There are a number of small but vital garden jobs to be done in January, says Jane Moore, ranging from feeding the birds to pruning your wisteria back or building that compost heap you’ve always wanted
Now don’t worry as this won’t be a long list – just enough to get you out of the armchair and looking a bit more lively after the Christmas binge. Don’t overdo it, especially when January needs to be filled with essential shopping in the sales, afternoon snoozing and garage sorting. So this is a gentle warm up in preparation for the season ahead, with no danger of your burning out before spring. After all, despite a few must-do jobs, the great beauty about deepest winter is that there really is no rush.
This is more of a ‘mustn’t-do’ really, so put your feet back up and carry on reading. Don’t be tempted to clear up in every part of the garden. You don’t see bare soil in nature, so leave some of the fallen leaves, grassy stems and herbaceous heads for the little critters to rummage about and hide in. That isn’t a licence to leave all in utter abandon, more a question of acting judiciously, deciding what to leave and what to chop and tidy so the garden looks ordered but not sterile.
FEED THE BIRDS
This is one of my favourite winter pursuits. I think all gardeners have an affinity with robins as they follow us about picking off little prizes as we tidy up and turn over leaves, but so many birds are bolstered to be brave through hunger and they are a winter joy.
Things that will naturally attract birds include berried shrubs and trees such as rowans, but even turning over the compost heap will attract a fan club of feathered friends. This is where leaving seed heads really comes into play as many smaller birds such as tits, wrens and finches will scratch about after tiny seeds on the ground. The ideal thing is to supplement nature with your own offerings of seed mixes, unsalted peanuts and dried mealworms. A few table scraps like cheese and fruit such as apples and pears also go down a treat.
BREAK THE ICE
If you have a pond and it freezes over, it will help to make a hole in it to allow more active animals like fish, frogs or newts (who will be hibernating at the bottom of the pond) to move to the surface to breathe. Don’t break the ice forcibly and don’t go and pour a kettle of boiling water straight into the pond either, instead use a pan of hot water to melt the surface of the ice.
This is a nice, chunky job to get on with on a sunny winter’s day. Wisteria needs a good hard prune – and I mean hard – in January or February at the latest. You can also train in any new shoots you need along the wires or trelliswork frame that your wisteria grows on and cut all the other long, sprawling laterals back to a few buds. The buds are spread out few and far between on the new growth, while closer to the main stems they’re more tightly packed – that’s where you need to make your cut. The tougher you are, the better the flowering will be, so be brave.
TAKE ON A BATH PROJECT
Here at The Priory we often save the big chunky jobs until January – it gives us something to chip away at during these long, dull winter days. This is the time to do something major in your garden – now while you have time on your hands and not much else to get stuck into. Build that compost heap you’ve always wanted, or that raised vegetable bed. You won’t regret it – after all there are plenty of wintery weekends to fill between now and spring and only so much filing of photographs, sorting of wardrobes and decorating that can occupy you indoors.
TAKE SOME PICTURES
Pick a nice, crisp sunshiny day in January and take some pictures of your garden. Winter light makes gardens look quite magical, but when you add a touch of frost and a few red dogwood stems or something else to contrast with the neutrals and greys in the garden, it takes on quite another character.
GET OUT TO OTHER GARDENS
I know there aren’t that many gardens open in January but the ones that are usually have something to shout about. Plus there’s always the compulsory cup of afternoon tea or pub visit to enjoy. The National Trust has three strong options, firstly a trip to Newark Park in Ozleworth, Gloucestershire, which has splendid views of the Cotswold countryside. There’s also our very own Great Chalfield Manor near Melksham where the gardens offer terraces, topiary houses, a gazebo and views across the pond for the snowdrops. Finally, there’s the ever-beautiful Stourhead near Mere in Wiltshire for a wintery stroll around the dramatic lake surrounded by classical temples, mystical grottoes and rare and exotic trees. Don’t forget to take your camera.
Visit: nationaltrust.org.uk/newark-park; nationaltrust.org.uk/great-chalfield-manor-and-garden; nationaltrust.org.uk/stourhead
Jane Moore is an award-winning gardening columnist and head gardener at The Bath Priory Hotel. Twitter: @janethegardener