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Garden Journal 2023

Each month Paul shares insights from his own garden here. From pruning roses, to tackling slugs, Paul’s gardening advice and anecdotes are a valuable read for any novice, or expert gardener.

January

 

The quick cold blasts of last month have left their mark, but while it is tempting to search out damaged plants, cut back dead sections and dig out those that seem beyond the point of recovery, it is best to leave plants until spring to be sure new shoots do not develop at the base. A case in point in my garden is Melianthus. This year, its towering stems of exotic foliage have been burnt away, but I am resisting the temptation to cut them back, as this would allow cold further into the plant. Instead, I am simply waiting to see new signs of life on branches and at the base, which I know will come in the warmer days of March.  

 

Another reason to leave plants well alone is that there is usually a cold snap in February. Open wounds, even on dormant plants, can allow cold in and cause them to die back further.

 

If you have not planted your spring bulbs due to frost or wet weather, now you really need to find a good dry day to plant them in the ground. Or, if time really is running out, put your bulbs in pots and place them around your door to make your home more welcoming in late winter and early spring as they start to bloom. I have planted bulbs, and will be planting more bulbs this month, but it really is the last chance saloon.

 

Signs of life are emerging this month from the Winter Aconite; its little yellow flowers find their origin in Greek and Roman mythology. According to the myth, Medea attempted to murder Theseus by tainting his wine with the poisonous saliva of Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guarded the underworld. Hercules dragged Cerberus out from the underworld, and the light of day upset Cerberus. While barking his protest, his poison saliva fell on the path around him. The saliva hardened into stones in the soil, and from those stones Winter Aconite grew. The Greeks called the flowers aconite, from the word ‘akone’ meaning ‘whetstone’, and it is true Eranthis is a very poisonous yet beautiful plant.

 

The China blue flowers of Scilla are one of the first welcome sights from late January. Squills or bluebells are a common sight of European woodlands, growing up to 30cm high and sometimes becoming invasive. The smaller and more unusual alpine Scilla, such as Scilla mischtschenkoana, comes into flower much earlier and has brilliant blue flowers roughly 10cm high; you can imagine they travelled back from the high deserts of the South Caucasus and Iran after being viewed against the golden sands of spring. 

 

The most common small Scilla is Scilla siberica, the Siberian squill, which for such a small bulb has an impressive range from southwestern Russia to the Caucasus and Turkey. It is not native to Siberia, but instead was named by the British botanist Adrian Haworth. The genus Haworthia, a group of succulents from Mozambique and Namibia, is named after him rather curiously.

 

Let’s hope the cold spell doesn’t last and we soon see these glories of colour return to our gardens.

January
Image by Simon Berger
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Gardeners Digest by RBC Brewin Dolphin with Paul Hervey-Brookes 2021

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