Garden Journal 2024
Each month Paul shares insights from his own garden and thoughts on the gardening world, jobs to do and amusing observations.
So here we are, January 2024 already. Indeed, the turn of the year puts into perspective just how long we have spent developing our gardens together.
When we started the Digest, my garden was just a small grass field. Now, despite the lack of trees and large shrubs, all the shapes, shoots and spaces are becoming clear.
It reminds me that projects are never static and in the garden we have never really completed a task – a prospect new gardeners may find daunting. But fear not, those of us who have gardened over time know that the small joys are worth the effort. The ever-growing garden and its vibrant tapestry of colour and form are a direct collaboration between our minds, hands and mother nature. It’s a fulfilling experience, and I never fail to find joy in the coming and going of the seasons and the evolving landscape of my garden.
This year, I have started with gusto. And like most Januarys, I start out with high ambitions of getting on with my dahlias… which reminds me, order them as soon as you can and lay them in trays or boxes with compost and in a cool, frost-free room. This will allow the tubers to hydrate and the buds to start.
January is also a good time to begin other projects, such as moving perennials and refining the shape of your garden.
For me, I have dug up all my summer raspberries in the potager after three years in the same location, and replanted them in a new bed. There are two reasons to do this: the soil of the bed will be much improved by the action of the raspberry roots and three years’ worth of leaf mulch; and the soil structure of another bed requires improvement, so the addition of raspberry plants – excellent colonisers and ideal for enriching soil – should work nicely.
Be aware that you will get small shoots appearing in the older bed you removed the raspberries from. These can be easily dug up and planted elsewhere, or potted and given to friends for their own garden exploits.
I have also been taking hard wood cuttings, which we have made a video about before, should you want to give it a go. I planted these in a nursery bed ready for autumn, when they can be planted outside or potted up.
One project I’m really looking forward to is the building of some new brick entrance posts to part of the garden. These will be in the same local vernacular style as those in the main drive which I created last year. This will be something to focus on once the risk of hard frost has passed in a couple of months’ time.
The start of the year is also a good opportunity for learning and taking heed of past experiences. To this end, I will sound one note of caution for those keen to get in the garden as early as possible. The start of the year can be a tempting time to rip open packets of seeds with abandon, but after the best part of 28 years of gardening, the best advice I can give is that unless they’re sweet peas, don’t bother. It’s not worth the headaches and disappointment. Wait a month and start later, the seedlings won’t notice but I assure you, you will.
It's also important to be aware of the inevitable cold snap(s) that January and February so often bring. Stay prepared with protective fleece and have mulch to hand so you can protect plants that have enjoyed one of the warmest Decembers since the end of the nineteenth century.
Whatever you plan to do over the coming month, make sure of one thing - get out and enjoy your garden space whenever possible.
I have been spending the past few days near Ledbury, and although we think there have been a few chilly days, in fact, the winter has been wet rather than cold. Lots of tree buds seem to be swelling a little earlier and snowdrops are well advanced.
February is an odd month. On a warmer day, particularly towards dusk, you can smell the approaching spring – yet, on a cold dull day, it feels like winter is eternal. This makes it a very difficult month for many people. Although the shortest and best advice I could give this month may be to book a trip to Tangier or some other sunny, warm place, I do have to remind you that this is the month to order dahlias, start thinking about seeding potatoes, and plan your vegetable crops for the coming season.
I will be trying dahlias again. A lack of success over the past years saw me, in desperation, take to a social media platform to ask other gardeners for their tips for success. The online gardening community is a friendly bunch but, sadly, the secrets received in one reply were rather succinctly counterargued in another, and I was no further ahead.
I am, however, going to start them off early in a cold room to get growth going, plant them out in early April in a bed enriched with manure, and feed them all year long to see if the results are better; this seemed to be the general theme of the replies I received.
I have spent a few days moving smaller shrubs that I came to realise were in the wrong locations. Whilst plants are dormant, you can move them around and catch the end of the bare-root season for hedging plants and some shrubs. I will be digging up my raspberry canes and moving them to a new bed this month. Raspberries are brilliant at building soil, so I use them a little like worker plants to improve my vegetable beds for two or so seasons, and then carefully dig them out and move them on. So, if you have an area of poor soil, try planting some. The added and obvious benefit is a long season of delicious fruit.
Well, I did say it was a short month, but don’t worry – in a few weeks’ time, the garden will be calling you day and night. So, as the French might say, ‘profite bien’ of the wood burner and relaxed daydreaming through plant catalogues whilst you can!