January

We will all have appreciated that many large private gardens developed in the mid to late 1800s by the grand Victorian gardeners were the product of the plant hunters who brought us so many species of plant indigenous to the Mediterranean, China and many parts of South America. The recent publicity about Trebah is a testament to the work of the Fox family who appreciated that they could grow so many so called exotic species within the fabulous garden valley.

What we have also come to discover of course is that those gardens were very labour intensive; no petrol powered lawn mowers, garden blowers or hedge trimmers. Just hard manual work by many men.

The first world war wreaked havoc for those gardens (never forgetting the men or their families). The labour force for the gardens disappeared off to war, so many of them never to return, and the priority was the war effort not the gardens, consequently many became overgrown and were lost. Hence the discovery of Heligan and Trebah and others in the next century.

Prior to the Great War many plants became very fashionable in Victorian days, not least the fern families. An enormous number were found and named and many were lost during the war but a handful of dedicated growers kept collections and their value for decoration in a damp area is unsurpassed.

And not all ferns need a damp area. We see many of the asplenium growing in our dry stone walls, seeding and multiplying quickly and cultivated types selling for vast sums ‘up country’ whereas some of us may consider them as rather invasive. Similarly we can keep the dicksonias and washingtonias without fleecing in many parts and keeping their superb fronds through the winter.

Three years ago we had a very long hot summer and sales of exotics such as agave, cacti and succulents went thought the roof. Everybody shouted ‘global warming!’ and rushed to buy drought tolerant plants. In fact global warming almost certainly means windier weather and wetter weather with extremes of both and we have seen this to a certain extent over the past two years (let alone the past two months!!) So the succulents may not get too cold but they dislike wet feet all winter, but the ferns, herbaceous and evergreen prefer the wet and damp and many love our Cornish walls.

Now, the festive season is over, (yes it is), you have ordered your seeds and you aredetermined to turn the New Year with a fresh start in the garden.

Come on; get out of your chair and away from the fire. The days are short so make the most of the dry ones and start work now, and even though it’s frosty there is plenty of cold or slightly warmed greenhouse work to do. Its only 8-9 months until the local shows and you have to start thinking about it NOW!! If it remains so desperately cold though just put all the following jobs of for a week or so – this desperate cold will not last long – will it?

It is time to sow sweet peas in pots, in the greenhouse, if you didn’t do them in November. Do not leave it any later; they will not flower as well. Give them a nice tall pot for that extra root length that they love. It is not too early either to sow those bedding plants that like a longer growing season. I start begonias into growth now so they are ready for bedding displays in May and will sow petunias, salvias and busy lizzies now too.

Just think of the money you will save rather than buying the plugs, and the satisfaction element is great. Sow in modules or seed trays. Modules are easier and cause less root disturbance on transplantation. Give them a cover of glass or cling film and newspaper if they need darkness and a little heat. Yes that all rolled off my pen easily didn’t it. Actually all you have to do is read the seed packet and do exactly as it says. Some seeds need light to germinate, some need dark and some need more heat than others. It isn’t rocket science, honestly, but most failures with seeds will be because of temperature or burying them too deeply.

More jobs for this month- but bear in mind the desperate cold and try and stay off frozen ground and lawns.

Sow broad beans now, they don’t need heat, but take precautions against mice. Broad bean seed comes high on their list of winter delicacies.
Take root cuttings from ceanothus, dicentra, echinacea, eryngium, oriental poppies and verbascum. Root cuttings from variegated plants will not show their variegation but will be green.
Check stakes and bindings on trees, high wind effect may cause movement or rubbing which fatally damages the bark.
Stay off lawns when frozen, but if we thaw out and if areas of the lawn are squelching underfoot take a tyned fork (hollow tynes actually remove a piece of lawn and leave better holes) and push in and wiggle to aerate. Hard work but pays dividends.
Back indoors in the greenhouse or on the window sill, sow small quantities of early lettuce ready to go out in February under cloches, also early cabbage and cauliflowers.

There are so many reasons to be so grateful we live in Cornwall, not least of which is that I may be stuck for something to write this month if I lived further north, those poor folks have to wait another month in their fireside chairs before they can do half of what we can in the garden and greenhouse! We may think its cold but it is nothing compared with some areas of the country.

Happy New Year to everybody! Get to it; I know Spring is round the corner, the daffodils told me…

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