Discover articles on garden design, seasonal planting tips for your garden and other news and views from Gillian Goodson Designs.

Embracing the January garden

Galanthus elwesii —look out for early snowdrops  (Gillian Goodson Designs)

Galanthus elwesii—look out for early snowdrops (Gillian Goodson Designs)

The big push for Christmas and the New Year festivities are over and January may feel a little flat, if not around the mid-riff. It’s cold outside so all the more tempting to keep that front door firmly shut. Those a little more daring will be rewarded for embracing the spirit. There’s something special about feeling cold air on your face while the rest of you is, hopefully, warm, tilting your face slightly upwards and taking a deep breath of crisp, cold air, your lungs tingling with mixed delight and shock. 

The days are starting to lengthen, and there is activity to be found in gardens and nature. We just need to be a little bit more attentive. A handful of worthy plants among some strong contenders to be on the lookout for are: 

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’ (witch hazel) bright, lemon-yellow clusters of sweetly scented flowers on bare twigs. The clusters are like a child’s art project gone wrong, endearing but possibly scary at the same time. If yellow isn’t for you, try Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’, which has coppery-red flowers. 

The aptly named Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ (dogwood) is an explosion of fiery-orange, yellow throughout winter and all the more glorious against a dark backdrop such as a deep, evergreen hedge, Taxus baccata; our native yew. 

A great choice not just for smaller gardens is Prunus serrula (Tibetan cherry). It has shiny, polished-like mahogany-coloured bark. It is beautiful throughout the year but can stop you in your tracks in winter—it is hard to resist touching that spectacular bark and is wonderful under-planted with winter-flowering bulbs. 

That leads me neatly to snowdrops. There are keen devotees whose knowledge would far surpass mine, and rare bulbs, which fetch in the hundreds of pounds. Whether you’re a ‘galanthophile’ or not, there is much admiration in something so seemingly delicate yet which has stalwart strength and hardy determination. An early-flowering one is the honey-scented, nodding, white heads of Galanthus elwesii, which will take you from January through to February. 

On dark, wet days it’s a great time to open those catalogues and search for inspiration: order your seeds! Some sweet pea enthusiasts will be busy sowing seeds indoors and potato ones will be chitting first early seed potatoes. For others, it’s a good time to carry out repair jobs including painting or treating fences, sheds and the like on drier days. Whatever you do, remember to feed our feathery friends, as food sources will be scarce or frozen!