Friday 15th January 2021

Snow? No. Snowdrops? Yes.

Not so much Dry January, as Very Wet January. It’s enough to drive you to drink. Perhaps a calming cup of green tea would be a good idea as we head into another Friday Group zoom session….

…and enjoy some lovely stems and bark arranged in a simple jug. A really seasonal bouquet.

But what’s in the jug?

Plant ident.

Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’

Such a winner in the garden at the moment. It’s a must-have plant in the Garden House Book of Must-Have-Plants. (Quite a big book.) Planted so that it catches the sun’s rays, it will light up the garden for months, especially if grown en masse. Actually, it provides vivid colour even on the greyest of grotty days. Dogwoods are grown primarily for their stem colour, and this one is outstanding. Once the leaves have fallen in autumn, its brilliant flame-coloured stems are revealed. Grow in full sun, ideally with other dogwoods, to contrast with their purple and red stems. Grow from hardwood cuttings once the plant has become established.

Corylus avellana contorta

A lovely winter feature, and a beautiful sight when its bare, curled branches and twigs can be seen against a clear sky. Yellow catkins emerge in late winter, presaging the spring to come. Unfortunately, it’s not so attractive in the summer months. The original Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick was found in hedgerows in the 19th century, and every plant grown since then comes from a graft taken from the original specimen. It can’t be grown from cuttings.

Male and female catkins form on the same tree, and are visible from now. Remove any straight pieces of growth, as these are reversions. The aim is to keep it going curly wurly. (Curly Wurly. Mmmm.) The twigs are good for staking and as decorative embellishments – see the bowl of Hyacinths later – and will basically add a classy air to your house and garden. Maybe try growing one in a largish pot, which can then be moved somewhere more discreet in the summer. Harsh, but fair.

Malus x robusta ‘Red Sentinel’

January. And still the fabulous fruits hang on. The lovely, small, red crab apples look great on this tree in the garden just now. The Malus is a real all-singing-and-dancing performer, with fresh leaves and blossoms emerging in the spring, fruits in the autumn, autumnal colour and then the little apples often remain through the winter months. A true contender for a long-season-of-interest prize.

Salix babylonica ‘Tortuosa

Its Latin name makes it look as if this poor thing was tortured by the Babylonians. Better to think of it as the Twisted or Corkscrew Willow. Can grow (fast) to become a large tree with twisting horizontal branches, so take care unless your property is more estate than garden. The leaves turn a beautiful, buttery yellow in the autumn before falling. Seeing one grown to its full height and potential is a fantastic thing – especially if its intricate shape can be seen silhouetted against a bright blue wintery sky. Can be coppiced, but better to go for a smaller cultivar – like Salix ‘Nancy Saunders’. Easy from hardwood cuttings.

Prunus spinosa

A deciduous tree with personality. The Sloe, or Blackthorn, is a real indicator of spring, flowering in April before its leaves appear. The prolific white blossoms stand out against the dark blackness of the stems, and is a common sight in hedgerows. It has spiky thorns to protect itself from all those who have designs on its Sloe berries. Not generally suitable for small gardens as it can get quite large, but small pieces of it are wonderful to enjoy indoors as they are frequently covered in lichen.

Jobs for the week

Recycle those Christmas wreaths

And create a feast fit for birds of all sorts. They’ll love it, and you’ll love them. At Garden House, even the bird food is presented decoratively

Sort out seeds to sow in January and February

Reading, dreaming, planning and ordering are half the fun. Everything is possible. Nothing is off limits. Some seeds need to go in early, as the plants need a long period of growth – like Rhodochiton atrosanguineus, Cobaea scandens (the cup and saucer plant), Cleome and Nicotiana. Tomatoes and Aubergines too. Hence the need to get things organised sooner rather than later.

Start sowing Sweet Peas

These don’t need heat or light to germinate. Use root trainers or cardboard tubes to encourage long root growth. Put newspaper over the tops to increase warmth, keep in moisture and reduce light. Once there are three sets of leaves, pinch out the top set to prevent the plants from becoming leggy.

Sow chillies

A good range of chilli seeds can be found at The Victorian Nursery. These plants do require a long season of growth, so start now! Good drainage is important, and they germinate best in a heated propagator or on a heated mat.

Keep checking the Hyacinth bulbs

Looking good

Grow Hyacinth bulbs in bowls

And decorate a la mode. Adding Twisted Hazel provides a good support for the flowers and looks simply divine.

Take hardwood cuttings

January is a good time to take hardwood cuttings. There is less to do in the garden, allowing plenty of time to make plants for free. Many deciduous shrubs can be propagated using this method – Sambucus nigra, Hydrangea, Philadelphus, Forsythia, Cornus, Roses – as well as Blackcurrants and Gooseberries amongst others.

No special equipment is necessary. No heat. No propagators. The cuttings can stand outside. Why not have a go?

First, cut your stems from one-year old wood. Pencil-thick.

Here are a variety of Cornus cuttings. Lay them out and then prepare by making a slanted cut at the top of each cutting, above a leaf joint, and then another cut straight across at the bottom, underneath a leaf joint (a dormant bud).

Place a mix of perlite and compost on top of a long rectangle of black plastic and tuck the cuttings in.

I think in Austria they make apple strudel more or less along these lines, except with filo pastry, loads of butter and a spiced apple filling

Roll it all up

Tie the rolls securely and label

Et voila!

Make sure there are drainage holes at the bottom of the plastic rolls. Don’t let them dry out. Now all you have to do is wait patiently.

Cuttings can also be placed in a deep flower pot.

Plan a planting scheme for your garden

Once again, Liz McCullough provided a brilliant outline guide to help us on our way. We were encouraged to think about Specials (the Prima Donnas or star performers); Skeletons (plants that form the green background for year-round enclosure and give shape and form to the space ); Decoratives (Seen at the front of the skeleton, providing structure and a wow factor); Pretties (perennials for flower and foliage interest in spring and summer); and Infill plantings (transitory splashes of colour as the seasons change, invaluable gap-fillers adding extra drama). Design is an intimidating and extensive topic, but we started gently with a brief to design a new bed of 3 m x 2 m, backed by an established deciduous hedge, in semi-shade on chalk soil.

Break-out rooms formed to discuss the possibilities. And we soon found ourselves confronted not only by choices of plant material, but also of colour/ height/ spread / season / style….Oh, heck!

Specials came in as: Malus, Sorbus, Sambucus; Skeletons were: Osmanthus, Sarcococca, Daphne, Skimmia, Viburnum davidii; Decoratives might be: Ferns, Vinca, Euonymous, Grasses for shade, Euphorbias; Pretties: Geranium phaeum ‘Lily Lovell’, Heuchare ‘Autumn Bride’, Astrantias, Anemome ‘Honorine Jobert’, Pulmonarias; Infill planting: Crocus, Cyclamen, Hellebores, Snowdrops, Foxgloves

This was the plan Liz and Bridge came up with:

A daunting topic, but take it easy. Considering just one area of the garden is helpful to start with! There are good online tools available too: Crocus, The Beth Chatto Gardens and Rosie Hardy all provide online plans, advice and suggestions via their websites.

And…. relax. Time for more green tea. Or something.

Maybe that Curly Wurly?

Frosted Euphorbia provides euphoria

It’s the icing on the January cake

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