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Gardener's Diary 

                                 January 2007


Sixty ninth edition -  January 2007   

Winter-Flowering Shrubs


With the festivities behind us there is more time to get out in the garden and re-charge your batteries with some gentle exercise and fresh air, weather permitting of course. Talking of weather, it`s always difficult writing a column in advance for, as I write this in mid December, I have, unbelievably, just mowed the lawn, as the weather is so mild. Our climate really does seem to be changing as Autumn is lingering longer and Spring coming sooner, making our winters thankfully shorter. However by the time you read this we could be in the throes of an arctic winter...

An introduction from Rosemary Martin...

I have been gardening now as a hobby for about thirty years, but have no formal training..  I don't have a favourite style of gardening, traditional is nice, but I also think the modern trends work well. 

This column adds a new dimension to my interest in all aspects of horticulture and will hopefully help others find pleasure in this healthy and therapeutic pastime  ...  

Please e-mail me with your garden problems, comments, or ideas for this section of  laterlife, remembering to tell me which country you are from..  


Click here for previous editions of Gardener's Diary..

Those little jobs you didn't have time for can still be done;  the greenhouse can be cleaned and tidied and the bulbs sprouting in a corner of the shed can still be planted in the garden. They will flower a little later than normal but will catch up in subsequent years. That`s the beauty of gardening, there are no hard and fast rules. Plants are very amenable and if something doesn`t work, try a different approach. Over the years I have lost very few plants through ignorance.

I have noticed that some plants are now flowering out of season due to the milder winters we've been experiencing, and this may result in their usual display at the normal flowering time being a less than impressive affair.. But they will sort themselves out no doubt.

January is usually considered to be the month of greenhouse and armchair gardening, yet outside the snowdrops are beginning to show and shrubs such as Viburnum Tinus - both variegated and plain versions, Mahonia and Jasminum nudiflorum are flowering their heads off. In mild conditions you will see unexpected treasures such as primroses, polyanthus, wallflowers and crocus making an early appearance. I have planned my garden so that it is full of colour in the winter months. Many of my plants, shrubs and trees are evergreens, with different leaf shapes and colours, so I have a bright cheerful tapestry of interesting cheerful things to look at out of the windows and when I go for walks round the garden..


The Essential Garden Design Workbook

As we are at the beginning of the year and there may be some of you starting a garden from scratch, or even moving house, the first thing to do is find out what kind of soil you have in your garden. Soil is the foundation of successful gardening and constantly needs improving. Any soil will grow something and because of this gardeners are apt to take their soil for granted and not add anything to it in the way of fertiliser or compost. But good soil, rich and healthy, can enable a gardener to get twice the results with half the effort..

The first thing to do then is to get a soil testing kit from your local garden centre or DIY shop, and test the PH of your soil, thereby getting an idea of the type of plants your soil will support. You may also have different types of soil in different parts of your garden. It is easily apparent whether soil is light or heavy but only a chemical investigation will reveal whether it is acid or alkaline. Once you have discovered your soil type or types, you can go ahead with suitable planting for the location and soil type. There are several types of soil testing kits available; those that allow only a single one-off test, kits that allow approximately five testings and then there is a hand held PH meter with a probe that`s pushed into the ground giving a quick and easy - but not necessarily 100% accurate - reading, which will allow repeated testing and last for many years.


21st-Century Smallholder: From Window Boxes To Allotments - How To Go Back To The Land Without Leaving Home

The other aspect that I consider important when starting a garden from scratch is to check the drainage.. If your garden is very soggy and the rain water doesn`t drain away very well, or worse, it drains away towards your house if you`re on a slope, then it`s well worth considering having your garden land drained. This involves getting the services of a landscape gardener or builder who will lay a network of pipes under your soil that will drain the water away either into the main drain or a soakaway. Yes, you will have the upheaval, but only once, whereas you will never make a decent garden out of soggy waterlogged ground..

Now you have tested your soil and made sure that the land is well drained, you are ready to start planning your new garden. If you are less mobile than you once were, it might be worth considering an easy maintenance garden with lots of level paved or gravelled areas and low maintenance planting such as Phormium Tenax (green and bronze,) Senecio, Viburnum Tinus Variegated, Fatsia Japonica, Lonicera Baggesons Gold, Dogwoods and hardy palms, to name but a few.. your garden design should be tailored to suit your needs.

When you are  "armchair gardening" with your flower seed catalogues, don`t be seduced by those pretty faces in the illustrations, check out germination times and conditions. I didn't one year and bought some seeds that took two years to germinate! I`m afraid they went straight in the bin..


Keep feeding the wild birds with food that is rich in carbohydrates, making sure they have water too, especially when the weather is freezing. If the surface of the pond is frozen make sure there`s a hole in the ice so that any fish can get oxygen.

Happy gardening till next month....


Amazon book - Gardens of the National Trust. When the National Trust decided to take on the care of gardens, the aim was that these would be the very best of their kind in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Trust now has the finest collection of gardens ever assembled under one ownership..

Volunteering with the National Trust

Volunteers are active in all parts of the National Trust, from the new central office in Swindon to the summits of Snowdonia and Divis Mountain near Belfast.

View their latest opportunities, or find out more about the kind of roles and different places you can volunteer:

Still with the National Trust, some of the most visited National Trust properties are now holding regular farmers' and food markets.  Click here for details  and dates.



The Yellow Book: NGS Gardens Open for CharityRHS gardens

Their four flagship gardens not only provide year-round interest and offer a wide range of courses, talks and demonstrations, they also demonstrate the best gardening practices, new techniques and exciting new plants to try in your garden.

Or go to their website for a diary of all other events at:-


RHS Flower Shows 2007


Tickets for RHS members

Privilege rate tickets are available for RHS members to all RHS shows, but tickets must be booked in advance. Click on the individual show links below for further information.
RHS members are not charged a booking fee for tickets purchased except for advanced tickets to the Malvern shows. To find out how to become an RHS member click here


Do you take advantage of the BBC Gardening website for information? I find it a valuable source of information, for up to date legislation, countryside matters and useful information such as plant pests and diseases, which saves me ploughing through all my gardening books, with the knowledge that their information is bang up to date...


Thompson & Morgan LogoThompson & Morgan 


Visit where full information is available on their product varieties and orders can be taken on-line.  Have a look to see what is new and any special seasonal offers


Some places to visit... 



Visit the Eden Project




The living theatre of plants and people
The Eden Project is a gateway into the world of plants and people. A meeting place for all to discover how we depend on plants and how we can help to manage and conserve them for our mutual survival.


Kew Gardens two locations:-

Tel: 020 8332 5655 (24 hr)
Fax: 020 8332 5197

Royal Botanic Gardens

Tel: 01444 894066 (24 hr)
Fax: 01444 894069

Royal Botanic Gardens
Wakehurst Place
Nr Haywards Heath
West Sussex
RH17 6TN


The National Botanic Gardens of Scotland comprise:

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
Scotland's Premier Garden

Benmore Botanic Garden, Argyll
Argyll's Magnificent Mountainside Garden

Dawyck Botanic Garden, Borders
Wonderful Woodland Garden

Logan Botanic Garden, Galloway
Scotland's Most Exotic Garden

The National Botanic Garden of WalesThe National Botanic Garden of Wales

The star attraction here is the 91 metre long domed glasshouse, that houses landscapes normally found in the Mediterranean. This would be a super place to visit on a chilly day...



Some websites of interest to gardeners:-


Carry on Gardening - The easier gardening web site from ThriveGardening is an important part of many people's lives. You don't have to give up gardening because of accident or illness, the onset of disability or the problems associated with growing older. The information on their website is designed to provide you with the information to Carry on Gardening.

Carry on Gardening was initiated by the horticultural charity Thrive and is funded by the National Lottery Charities Board.  It brings together information on easy ways of gardening gathered over 23 years by Thrive and research carried out since the early 1970s by Mary Marlborough Centre, Oxford, on tools and equipment for disabled and older people. 



Some of your emails are not getting through to me; please read below:

**  Keep the e-mails with your gardening problems coming

Please tell me which country you live in as knowing the climate can help me solve your problem. Your current email address is necessary as my replies are occasionally returned to me as undeliverable.. PLEASE TITLE YOUR EMAIL 'GARDEN QUERY' OTHERWISE IT IS LIKELY TO BE PUT IN THE SPAM FOLDER BY MY ISP **



Useful reading:-

"The Yellow Book" contains information of all Gardens of England and Wales open for charity, and can be bought priced ?5 from National Gardens Scheme

National Trust Gardens Handbook is ?6.99 and the new edition is out in May  Telephone 01394 389 950 or see their website

Amazon book - A year at Kew  Amazon book - Gardens Through Time: 200 Years of the English Garden Amazon book - RHS Plants for Places: 1000 Tried and Tested Plants for Every Soil, Site and Usage (RHS) Amazon book - RHS Encyclopedia of Gardening: RHS Bi-centennial Edition (Royal Horticultural Society)
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