January is the month for being kind to yourself - it is usually cold and dark and I am usually overweight and feeling broke, and I get through it by sticking to some annual rituals. One is checking for the first snowdrop to appear - and it has arrived.
You have to look closely at this picture - but there it is; the first snowdrop of the year was spotted on January 6th, in the middle of the photo, struggling through the clay soil which is perfect for our hydrangeas and Japanese anemones later in the year.
Another ritual is to try and take some time away from home. It is a quiet month in the garden, so, while most of my plants are taking things easily I try to spend some time travelling. This year we have visited Spain and Portugal, both fascinating from a gardener's point of view as I have been able to collect plants and pick up ideas for my planned dry garden back home. Because I live in France and travelled within Schengen the Covid rules were less onerous and I have been able to bring plants back to France legally. You can do this within the EU as long as they are for your own use (i.e. you are not selling them) and are pest and disease free. It is no longer that easy to import plants from the UK.
This photographs was taken at Quinta Palmeira, a landscape garden supplier and nursery in the Eastern Algarve. We bought a range of citrus trees from them about 35 years ago and used them while landscaping the gardens of a villa in the hills behind the coast. I cannot drive past without visiting them. This garden, while far too tender to be exactly replicated in SW France, provides lots of inspiration.
Here is my list of January's to-do list - all waiting for me when I got home.
* Plan any changes you want to make to the garden in 2022. It is easiest to spot faults in your garden's design at this time of year - places where the layout should be changed or where there are gaps to fill in. As always, you cannot beat taking photographs and making notes as you walk around auditing what needs to be done.
* Read catalogues and gardening books and order plants and bulbs for later in the year. It is best to do this in front of the fire while eating cake. We bought some saffron while we were away and the cost was mind-blowing. Note to self, buy some bulbs and grow your own.
* Check your stock of seeds. If your seeds have been kept somewhere cool and dry then they could be used this year; just sow them slightly more thickly to compensate for their age. Some seeds, such as tomatoes and peppers, will last for several years, but there are exceptions - I always find parsnip seeds, for example, need to be fresh.
* Attend to the compost bins. Cold days are perfect for turning compost and repairing or replacing bins. Do try and watch out for hibernating creatures if you can - not always easy, as compost bins are warm and feel safe to small rodents and reptiles.
* Clean out the garden shed - or, in my case corner the of the barn which is dedicated to our garden paraphernalia.
* Wash clay and plastic pots and seed trays.
* Clean garden tools - sharpen secateurs and shears, wash wooden handles and, when dry, treat with linseed oil.
* Continue to water (sparingly) undercover plants in pots, glasshouses and cold frames and houseplants. Check for mildew which can happen when plants are overwatered and not given enough air.
* In the garden check for damage to plants due to frost or wild life and make repairs if needed. Check insulation on tender plants which have been kept outside (and on pipes and taps) as it could become dislodged.
* Don't forget to keep feeding wild birds. And ensure that the water on ponds and in water dispensers for livestock does not freeze over.
* As ever, when weather permits, remove perennial weeds before they establish themselves.
* Be careful where you put your feet. If working on wet soil, stand on wooden boards to spread your weight and avoid compacting the soil. I use a couple of old IKEA Ivar shelves for this purpose. If there has been an overnight frost, then try to avoid standing on the grass before the frost has thawed. The grass can turn brown where you footprints have been.
Finally - I hope you have a very happy, healthy and contented 2022.