Happy New Year everyone!
Christmas and New Year have come and gone so now it is time to embrace 2018 and the winter garden.
It is a great time to plan new gardening adventures. Perhaps finally book that course you've been promising yourself, learn a new practical skill at a local workshop, ponder gardens and shows to visit or simply sit back with a cuppa, admire last year's garden photos and look through the mountain of seed catalogues that have landed on your mat.
But if you fancy some fresh air then there are a lot of jobs we can do to prepare for the forthcoming season.
January is a key pruning month for standard or bush apple and pear trees (espalier, cordon and fan-trained fruit trees are normally pruned in August). This needs to be actioned whilst the trees are dormant between leaf fall around November and bud burst in February/early March.
Winter pruning ultimately stimulates new growth but it also improves ventilation, light and shape. Look at your tree and select damaged, diseased or dead material to remove, any visable pests and reduce tree height.
Sow sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus) seeds. October is traditionally a perfect time to sow but if you have been too busy before Christmas you can still get a head start with your seedlings and will have strong shoots by Spring; just keep them protected in a greenhouse or on a windowsill.
Nothing more epitomises English summers than the scent of freshly cut sweet peas. I am hoping to have the garden and house saturated with them this year.
Everybody has their own routines but I like to soak my seeds over night before sowing. It speeds up germination by rehydrating the seed but it is not essential; moist compost with kick-start the process. Clearly label your seeds so you know what you are growing.
Sweet peas do not like their roots disturbed so it is a good idea to sow them in small individual cells or pots so they can be transplanted directly into their final growing container or border without needing to be removed from a pot or separate tangled roots.
I was given this this lovely present (below) a couple of Christmas' ago 'The Gifted Gardener traditional garden tools' so I can make my own biodegradable pots out of recycled newspaper.
Fill the paper pot with compost, sow seed, plant pot out in its entirety into final growing spot around April/May. An old toilet roll would also suffice! Be aware they can disintegrate a little early so place on a sturdy tray to retain shape and avoid spillages.
Previous years I have also re-used small individual pots and sown three to five seeds per pot and just had to transplant with minimum root disturbance.
Be aware of mice if leaving seed to germinated in your greenhouse. One year I lost all my seed due a family of mice using my greenhouse like the local 7:11! So either prevent by netting or I usually let my seed germinate in the house and wait till shoots show before putting out in the greenhouse. Then it is just the slugs and snails to contend with.
Use this 'quiet' opportunity to read some gardening books. If the weather is miserable it is a good time to catch up on your gardening library. There are so many wonderful books out there, old and new. It is a great source of inspiration and an ideal way to swat up on skills and techniques before the season fully commences again.
Some books I buy brand new as soon as they are released and others I stumble across at charity shops or are gifted. It is a wonderful way to recycle books and give money to charity - love the anticipation of not knowing what I am going to find.
Everything starts with the soil so why not buy a soil testing kit and find out exactly what is going on in your garden. This will help tremendously with understanding where plants will thrive in your garden and perhaps save some money by not making poor choices when buying plants.
My kit is by 'TestWest' and tests soil pH (acidic, neutral or alkaline), nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) levels. Easily obtainable at your local nursery, garden centre or online.
Use a garden auger to take the sample but if you do not have one make sure you dig down the soil profile and do not just take material from the surface. This top soil will not give you a true reading as that often gets material added such as compost or mulch.
Then comes the fun part - sort through your seed collection and get planning for 2018.
I split my seeds between edibles and ornamentals. I acquired a very useful A-Z box folder for bills which immediately got commandeered for something far more constructive - seed storage. Very useful having them in alphabetical order, otherwise it is amazing how much time you waste repeatedly traipsing through your seeds.
Other January jobs are check over wintering dahlia tubers for rot.
Have a good tidy up down the allotment. Get ready for the new season.
Start forcing rhubarb. My rhubarb is always very early so cover crowns now.
Keep bird baths watered (break ice if necessary) and top up bird feeders.
Clean and sharpen your tools. Repair any damaged tools or gardening kit and replace if needed.
Then sit back, plan and dream.
All the best for 2018!
All photos taken by Debi Holland ©