Recently I have realised that gardeners can be divided into two broad groups: the fair-weather gardeners, and the all-weather gardeners. Many members of the first group have been complaining to me of late that they cannot get into their gardens at this time of year, because it is winter, and it is too cold. To me this is more a mental hurdle than a reality, as the truth is that we are blessed to live and garden in a climate where winter gardening is still possible, and in deed is often more pleasurable than summer gardening. The temperature does not drop below zero, the ground does not freeze, you do not have to worry about getting burnt, and you do not have to stress about watering and keeping your plants alive – the rain does it all for you.
There are relatively few days in winter when the weather is so bad that you cannot get out and work (or play) in your garden. On all but the bleakest of days, of which there really are not all that many, after a short burst of gardening, you will have warmed up and you may even have to remove a layer or two, so that you do not get too hot. On those few days when the weather does not permit you to be outside gardening, take the opportunity to do sharpen, clean, oil and maintain garden tools. The simple task of sharpening your secateurs can make pruning a lot quicker and easier, and result in less tearing and damage to your plants. It will also make your tools last longer and save you having to replace them as often.
These days also are a great time to schedule in some garden planning, working out how you can redesign your garden to improve its structure, content and drought tolerance. Do you need to design in some more shade with trees or structures, do you want to add focal points or simply rearrange garden beds where there have been some casualties? Take those stormy days to sit in the warmth inside, gaining inspiration from the huge range of gardening books and magazines.
Winter gardening jobs include planting, and oh what a joy this is, when the ground is moist and easy to dig. This is the perfect time to plant things that are bare rooted such as ornamental and fruit trees, grape vines and roses. Add herbs to your vegetable garden, and fill in any gaps in the rest of your garden.
You can prune roses this month, as well as fruit trees, grape vines, hydrangeas and wisteria. There are also many general clean up jobs that should be done at this time of year. If you get weeds under control at this time of year and mulch garden beds it will save you a lot of time and effort once they explode into growth in spring. Weeding is so much easier in winter with the ground moist and often soft.
Around the patch I have been trying to follow my own advice and do a winter tidy up. Summer flowering perennials like catmint and some salvias have been given a haircut, as have the last Buddlejas to finish flowering.