Of course any January list has to start with a deep curtsey to the queen of the garden, Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ standing in regal splendour by my front door. She can grow to be 12 ft tall and mine is already getting there. She is semi- evergreen although in very cold weather the leaves drop. And she is robed in glorious pink from top to bottom. This daphne is reputed to be somewhat tender but as it survived the Beast from The East last year I think it is pretty robust. After all it comes from high altitude in the Himalayas. The scent is incredibly sweet and delicious. If you have nothing else in your winter garden, I should find space for one of these showstoppers, preferably by your front door.
Daphne odora is pretty too although not in the same league as glorious Jacqueline. It is slightly tender but the gold edged form, Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ is hardier. It forms a rounded bush and has glossy evergreen leaves. The flowers are just as fragrant but much sparser.
The other star of the winter garden is undoubtedly the Witch Hazel. Cathy at Rambling in the Garden is totally under their spell and has more than anyone I know. And I can understand her need to keep on adding just one more because they come in such a beautiful colours. I have eight and still counting and it really isn’t enough, I want a grove of them. They don’t all bloom at the same time so the interest doesn’t come all at once. They are exquisitely beautiful with their spidery, sea anemone tufts and they are fragrant. The scent is not noticeable outside but if you pick a few sprigs for a vase they stay fresh for days and release their lovely spicy fragrance. Whatever the weather throws at them they bloom on quite unperturbed. And some of them have beautiful autumn foliage. So really what’s stopping me having my own Witch Hazel grove? Well the price actually, they are all grafted and very expensive. They are said to prefer an acid soil but they don’t get that here and as long as they are provided with nice compost and not allowed to dry out in summer they are fine. In my garden the reds and oranges are the first to bloom. ‘Orange Peel’ is first of all and it is also my favourite.
Here is ‘Vesna’ just coming out and the rest have to wait until February. ‘Vesna’ has the best autumn foliage in my garden.
I suppose so many winter flowering shrubs are fragrant to catch the attention of any pollinators brave enough to be out and about when it is so cold and inhospitable. It makes a walk through the winter garden a delicious experience. Sarcococca is gorgeously fragrant, it has a musky, honey scent and it loves a woodland position. Ideally I would love a hedge of these beauties similar to the one at Anglesey Abbey which makes your walk from the car park to the visitor’s centre such a sensory delight. But they are expensive to buy so I content myself with a few dotted about the garden. They are evergreen and bear plenty of berries, in fact the name means ‘juicy berry’ so maybe it would be worth trying to grow some from seed. Sarcococca confusa has quite broad leaves and cream flowers. It has black berries after flowering.
Sarcococca hookerianna var.digyna is shorter and has narrower leaves and the little flowers are tinged with pink.
My latest one has purple stems. The leaves are flushed with red.
I chose lovely Clematis cirrhosa ‘Wisley Cream’ for my December favourites list. It is looking better than ever and is quite unperturbed by the freezing cold weather at the moment.
But this month’s clematis is a little tender. It can take temperatures down to -5 which is about 23 fahrenheit I think. So just in case I will probably keep it in my cold greenhouse. I love its waxy white bells and evergreen foliage.
I have a very special little daffodil which is usually blooming by Christmas Day or at the latest the beginning of January. This year for some reason I have only got leaves and no blooms. It is going to get very careful feeding and watering this year because the little charmer is one of the joys of the winter. It is very rare and special, it is called Narcissus minor ‘Cedric Morris’ and you can read about its history here. I popped down to my green-fingered friend Maggie’s to take a photograph of hers so that you can see what it looks like. It is only 10 inches tall and a perfect gem. This freezing morning had all the snowdrops and hellebores drooping about on the ground looking miserable but this little chap is quite unconcerned.
But I have a little narcissus in the greenhouse to enjoy. I am not sure how hardy it is but anyway, I am going to keep it in a pot so that I can enjoy in comfort. Outside its delicate beauty would might get spoiled. It is the hoop petticoat Narcissus romieuxi ‘Julia Jane’.
Gradually the carpets of winter aconites Eranthis hyemalis are spreading. They start off as perfectly round yellow buttons surrounded by a green ruff. As soon as the sun comes out they open out into buttercups. Reginald Farrer complained that the colour is ‘almost dreadful, an acrid, malavolent yellow…’ Well, he was difficult to please. In fact he said he retired into his orchid house to kill woodlice in January.
Not only did Farrer complain about winter aconites but he said snowdrops gave him chilblains. He said: ‘Was there ever such an icy, inhuman, bloodless flower, crystallised winter in three gleaming petals and a green flecked cup?’ Ungrateful man, with opinions like this I hope the woodlice ate all his orchids. I am going to try and be restrained and just show just a few of my darlings. I know a lot of you think a snowdrop is a snowdrop but you are quite wrong there. We are perfectly poised in the snowdrop season with plenty to enjoy now and plenty still to come. Most of them are looking too sad and frozen to be photographed today so here are just a few. The rest will perk up when the freeze comes to an end.
I admit I am a hellebore bore, well who can resist them there are so many wonderful new hybrids? The first to flower is usually the Christmas rose, Helleborus niger but I prefer to keep it in a pot in the greenhouse because outside it often gets splashed with dirt and eaten by slugs.
I keep Helleborus lividus in the greenhouse too because it is not quite hardy as it comes from Majorca.
The wonderful Helleborus x eriicsmithii hybrids are a cross between Helleborus niger and Helleborus lividus, they are all gorgeous with lovely foliage and masses of flowers.
And then we have the Rodney Davey Marbled Leaf Group, a lot of them with girls’ names. I love ‘Penny’s Pink’ but ‘Anna’s Red’ is a particular favourite.
But I also love ‘Cheryl’s Shine’
And not forgetting ‘Molly’s White’.
All the Lenten hellebores which used to be Helleborus orientalis are now Helleborus x hybridus which makes sense as their are so many hybrids around now. I have plenty in the garden because the previous owner clearly liked them and they have seeded around very happily. The only care they have is a bit of bonemeal in March. In early January I cut off all the leaves to display them better and to prevent the spread of blackspot. Tougher leaves like those on the Corsican hellebore, Helleborus argutifolius don’t seem to get this though and their leaves are part of the attraction.
Another hellebore with apple green flowers is the native Helleborus foetidus which is short- lived but it seeds around with abandon.
The little irises which are a joy in February will be featured next month but I couldn’t resist adding one which I have in bloom in the greenhouse right now.
For my last January flower I am going into the house. My father grew orchids and had a specially designed orchid house where he kept them. Mine have to do with window sills. But the north facing kitchen window sill suits them very well, although my resident chef complains that they are in the way. Still, that is one of the penalties of living with a plantaholic. The Moth orchids, Phalaenopsis are the easiest and very cheap to buy now that they are micropropagated. They bloom for weeks in the summer and then rest for a while and by January they are off again, one almost gets tired of them because they are in bloom so long. The dark Cambria orchid is rather more refined and sophisticated. I have two slipper orchids, Cypripedium and they just bloom once a year in winter, they look almost unreal. The pansy orchid, Miltonia is more tricky and I have trouble keeping it. It has the added bonus of being fragrant. The large Cymbidium is my pride and joy because this is the first time it has flowered in three years. They can be reluctant to flower every year. Mine live in the garden in the summer and when they are not in bloom in winter they have to stay in the greenhouse where they take up far too much room. The main pest of these orchids is scale insect although I have found miltonias susceptible to mealy bug.
I would love it if you would share whatever you are enjoying in your January garden. It doesn’t have to be ten, even one winter beauty would be lovely.