Frosted leaves of Hellebore, January 2002

Above: Frosted leaves of Hellebore, January 2002.

Garden diary: December

31 January 2005

There are so many species of birds visiting the garden now, that when mentioning bird visitors during any particular day, I often feel like adding something totally unlikely like "golden eagle" to the list, for comic effect. Recently, it's been blackbirds, dunnocks, wren, robin, sparrows, collared doves, starlings, blue tits, coal tit, long-tailed tits, goldfinches, greenfinches, chaffinches and the inevitable pigeon or two. It seems to be always around this time of year that the pigeons appear. One year a group of about ten became regular visitors, and that became a problem (hence the pages about pigeons on this site).

I've been out in the garden today doing a bit of general tidying, beginning with sweeping up the bird seed that inevitably ends up on the floor under the feeders. Also Millennium Shed was rather cluttered with miscellaneous things I'd dumped in there and been too busy/lazy to sort out, including the bucket that the Christmas tree had been in, obviously dismantled well over three weeks ago. As Millennium Shed is only partly visible from the kitchen window, I find that if I put the rubbish at the end I can't see, I can conveniently forget about it for a while. At this time of year I prefer staying inside and looking at it all through the window.

There are things you're supposed to do over winter, if you're a gardener, like check all your tools, wash and disinfect empty pots, and properly inspect your garden's structural elements to see if any work needs doing before the growth begins again. I have to confess that checking my tools has been merely glancing at them to check they're all in one piece still. I did wash a lot of empty pots, and felt suitably heroic. As far as structural elements go, I look at it at this time of year and want to change the whole thing, as none of it pleases me. I then realise that I'm probably being just a bit melodramatic, and that maybe I just need to clean things up a bit and replace a couple of damaged bricks on the edge of the brick circle.

The structural elements are showing their age, and perhaps their owner is showing hers, and doesn't like this reminder. If you stay somewhere long enough, you feel like the place has modelled itself around you, and begins to reflect you. When I see that my brick paths are looking a bit worn, it reminds me that I've got a dentist appointment this month, and the paint flaking off the back wall of Millennium Shed makes me think of my face and how it looks after the Yorkshire winter.

Still, the winter-flowering iris is blooming, and buds are showing on various clematis around the garden. I can't think of an analogy for these things though. I'm far too grumpy.

19 January 2005

Through the wonders of wi-fi I've been able to relocate the computer to the room downstairs that looks out onto the garden, so I'm able to watch the daily goings-on out there over the winter months, while I'm working.

It's dark outside now, as it's evening, but I can see the shapes of leaves clustered around the window, from a potted bamboo, and a Euphorbia mellifera. Slightly further away is the Mahonia x media 'Charity', which this winter has carried two large heads of its startling, jubilant yellow bloom. This is fading now, but it has provided much-needed cheer, not only from its blooms, but also the blue tits that on most days flutter around its flowers. I'm not sure what it is that attracts them, whether there's some insect life on the flowers that they're feeding on, or whether it's the flowers themselves, but watching their acrobatic antics is a welcome distraction on gloomy winter days, when the view is otherwise rather drab. They chirp a lot to one another while they're hanging off the mahonia stems, as if the whole experience is tremendously exciting.

I'm glad I had the blue tits to tell you about, otherwise I'd probably just go on gloomily about how muddy it is out there and how much work there is to do . . . I might also start telling you all about our recent blocked drains . . . which is vaguely garden-related, as the inspection chamber is right in the middle of the garden, which was on the verge of being awash with sewage, but thankfully the problem was spotted just in time . . .

So on a cold and windy winter night I'm looking out there into the dark and trying to think about something nice and uplifting to tell you about, or at least an interesting plant. And I realise that I don't have to look very far, as there's a fine bit of planting right here on the wall by the window I'm looking out of.

There are so many things out there that seem like mistakes - all gardeners make them I guess, at some time or another. I'm thinking of when you plant something in a tight corner, or by a low wall, not realising how massive it's going to grow. Or when you plant clematis from very different pruning groups too close together so that it becomes impossible to prune them properly at the right time, as they're all tangled up with one another. But every now and then, something works just right, indeed better than you thought it would.

I planted a Garrya elliptica that had been growing in a pot into a raised bed here in the corner by the window that looks out onto Kitchen Corner. As it's usually a wall-grown shrub, and doesn't mind shade, and is interesting in winter, I thought this would be a good place for it. For a few years I've been trying to train it to grow around the window.

It's a rather ungainly thing, with long stems and plain dark green evergreen leaves. In the summer, you wouldn't give it a second look. But now, in January, the tassels it carries are all along one side of the window frame, within touching distance. Over the winter I've watched them get longer, from rather short stubby things that didn't move at all, to these now elegant creations that move in a beautifully fluid way in the breeze.

Among them, having attached itself to the wall and started to climb at last, is the Hydrangea petiolaris, another very beautiful plant. It's known for taking a long time to settle in before it starts to produce its white summer flowers, but less often mentioned is how attractive it is at this time of the year. Its stems are a very beautiful, rather glowing shade of brown, and at the end of them are these very shiny green buds, promising spring.

By the kitchen door is that scented shrub I mention every year - Sarcococca confusa. It's near the door so that I can stick my nose out every now and then, to smell the scent from its tiny white flowers.

Back to January highlights and diaries

Garden diary: February

Hellebore 'Potter's Wheel'

Above: Hellebore "Potter's Wheel".

Garden diary: February