Action Stations!


One can be excused for inactivity during January – after all, Christmas is exhausting – but with the arrival of February the garden begins to demand one’s attention again.

First of all there are the early signs of spring. Snowdrops are starting to bloom, tiny blue anemones poke tightly curled buds and bronzed leaves through naked gravel, the odd daffodil stands proudly above a pert bundle of bluish leaves, and sweet box starts to fill the air with its honeyed perfume. Nature is on the move, with full-blown spring only weeks away. Beneath the ground roots are forming and reaching out for water and nutrients; buds are swelling in readiness for warmer weather. The garden is priming itself for action and so must we.

Then there’s the forward planning. My pile of seed, bulb and plant catalogues is now 6″ high. Despite my best efforts to carve out time to sit and peruse them, the pages remain largely unthumbed. (January, February and March are my busiest months at work, leaving precious little time to consider anything other than which bauble / wreath / Christmas card I am going to sell the most of in 11 months’ time.) Each glossy brochure is oozing with temptation, like silky macarons glued together with too much delicious filling. I have to be highly selective about what I order from now on to avoid becoming totally inundated by plants come the summer (let’s see how I get along with that resolution ….. place your bets now!).

I normally rely on a proportion of winter casualties to make way for new plants. This is not a good way to go on either financially or professionally, so I am trying to do a better job of keeping my charges alive this year. My workshop resembles a bomb shelter for plants – hardly the ideal conditions, but just providing the best chance of survival available. A few daylight bulbs might improve matters, but that will have to be an investment for next winter.

If I wish to make any major changes to the garden’s layout, now is pretty much the last chance to decide upon them. I am in a ‘Do I? Don’t I?’ situation with several plans at the moment, mainly because of time and budget. Lack of either resource is a complete bore, especially when one is anxious to get on, however constraints are a fact of life and the mothers of creativity. There’s nothing like telling me I can’t achieve something to make me want to achieve it more.

Sunday was a perfect day for gardening – fine, dry and warmish in the sun. Having assumed I’d have very little to do, I found myself pruning, tidying and re-arranging for a good four hours, forgetting the trials of the previous week in seconds. Over Christmas I’d forgotten how marvellously distracting working in the garden could be. My mind very quickly got to thinking about adjustments I need to make before the coming summer. The raised bed around the edge of The Jungle Garden really needs treating as a backdrop for all the plants I grow in pots, which means it needs a little more height and permanence. The look I want to achieve is jungle-edge exuberance, with more foliage than flower. I shall probably tackle the job of moving things around in May, by which time seriously cold weather is unlikely. The original planting plan was devised for a much sunnier situation, so I’ll be removing plants that require more sun than they’re ever likely to experience again. No room for hangers on in a small garden.

Without irrigation the raised bed is now good for nothing except very drought-tolerant plants, since the trees draw up an extraordinary amount of moisture. Even after last week’s rain and sleet the soil is like dust. For someone who grew up gardening on heavy clay it is incomprehensible that a garden might need watering in February. I am thankful that my water supply can’t be metered, giving me the flexibility to run a soaker hose a couple of nights a week when needed. The difference this has made is staggering, allowing me to grow thirsty plants such a colocasias and bananas towards the back of the border. Neither died down naturally this year, so I had to crop them for their own good. If the cold doesn’t take them out, the wind will.

If you’re still languishing indoors, waiting for spring to arrive in earnest, use February to plan ahead. Before you know it there will be plants and weeds springing up everywhere and you won’t know how to keep on top of it all. TFG.