature a planner, an inveterate list maker, and I’m always looking ahead. Even though I know that tax return needs doing I’m still a true last minuter. So February is the perfect time to map out my year, both personally and horticulturally speaking. No doubt you would be fascinated to hear about my holiday plans (Venice hopefully) but here and now I shall confine myself to gardening matters.
Winter Work Plan
February and March are my months for really making big changes to the garden. The light is better, there are pockets of milder weather (we hope) for planting and all is still and quiet enough at The Bath Priory for me to make some mess in the garden. There are a couple of projects which sat at the planning stage before Christmas, evolved in January and are now about to come to fruition.
The biggest is the arbour/covered seat in the shadiest corner of the garden. This spot is planted with hydrangeas, ferns and other shade lovers but it’s the tree ferns that really make it a spot where you’d want to sit on a hot day. Our construction of a little covered arbour with a paved base and stepping stone path leading to it means you can do just that. We’re building it rather than buying off the shelf because we want it to fit the spot perfectly and we fancy a bit of a challenge. I just hope that it turns out to be more Highgrove than Heath Robinson in the end.
Mind the Gap
Our other big project is a planting one, and this is more familiar territory than carpentry, thank goodness. Those of you that know The Priory will recall that we took down an enormous but very youthful leylandii a year or so ago. The resulting woodchip mound has taken some time to disperse but it’s now finally time to fill in the gap with, you’ve guessed it, another tree. This time a rather more elegant and manageable birch called rather appropriately given the season, Polar Bear.
To Do List
Yes of course I have one – it’s in my work diary and never, ever seems to get any shorter despite my best efforts. I am good at doing the easy things and crossing those out with great satisfaction but it’s the many things which fall perennially to the bottom of my To Do list that get me down. February is all about tackling just those things.
Short of expensive therapy I can’t change my personality and it is that of a hoarder. I’m one of those people that keeps every little catalogue or article of interest, useful bits of string/wire/wood; labels and old broken tools with a view to mending them one day. But no more. Top of my list is to go through and sort out all the catalogues I get sent. If they’re interesting I’ll keep them for a week and then ditch ‘em in my new regime, unless I am actually going to order something from them.
Colleagues Anna and Dom mutter about my ‘corner of doom’ in the greenhouse, or so Anna has christened it. Admittedly in 2016 it did span several teetering mounds of mouldering papers but I have now obtained a sturdy blue mushroom box from the kitchen which represents my in-tray. This will be emptied once it reaches its brim, roughly once a fortnight or so. Yes it will.
The Ideas Notebook
Innovative as always I’ve also invested in a nice hardback notebook to replace all the scraps of paper with phone numbers, gardens I should visit, random ideas and plants I like written on them. Yes I have to transfer them from the odd bits of paper I find in my coat pockets but if I can be bothered to do this then its worth having, if not it’s in the bin with the paper.
Since I got the notebook it comes in handy all the time for sketching out rough plans of an area or idea and actually taking on garden visits with me so I can jot them down there and then.
The Lost Corners
This encompasses every area of my life – home, garage, greenhouse and garden. The shed itself is a muddle residing in a lost corner of abandoned pots and broken sun loungers from the outdoor pool. There are piles of paving stones, granite sets and random other assorted not-so-useful stones, along with odd plants and the almost dead ones which we hope to revive. It all needs the state of order inspired by the likes of Mary Berry combined with the ruthless streak of Henry VIII. Off with the lot of it, I say. Or else let’s organise it a bit more.
Other corners are wildernesses of rampaging ivy and vigorously colonising elder bushes and cherry laurels which need a sturdy pair of gloves and a steely determination to conquer nature. During the season we keep these corners in check and their unsightliness disappears behind more attractive specimens strategically planted in the foreground. But in the winter the truth is literally laid bare and it’s time for a reckoning or at least a good attempt at control.
This is the domain of much of my hoarding and there Anna is as bad as me. She keeps cheap spades which are bent and buckled to near uselessness long after I would have dumped them. We also have a giant sledgehammer which did me an injury some ten years ago and I promptly brought a smaller one which we always use – both of us.
There are broken flares from the front car park which are neither use nor ornament and packs of long out of date grass seed which wouldn’t even germinate in laboratory conditions I suspect. It’s all going this month I can assure you. Well maybe not the big sledgehammer as we do have Dom on the team now.
Jane Moore is the award-winning gardening columnist and head gardener at the Bath Priory Hotel. Find her on Twitter @janethegardener.