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January 2021 Column

With winter mists suspended over fields and frosty cobwebs hanging between mournful seed heads and grasses, the ground frozen beneath your feet, January can sound quite poetic and still. But in reality, these are lyrical moments between days of punishing chilling winds and damp gloomy foggy gardens. I have never understood why we make it even more challenging with New Year resolutions, to chastise and deny ourselves of rest, comfort and treats. This year I hope you only make promises to enjoy yourself more, recognise little achievements every day, be kind to oneself and each other. Have a walk, enjoy good food and most importantly, plan your next gardening season.

In inclement weather, I take the excuse of enforced rest indoors to review my previous growing season and drool over seed catalogues. Hopefully I have kept some notes of our successes and not such great successes. Lessons learned and a deeper understanding of my soil and the micro climates. We grow across four plots and gardens, each with slightly different depths of a stony subsoil with a varying depth of a free draining sandy topsoil on top. Together with rain shadows from walls, surrounding mature trees (and their searching greedy root systems) and varying lengths of direct sun during any given point of the year, there are significant differences in growing conditions across the gardens. We have gardened entirely ourselves this year and I have been able to develop a far better understanding of these. You see, I believe that successful growing and gardening is more than simply good soil, water and light. It's about observation, simply checking in regularly and gently assisting when required. As the years go by, we know our spaces better and work with our soil and plants rather than interfere or impose.

I will aim to have planned all the productive beds this month. It is an enormous job that I find it so challenging and absorbing, I must work on it all at once. When I have my sowing schedules and plot plans, I forget all about it and simply follow them as much as I am able to.

We are still out of our 'flower season' - this is when we have 'flowersome' abundance in the gardens between April and October. But there are still treasures to be found in January, and they take on a special resonance. There are far fewer pollinators so flowers must work that little harder to attract them with richly scented tiny blooms. I will snip just a short branch of Lonicera purpussi 'Winter Beauty', Daphne or Sarcococca to enjoy next to my bed or by the chair. Hellebores are best enjoyed floating in a shallow bowl of water where their beauty can be appreciated.

Outside there really isn't much I can do that doesn't hinder the garden by walking on the grass and compacting soil. On a dry clear day, winter pruning apple trees is a lovely job. Cut out any dead and diseased or crossing branches. Don't prune more than a third of branches, retaining an open shape and tip prune the ends of establishing trees to encourage them to break out fruiting spurs. Like many garden tasks, it is a little helping hand, at the right time on towards a generous harvest. These gardening clichés are truisms and repeated year after year for a reason. It's a good metaphor for 2021, observe, take gentle care, a little service of maintenance and some good sustenance. Wishing you a very happy New Year.

You can join our 'Grow Your Own Cut Flower Course' here.

This article is a monthly column in the 'Cambridge Edition' Magazine


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