One of the many varieties of snowdrop to be seen at Angelsey Abbey garden nr. Cambridge

This is an exciting time in the garden. In spite of the grey cold days we may be experiencing, take a closer look in the flowerbeds and you will see there is hope! Early bulbs should be pushing their way through the soil by the beginning of February: drifts of dwarf iris, crocus, snowdrops, tiny daffodils, all harbingers of approaching spring. The leaves of evergreens are prominent now: ivies hollies, yew and laurel and these together with trees, hedges and shrubs, already in bud, emphasize the framework of the garden. Plants to enjoy now include those that turn red in response to colder weather such as Bergenia purpurascens , a fantastic front of border plant whose leaves turn a deep beetroot red  in winter (especially if grown in a sunny position) and the evergreen climber Trachelospermum jasminoides (the star jasmine) whose leaves turn  a burnished red in winter.

This ornamental white stemmed bramble, Rubus cockburnianus, is shown off here to its best as a specimen plant among a dazzle of bright pink Cyclamen coum

Divide perennials
such as Bergenias.

Hellebores: Remove old leaves and destroy to avoid the spread of leaf spot. The flowers will be easier to see too.

Cut back ornamental grasses, such as Miscanthus, to ground level. This should be done mid January to February.  Try to do this before the new leaves appear.  If they have already started to grow, you will have to only cut back to the level of the new leaves. If the time has come to divide the grass because it is too big, now is the season to so. This is usually the job for 2 people and a saw to cut vertically through the roots!  Discard the dead centre if applicable and replant the more vigorous outer parts with the addition of some new compost or leafmould. For best results  plant in sun or light shade.

Winter pruning: Maintenance pruning on Trachelospermum jasminoides is done is spring, and consists of thinning out congested, weak or badly placed shoots. Wayward branches can be tied back to their supports to improve the shape of the plant.

Fruit trees: Apples, pears, currants and gooseberries should all be pruned before the end of February. Autumn raspberries should be cut to ground level.

Shrubs: Start pruning the fully hardy shrubs that bloomed in late summer of last year such as Buddleja, Hypericum and hydrangeas.

Clematis: prune late flowering clematis (eg. viticella)reducing last year’s growth to strong buds just above the base.  Early flowering clematis such as C. montana require almost no pruning. Immediately after flowering you can reduce the size of stems and cut out dead wood and weak stems. Those that flower before midsummer should be lightly pruned to cut out tangled stems and remove old flower heads.

Don’t forget to feed the birds: Hanging bird feeders for the tits, fruit/ rotten apples for ground feeders such as blackbirds and redwings. A shallow bowl of water will also be appreciated. Wash bird feeders and bird baths regularly to prevent spread of infection.

Birches and bergenias at Angelsey Abbey

Finally, for winter garden inspiration visit one of my favourite winter gardens at Angelsey Abbey (National Trust garden at Lode, Cambridge) : snowdrop season is 24 January to 27 February; or Cambridge Botanic Garden (

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December in Your Garden

Although the usual advice is to plant bulbs soon after purchasing them, if you have not yet got around to planting the ones you bought back in the autumn, don’t worry  as it is not to late and in fact December is a good time to plant tulips. It is even still worth planting daffodils if you haven’t got around to it yet. It would be a shame to waste them,  so what have you got to loose?

If you have a small garden I recommend planting your tulips in pots. You can then move them into your borders or put them on the patio as they come into flower and remove them somewhere discrete to die down when they have finished flowering. If you have a heavy soil they may survive better for the following year in a pot without having to dry them out and replant. Generally though, they do best if new tulips are planted each year.

A handy tool: a sturdy long handled bulb planter by Darlac

In a pot you can crowd the bulbs in for a sumptuous display, and disregard the normal planting distances. They need good drainage, so a terracotta pot is best.  Start by putting crocks and about 5 cm of gravel at the bottom of the pot. Put bulbs that need to be planted deepest in first and work your way up in staggered layers. Add slow release fertiliser to the soil.  If possible, stand the pot on ‘pot feet’, a couple of bricks/ tiles or what ever you have to hand.

For planting in the open ground: most need to be covered with soil to about 2-3 times the bulb’s height (deeper in lighter than heavy soil) and should be spaced at 2-3 times their own width apart. Fork some bone meal into the bottom of the planting hole followed by a layer of coarse sand / fine grit. Cover with soil and firm gently.

Squirrels! If you are pestered by squirrels digging up your bulbs I have found that this works well for pots: Invert an empty wire hanging basket over the pot and peg it to the soil with a tent peg or similar or tuck the chain of the hanging  basket under the pot to keep it in place. Some squirrels that have been practising weight-lifting over the summer will not be deterred so a good layer of  garden grit on the surface , especially the ceramic waste kind if you can get it, should do the trick.  When the leaves reach the top of the basket in spring you can remove it.

Some other jobs for December:

  • Prune overgrown deciduous hedges, making sure they taper , with the base wider than the top
  • Clear leaves from around plants if the foliage is diseased. Burn diseased plant material.
  • Clean out sheds and greenhouses and ensure that downpipes aren’t blocked
  • Once the deciduous leaves have gone, assess your garden and decide if you need to plant some structural evergreen shrubs. Move badly placed deciduous plants. Planting  of these can carry on as long as the soil is not frozen or very wet but wait until spring to plant evergreen and tender plants.
  • Leave attractive seed heads on perennials for winter interest and for birds. Clean out and fill bird feeders

Winter colour at Angelsey Abbey:   Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ and Prunus serrula

Special Offer Why not give a garden advice session for Christmas? For a limited period, a 2 hour advice session gift token is available from Kathy Taylor Garden Designs for only £75 (normal price £ 90). (Offer end 31st December2011. Special offer limited to Herts, West Essex and north/east London).  Phone 07884073545 or email info@kathytaylordesigns for more information or to request a voucher.

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Autumn in your garden


After last year’s severe winter and the dry/wet summer now is a good time to assess your garden and decide if you need to replace any shrubs  and trees that were damaged  and that may be either dead or beyond redemption. October is a good time to plant to get them settled in before the cold weather starts. However, if October and November are dry, you will need to remember to keep watering them.

If your garden lacks colour at this time of year consider some of the wonderful autumn colouring shrubs and trees that are available such as the shrub Cotinus .

Cotinus ‘Grace’ (shown above) is a favourite of mine as it is not as dark purple as the more commonly seen  C. coggria Royal Purple and the leaves are larger if you prune it to 20cm or so about ground level after the first year in March) . Also check out some of the deciduous Euonymus : The winged spindle tree,  E. alatus for example, turns a fiery  red with the additional bonus of reddish purple fruits. If you are looking for a climber with autumn colour,  vines such as Vitis vinifera ‘Purpurea’ turn a beautiful burgundy and red at this time of year. I will be posting images of this climber and other great autumn plants as they start to turn in the weeks to come, so watch this space.  Vitis coignetiae is a vigorous and large leaved vine with spectacular autumn colour (but to be sure of a good specimen select it when it is actually showing its autumn colours).  Alternatively the Virginia Creeper is a self clinging vigorous climber of which there are several varieties:  my choice would be Parthenocissus  tricuspidata for the way its glossy leaves form rhythmical patterns on the wall or fence. The variety ‘Veitchii’ has darker red foliage. Any of these climbers will quickly cover a wall or unsightly shed.

If you have a large garden my tree of choice would be the Liquidamber and its leaves of the richest claret will remain on the tree well into the winter.  Perfect for a smaller garden, Amelanchier, especially multi-stemmed varieties will not only give you autumn reds and oranges but beautiful white or pink blossom in spring.

Other autumn favorites are the japanese maples, such a Acer palmatum var. dissectum Atropurpureum Group and the oak leaved Hygrangea: H. quercifolia shown in this image (centre) with Amelanchier (left) just starting to turn. If the winter is mild this Hydrangea may keep its leaves.


Plants for Free!

Many perennial plants (those that generally die down in winter and come up again in the spring) that have outgrown their space or become congested, can be divided in autumn when the days get cooler and active growth stops. Autumn division works well for Hellebores and peonies but leave lily of the valley (Convalleria) , Epimedium and Ulvaria until after flowering next year if possible. Whenever you divide them make sure that there is plenty of root and  trim excess foliage away, keep the divisions moist and sheltered until established. Putting them in pots may help to protect them temporarily until ready to be planted out in a new area of your garden.

Don’t forget to leave ornamental seed heads of sedums, grasses and other perennials to give interesting winter shapes in your border.

Check list for October:

Scarify lawns and apply an autumn fertiliser

Plant bare rooted roses

Establish new hedges

Lift tender perennials (or to save room take cuttings) and bring tender plants indoors

Dig over heavy soil as it is cleared of annual flowers and vegetables

Fill bird feeders after cleaning them out.

Raise pots and containers on special pot supports or pieces of wood or brick to improve drainage over winter

Check list for November:

Prune back the shrubs that put on a lot of branch length over the summer (such as Buddleias & Laveteras) by about a third

Plant tulips at 3 times the depth of the bulb.

Divide perennials

Disinfect greenhouses and potting benches, cover the glass with bubble wrap

Collect deciduous autumn leaves to make leave mould: TIP by mowing them with the grass, they get shredded and will compost in double quick time. Store the shredded leaves in sealed black plastic bags, with holes punched in, leave for 12 months and then  you can use it as a seed or potting compost, soil conditioner or mulch.

Coming soon: Hot tips for protecting your bulbs from squirrels…

Need  more advice? Kathy Taylor Garden Designs charges £45 per hour for an on-site garden advice session  or a flat fee of £75 for a design consultation. To book  call 020 8999 8310 or 07884 073545.

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