As a gardener I always find it difficult to get through January. The festive season seems long ago and the weather tends to be cold, wet and windy. However, it is also a good time to look at the nicer seasons ahead, browse seed and plant catalogues and reorganise the garden.
I moved into my new place in East Kent last March. In total I had one van load of house stuff and furniture, and three van loads of plants. When I moved in, the garden was mainly lawn, and lots of overgrown shrubs around the periphery. The wall along the garden was covered in ivy that was 50 cm thick in most places. I spent weekend after weekend trying to get rid of it all. In total I removed 10 builders’ bags of ivy. As the lawn was the only place I could put my plants, I didn’t have much choice of where to place them. The washing line in the middle meant I couldn’t put anything tall around that area. I managed to get all my plants in the ground, getting rid of all of the lawn, but throughout the year I noticed several were too close together, or got swamped by what was next to them. My garden has a tropical theme, so a bit of overcrowding is welcomed, but, when I dug things up again in December, too often I thought: “Oh, I haven’t seen that all year!”. Also, some of the plants I bought were not quite how I imagined them. My Canna ‘Orange Punch’ stayed much smaller than I thought it would be (I never actually checked what its height was going to be), and Dahlia ‘Star Wars’ was clearly not what it was sold as. The great thing though is that with the tropical gardens, you can redesign most of the garden every spring. The hardy plants that form the winter frame can be moved around during the nicer days in January and February, and now that my washing line in the middle died and I replaced it with one that folds up on the wall, the planting scheme no longer has to have a dip in the middle.
Although my garden is designed to look its best in July-October, I still have some of my favourite winter flowering plants in it. With these plants I aim to get a combination of winter flowering and attractive foliage which fits in with the tropical theme in summer. One of my favourites at the moment is Coronilla valentina ssp glauca ‘Variegata’. Quite a big name for such a delicate plant. As part of the pea family the flower can best be described as a small yellow sweet pea. It has a very delicate sweet scent. Especially when the plants are established the smell can drift around for several meters. It can be grown as a small climber in a warm and sunny spot, but I grow it as a loose shrub in my garden. It will flower January-March, sometimes longer in a mild winter. In the months it doesn’t flower, the small, variegated foliage on this variety is a nice contrast with larger leaves from Tetrapanax, Persicaria or Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’.
Another climber that flowers in my garden at the moment is the evergreen Clematis cirrhosa var purpurascens ‘Freckles’. It is quite a fast grower, though doesn’t tend to be as dense and world dominating as the C. armandii. Mine is climbing through a trellis and has grown about a meter since I planted it in September. It started flowering almost immediately and hasn’t stopped since. The flowers are very similar to the spotted Helleborus you sometimes see. Although all the colour is on the inside of the flower, it is still visible as you tend to look up at them.
These flowers with their delicate scent certainly lift the spirit during these dark months. At work I often sniff the Sarcococca, Chimonanthus and Daphne. Iris reticulata is just starting to flower and the Eranthis hyemalis (winter aconite) is getting ready for it. These last two may not have scented flowers, but for me they are a sign that things are starting to look better and the muddy season is soon to end.