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Gardener's Diary            January

Gardener`s Diary is a regular feature of run by Rosemary Martin, who is semi retired.  She says anyone can enjoy gardening whether they have a large or small garden, can`t tell a dandelion from a daisy, or are aged 9 or 90… Here you will be able to see what jobs you should be doing in the garden month by month, get ideas for spectacular seasonal planting schemes, read previews on new plants and products, find out where to buy them, and get up-to-date news of forthcoming events and places to visit. 

For those of you that have never dabbled in the "black art" of gardening you will first need to get some basic knowledge from a good gardening book. You will find some within this article as examples...


But first an introduction from Rosemary...

I have been gardening now for about thirty years, long enough for my husband to know that it`s wise to bury his head in a newspaper when the secateurs come out of retirement...  I don`t have a favourite style of gardening, traditional is nice but I also think the modern trends work well. Plants in my garden have to be resilient as they get moved around frequently, and my husband has been heard  to mutter  “I don`t remember that tree being there this morning..”

Hobbies have come and gone over the years but only gardening has endured, and now in retirement this column adds a new dimension to the hobby, 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



Ninth edition  - January 2002

Now the festivities are 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...

All those last minute jobs finally got done, the greenhouse is now scrubbed and tidied and the bulbs I found sprouting in a corner of the greenhouse have been 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. 

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. The majority 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 my daily walk round the garden..  

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, which are priced at about 1, mid range kits that allow approximately five testings and cost about 5 and finally 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. I have one of these and for a general guide it is excellent. Priced at about 10 it is worth every penny...

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 doing your "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 once bought some seeds that took - I read on receipt of them - two years to germinate! I`m afraid they went straight in the bin..  

robin.jpg (6520 bytes)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....


Some web sites of interest to gardeners:    


For ideas:-


Thompson and Morgan: a growing resource for gardeners worldwide. The site includes the international online seed catalogues, the young plants catalogue (UK only), the wholesale seeds catalogue, together with the award winning Germination Times and a host of other useful information.



For inspiration:-


Gardening 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.



For vision:-


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


For  indulgence:- 






Have a look at previous editions of Gardener`s Diary



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