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.
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.
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 (www.botanic.cam.ac.uk)