January 1st and I have spent about an hour and a half in the garden today - doing things I usually manage to do in November. It was a very strange end to 2023 and all of the rain meant I achieved much less than I hoped. But there is still plenty of time to set the garden up for 2024. January can be an extremely productive time; this is what I will be doing this month:
Ordering seed for next year.
Some, such as chillis, have to be ordered now because they need to be sown this month. I always sow mine in a heated propagator in the second half of January. I find that they are slow to germinate and initially slow to grow. If I don't start in January my young plants are never big enough to plant out with confidence at the end of May. I am only ordering a chilli called Fresno, which is slightly hotter than a Jalapeno, because I have several varieties left over from last year. Last year's two outstanding chillis were Poblano and Piccante a Mazzetti. We will grow these again in 2024.
With other seeds I find that my favourites can be out of stock if I leave ordering them until early spring, so this month I will be placing orders for:
Cosmos - a really easy bedding annual which fills gaps and adds colour until the first frosts.
Cerinthe major purpurascens - a favourite annual, which can overwinter in France. Last year I was too vigilant and removed nearly all the self set seedlings. A little untidiness can be a good thing. Now I have to order some more.
Cobaea scandens - the "Cup and Saucer Vine". This easy to grow vine grows at a tremendous rate once it gets started. I grow the variety with purple flowers but there is also a white version.
Black eyed Susan, because I like a yellow or red vine in our hot garden. Last year I grew Spanish Flag (Ipomoea lobata), so this year I am ringing the changes with this yellow flowering climber.
Morning Glory - another Ipomoea. This year I am growing Heavenly Blue, which is my favourite. I am also tempted to grow Grandpa Ott, a purple flowering variety because it is the same colour as a hydrangea we grow at the east side of the house.
So far I have only selected garlic chives and coriander for next year in the potager. We have a lot of seeds carried over from last year which we will sow slightly more densely as the propagation rate will not be quite so good. One exception is the parsnip. Parsnip seeds really only germinate well if they are fresh - so I bought some for my husband for Christmas.
Cutting back spent seedheads and dead stems as they go black and soggy.
In the past these have always been removed before now, but I am trying to move with the times and so have left a lot of them for overwintering insects and as food for birds. I will not be cutting back any grasses yet, nor anything protecting a frost sensitive plant which is hiding beneath the soil - such as an agapanthus or any half hardy plants I hope will survive the winter.
We leave these grasses - Miscanthus sinensis and a couple of species of Stipa - until spring before we cut them back.
Removing the old leaves of hellebores.
These often show signs of hellebore leaf spot, which is a fungus, so I don't add them to the compost heap. The other reason for removing hellebore leaves is so that you can see the developing flowers much more easily. We already have oriental hellebores and a variety called Helleborus x Eric Smithii flowering along with foetid hellebores and, of course, the Christmas rose which has looked spectacular for about a month. Hellebores are a mainstay in our garden and every year in early spring I transplant young seedlings somewhere else. I can't get enough of them.
Removing any weeds as I come across them
I find that they really develop a strong root system if you allow them to overwinter.
Shaping the untidy edges of borders and/or creating new beds
Then moving any surplus turf which I lift and putting it where there are bald patches or hollows in the grass.
Incidentally - if you are working in a wet garden, then stand on a wooden board to spread your weight. It is very easy to compact the earth beneath your feet which can damage the soil structure.
Cleaning garden tools and pots.
I try to wash them all and sort and stack the pots and their saucers. I also hope to oil the wooden handles of tools with linseed oil and sharpen and oil secateurs, loppers and shears with something like WD40. It is also a very good time to take stock of what needs repairing, replacing and servicing.
I think that is enough for January........It can get very cold outside.