GINA PARKINSON returns to start the New Year by looking at the subtle charms of winter jasmine
JANUARY is here and with it comes the start of a new year of gardening for us all.
After spending December cooped up inside, it was a relief to get out last Monday and reacquaint myself with the garden.
The grass was silvered with frost and a little rain fell from a leaden sky lit with rays of gold from a hidden sun.
Gardens can seem bare in January, deciduous shrubs and trees are a skeletal framework of stems and branches and herbaceous perennials sleep in the depths of the earth.
But a second look reveals the evergreens and berries that faithfully fill in some of the gaps left as other plants die back. And counting the number of flowers brings a surprise, with many to be seen in sheltered spots about the beds.
Roses are still blooming in my parents’ south-facing garden, bright yellow flowers have been opening since early summer. In my own garden, a white-flowered penstemon, only planted this year, is still managing to produce the occasional bloom.
By the house we have winter jasmine growing against an east-facing garage wall, its long bright green stems covered in small yellow flowers and buds that open whenever we have a mild spell.
The purple-leafed vine it grows with has finally died back and will be cut hard back this week to reveal the neat framework of stems the jasmine has made over the years.
These two plants seem a good pair. In winter and early spring, the jasmine takes the stage, growing flat against the wall and covered in numerous buds and flowers before the leaves appear.
As it fades, the vine begins to grow long stems and small pale, furred leaves to begin with that darken to purple. These become as big as your hand on thick, waving stems that reach upwards to clasp on to any support that will aid their growth towards the sun.
By August, the jasmine is almost completely covered by the vine which by then has been joined by a couple of purple clematis and green-leafed actinidia.
This is all to come. Gardeners are dreadful for looking ahead at what will be, so for now we can enjoy the more subtle charms of winter jasmine.
Viburnum tinus is another reliable if rather common winter-flowering plant. This evergreen shrub is just coming into bloom in our garden although in a more sheltered spot it will flower almost continuously from late autumn through to late spring.
Its best display is during mild spells in this period.
A cold snap will see the flowers die back, but they quickly reappear when the temperature rises.
This viburnum is very adaptable, it can be grown as a wall shrub or in hedging or, as we have done, allowed to grow into a small tree, with the trunk cleared of growth and the upper branches left to form a large dome of foliage.
ANY spare time and good weather will see gardeners outside clearing the beds. I usually leave this job until the New Year rather than setting to in October. At that time if the weather is mild there are still plenty of things to be enjoyed from fresh flowers to ripening seedheads. By the time we get to January the beds are looking untidy with dark damp stems and dead foliage so it is outside with the secateurs as soon as an opportunity arises.
The first things I clear are the stems left behind by herbaceous perennials. Their decorative value has gone and a few minutes work will soon clear the bed and leave it looking much better.
I keep an eye out for hibernating ladybirds. The seedheads of Jerusalem sage are especially valued in our garden by these insects, and any stems the ladybirds are using are left until late spring when they have left.
Bugs and beetles will also be using piles of leaves to hide in so these are also left on the soil for them to use. Anything smothering a plant, however, is cleared away, a layer of damp, decomposing leaves may cause the plant to rot.
If the soil is damp but not frosted, it can be covered in a thick layer of bark chippings which act as mulch and also look great for a few months while the soil is bare. The only problem can be the birds which love to hop about the chippings and fling them about in their search for food.
Gardening TV and radio
8am, BBC Radio Humberside, The Great Outdoors.
With Blair Jacobs and Doug Stewart.
9am, BBC Radio Leeds, Tim Crowther and Joe Maiden.
2pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. Chris Beardshaw, Bunny Guinness, Anne Swithinbank and chairman Eric Robson help gardeners from Othery in North Somerset. Meanwhile Matt Biggs revisits St Ann’s allotments in Nottingham to help with plans for the new gardening year.
3pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time.
Birmingham is the venue for this weeks programme with chairman Eric Robson and his team of experts Bob Flowerdew, Anne Swithinbank and Matthew Wilson. (Repeated on Sunday at 2pm).