The New Year is a time of contemplation and reflection, of looking back at the successes and failures of the previous year, perhaps with a promise to commit to an improvement. Changing your diet? Going to the gym? How about altering the garden?
Winter is also a good chance to look at the layout of your garden. Devoid of flowers, you only have the bones of the garden before you. It is a time of structure and form. Of crisp lines. The basic building blocks of your garden are laid bare and I always think that if the garden looks good in its simplest form, then all that follows on from that is a bonus.
Looking at the structure of your garden, consider the shapes created by your lawns, borders and any hard landscaping. Are they pleasing to the eye? Is that fussy little corner always a bugger to mow? Should it go? Trees, shrubs and hedges all play a part too and you should consider how all these different elements work together to shape the space.
Is your garden divided into areas or presented as one whole? Are there unsightly views that need disguising? Does the garden feel balanced and harmonious or is it disjointed as if a random patio, a pond and rose arch suddenly fell out of the sky? Now is a time to re-evaluate how the garden functions and make it work for you.
If you can plan now where you want to move that shrub, or that perhaps you want a new patio in the sun, then you can aim to get that sorted before the summer comes instead of the usual panic when 13 guests end up squashed on plastic lawn chairs!
If you find that you struggle to know what to do with the garden yourself, contact a garden designer. They can help talk through your ideas and rationalise them into a working plan. Otherwise if you wish to do it yourself, get ideas from other gardens you visit or from magazines.
Remember, the structure of your garden is the setting for the drama that follows.
With that in mind, also take a look at winter interest plants and select a few shining jewels to hearten you through the cold months. You might be surprised by how much choice there is.
Deciduous wood plants have an airiness to them in winter with their twisting branches catching the frost. Some have been bred especially for their spiralling stems, such as Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’. If they have brightly coloured stems, like Cornus sanguniea ‘Midwinter Fire’, place them where they will glow in the low light.
Evergreens are consistent and dependable throughout the year, a backdrop for other plants to come and go. They don’t have to just be green either – there are many fine gold and silver forms, especially hollies such as Ilex aquifloium ‘Golden van Tol’.
There are also several good winter flowering plants many of which are highly perfumed in order to entice sleepy bumblebees from hibernation. Some of my favourites include Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’ with architectural evergreen leaves and long chains of lily-scented yellow flowers; Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’, a well behaved shrub covered in sweetly perfumed pale pink flowers on bare stems; and Sarcococca confusa ‘Christmas box’, which is an unassuming low growing evergreen with small white flowers that release a very heady fragrance.
So take this time to contemplate in readiness of the coming year.