Gardening in winter

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Jonquils from the garden of my grandmother bloom now

It can be quite hard to motivate oneself to go outside to do a spot of gardening on a winter's day. It's easier if it's nice weather - with the sun shining and the temperature mild - but on a bleak, cold day with leaden skies, the thought of lying on the sofa under a cosy throw rug with a good book has far greater appeal. On such days, it can take all my self-discipline to don my gardening clothes and head out to do some tasks. I usually bribe myself by saying that if I put the gardening clothes ON, I can then have a cup of tea on a garden bench before having to start work. Before I know it, though, with my cuppa half-drunk, I find myself engaged in the garden, checking out my plants, seeing weeds, and desperate to do some gardening! Having some winter-blooming plants in flower (such as the jonquils, pictured above) can also lure us on to explore the garden. Once I start moving, I find I do warm up quite well and I begin to enjoy myself.

There is something so peaceful and tranquil about the garden in winter. There is a stillness that doesn't seem to be present in other seasons. One can almost feel that everything has slowed down and somehow that seems to help relax the gardener's mind down too - quite therapeutic when the rest of life is busy. Because there is not the frantic growth of spring and summer, one can go about one's gardening in a less hurried manner. In turn, this gives us time to really look at our gardens and plants closely.

Self-seeded Nicotiana langsdorffii in my garden

Such examination yields a number of benefits. We can find exciting little seedlings that have come up; in other seasons, we might not even notice them. At the moment, I am enjoying spotting seedlings of such spring annuals as Orlaya, Nigella, Nicotiana langsdorffii, honesty and forget-me-nots that have self-seeded, plus some tiny poppy seedlings from a packet of red Flanders poppies I was given in autumn, which in a hurry I tossed into a garden bed, thinking, 'Well, I bet THEY never come up!' There are also seedlings of perennials such as hellebores and Linaria appearing, and even baby shrubs, such as Rhinacanthus beesiana. I leave some of these seedlings where they are, thin out others so the remainders can have a decent amount of space, and dig up the rest to be sold on the sales table of the local garden club.

Leaves of the corms of Watsonia Wedding Bells in my garden

It's also a delight to look at the fresh foliage of spring bulbs and corms, and dream about their flowers in spring. It's fascinating to look at the bare tracery of twigs on deciduous spring-blooming shrubs, too, and visualise that in just a few months time, they will be covered in gorgeous flowers. It is sometimes hard to believe that all the gaps in the garden will fill in again, but I know they will! I often grow quick-growing crops of herbs and leafy vegetables in the gaps in my borders in winter where Dahlia, for example, lie dormant.

Salvia Amistad was in the wrong place in my garden and has just been moved

Another great advantage of having time to stop and stare in the winter garden is that it gives us a chance to work out what is in the wrong place and where it might be better sited. It seems easier to gauge this in winter, when all the frippery of flowers and many leaves has gone and we see the bare bones of the garden. And, what is even better, is that winter is simply the best time to move plants around! The cooler weather and slowed growth allows them to get over the shock and stress of being moved and the prognosis of the transplant is much better than plants moved in the warmer months. Do keep any moved plant well watered, however, for some weeks. A dose of Seasol in the water will help the plant to recover well.

All my Salvia leucantha plants have been pruned this week

I start cutting back some of my plants at this time of year. Salvia plants that show their new growth at the base of the shrub (such as Salvia leucantha and 'Meigan's Magic') can safely be pruned now except in the very cold suburbs, when this job is best left to late winter or very early spring. I also cut back all my ornamental grasses now (mainly Miscanthus cultivars), along with my daylilies and Kniphofia. The foliage of the latter two plants is cut to the ground, as are all the dead stems of the Dahlia. Plants which are more semitropical, such as my Acanthaceae plants, other Salvia and Plectranthus are left until August, so that their existing leafy canopies will protect them from cold spells . Of course, spring-blooming shrubs are left well alone, otherwise we will be removing their flowering wood! Hydrangea can be tackled, and in July it will be time to do roses and Fuchsia cultivars. It's good to be able to spread out the cutting back over several months, as all our prunings go through the mulching machine: a daunting job. I love removing all the old foliage and imagining the new leaves growing, all fresh and pristine, in a few months' time.

Abutilon and Tagetes lemmonii are winter-bloomers in my garden

And of course, there are many winter flowers to enjoy whilst you are in the garden at this time: Daphne; Salvia such as 'Timboon', 'Costa Rica Blue', Salvia elegans Purple Form and Salvia rubiginosa; Camellia japonica; Corsican hellebores; Abutilon; Tagetes lemmonii - and many more! See here for what is out in my garden at the moment.

Remember how awful it was trying to garden in those summer heatwaves? Gardening in winter is actually a joy!

Reader Comments

  • By Mary 2089 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 26 June 2017

    Yes, it"s good to slow down though winter is short; some of the old leaves on my fig trees are still hanging on but new leaves have already emerged. Yes there are already signs of spring with buds etc! Deirdre

  • By Gillian 2119 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 26 June 2017

    Like you I had a productive day in the garden as well. Totally rugged up I raked up all the autumn leaves and put them in the compost bin. Trimmed off the old foliage to make way for the new on my Salvia Leucantha, cut back Sasanqua Camellias and basically tidied up areas in the front garden. Put the sprinkler on throughout the garden and just enjoyed being there observing new growth. My two large Salvias are flowering namely:"Timboon" and"Karwinskii" planted towards the back of the garden.Sounds a great gardening day! Those big winter-flowering salvias are amazing, aren"t they. I think they combine well with camellias. Deirdre

  • By Kerrie 2104 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 26 June 2017

    Spot on, very well said. My little dog & gardening companion has had some eye surgeries that have left him unable to see until he heals so I"ve not been able to get out into the garden. What i have enjoyed is reading all my gardening books mostly the ones from great gardens I"ve visited around the world. Sounds a great way to spend a winter"s day, Kerrie! Deirdre

  • By Anton Hong Kong Monday, 26 June 2017

    I never get a rest, for me it"s one long manic activity ): While we are in Summer there are all the fecund tropicals and subtropical growing like wild fire and in "winter" the cooler dry season Im planting and planning a summer garden like back in the UK. Things that grows in Summer back in Northern Europe are winter annuals......it"s tiring yes absolutely. The only "rest" I get is to try escape to Bali or Bangkok.....putting my feet up is out of the question so many plants to collect...... Wow, that sounds amazing, Anton! Deirdre

  • By Georgina 2076 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 26 June 2017

    Hi Deirdre, Take a cuppa out to the garden and that"s where I"ll be for the day-even hanging out the clothes can take hours! Love "Matron"s Rounds" each day no matter what the weather. Winter in Sydney is beautiful. I love those rounds - I look at each plant and admire it (or see something eating it). Deirdre

  • By Bryce 4275 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 26 June 2017

    Well I"m digging up tiger grass to take home to my patch tomoz! Will definitely keep me warm getting it out. Sounds great! Deirdre

  • By margaret 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Wednesday, 28 June 2017

    I delight in wandering around the garden in winter. Although the weather is usually cold, and sometimes windy,the little treasures which appear, unheralded, more than make up for the miserable weather. Seedlings in my garden of lupins, schizanthus and poppy varieties, as well as new plantings of Dutch iris, Iris reticulata and ifafa lilies are all making an appearance. Old favourites, such as snowflakes and jonquils are already blooming. It is a joy to spend time wandering in the winter garden. I love seeing all the little details that I wouldn"t notice at other times of the year. Deirdre

  • By Anton Hong Kong Wednesday, 28 June 2017

    Deirdre, those mini daffodils are a puzzle. I planted up a nice terracotta pot full of them in a bed of faery primulas for my Mum who has retired to Tasmania. I know everything is literally upside down in Australia he he, but she tells me they are all up already!!! Their winter as far as I could tell was just beginning, are these winter flowering daffodils? They are quite rare daffodils going by the price of the little bulbs. I got them from a lovely Dutch guy Van Diemen at the Saturday market. I guess they would certainly be starting to grow now; if they are flowering it would seem to be rather early though! However, all my jonquils are in bloom now so anything is possible. Deirdre

  • By Anton Hong Kong Wednesday, 28 June 2017

    Interesting. I thought they only start growing then flower in Spring, one whoosh like they do in Northern Europe. She just said they had started to shoot. I looked on Van Diemens site where he comments season by season on general happenings in "them hills" and he says the sheep lamb in winter in Tasmania!? There does seem to be some topsy turvy upside bio rhythm going on because most definitely I"ve only ever seen sheep lambing in Spring! If they did in winter mostly they would freeze to death.

  • By Anton Hong Kong Wednesday, 28 June 2017

    I also planted a small double one in my Mums lawn as a surprise in nice big drifts. This was end of February, it was very hot still. She hasn"t mentioned anything about that. Maybe there are just winter flowering daffs, spring flowering and summer flowering types. Those sheep in winter did get me wondering though.

  • By Michael 2463 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Wednesday, 28 June 2017

    Nice blog!I think gardening in winter is not that tough. If one have interest in getting the flowers bloomed up in his garden, no season is tough for him. Or else hiring the professionals who can give better gardening advice along with the attractive landscapes is the better option.

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