A garden is a gift ... even in January

Peter Dowdall takes a moment to pause and praise the allure of a garden, even in slumbering January.

This gardening business can really get a hold on you can’t it? It can truly become an addiction.

What else can explain the fact that on the coldest and wettest of these winter mornings we venture out from early morning to tackle the gardening jobs that need to be done.

Grown men and women outside, in the ice cold, risking frostbite when all right-minded folk are wrapping themselves around hot coffees in centrally heated homes.

Gardening can become all encompassing — how many times have you gone out to do an hour’s work in the garden only to check the clock when you return inside and lo — it’s six hours later.

It can just get into your very being, creeping under your skin like the dirt under your finger nails.

There are so many aspects of gardening that make is so addictive — the nearly primeval satisfaction of watching seeds germinate and develop into small and then larger plants, be they ornamental or edible.

Admiring the colours of plant displays in the perennial and shrub beds is satisfying, as is enjoying freshly dug potatoes for dinner; dead heading and watching further blooms on hanging baskets and bedding displays; looking on in awe as bulbs poke their heads up and break the soil early in the spring; seeing a cutting produce new leaves and thus new roots; smelling fresh cut grass on a warm summer’s day; walking through fallen autumn leaves; taking homemade compost out of the compost bin, the end product of vegetable peelings, gone off fruit, old newspapers and twigs — and many, many more.

There is a great sense of achievement when you look back at the results of a day’s work. Spend a day weeding, cutting back and cleaning in the garden during these days, and the results are so visible you will feel very proud of yourself, tired too, but a good healthy tired.

It’s great for aerobic fitness, time spent doing any physical activity in the fresh air and the great (and I mean great) outdoors can only be good for you. It keeps muscles going that otherwise may simply not be used and begin to seize on you.

I haven’t yet mentioned the value of gardening to the mind. Gardening is great therapy and in this world where pressure is all about, and it’s so easy to get swept away in the hustle and bustle of 21st century living (and even left behind), it’s so important to be able to touch earth and reconnect.

Working with the soil and plugging into it brings us so close to the universe or God or whatever you understand it to be — it’s no wonder it has such therapeutic value and I can’t think of any other activity that offers that opportunity. It’s because of these very many reasons that we gardeners consider ourselves so lucky, so blessed with our tasks.

January is the time to protect the garden from the worst of the winter, tucking the plants in beneath a good warm duvet of leaf mould.

Time too for pruning fruit and ornamental trees, time to lift and divide the herbaceous that have pulled in their fingers from above the ground, and are now hiding beneath the soil as sleeping knots of life.

Divide these treasures, particularly if they have become crowded and are producing masses of leaves and less flowers. Lift them now and replant the divisions allowing them more space and enjoy the results as each plant produces more flowers this year.

It’s also the time now for moving established shrubs if necessary. The plants are dormant and so will have a chance to repair any root damage caused during the move. before coming back into growth during spring.

To gardeners, the beauty of the garden during this month is the well-tended flower beds, the pruned trees and shrubs, tidy paths and disinfected glasshouses. There is great colour from plants like Skimmia, some Viburnums, and other winter flowering shrubs, also the winter flowering bedding such as Cyclamen, pansies and winter Heathers.

But for me the beauty of winter in the garden is far more subtly dramatic if that’s not a contradiction. It’s in tiny details — like that rain drop hanging onto a bare stem and catching the morning sunlight at just the right time.

It’s the light as it catches the frost covered cobwebs making your garden lookas if a Hollywood special effects team were busy before the day warms up enough to turn ice to water and the cobwebs to something that is less a work of art and more an annoyance.

Seedheads on straw-coloured grasses, berries on the mountain ash, the silver stems of the Birch , all these are what winter is really about in the garden.

So next time you step outside, look around and think, not that January is all doom and gloom, rather admire the beauty that is all about.


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