• Emma Bennett

Finding Paradise January Blues Anyone?


The Building Paradise story line will be back soon, so for this week we are focusing on January jobs on the nursery and what you can do in your own space. We felt it was time to talk about real gardening not just shed building.

I’m sure there are lots of people who aren’t green fingered, maybe some who are, who look outside with a rather grim outlook waiting desperately for the weather to warm up. Am I right? Or like us do you revel in this time of year?

We spend a lot of time planning and preparing, but also doing. Without this essential time, bad weather or not, we’d never be prepared for when spring arrived. For us it’s about choosing seeds, deciding what veg we are going to grow and above all repairing, making changes or creating space to do new things.

This year I’ve dug a small fruit bed. I’m not going over the top, its only six small shrubs of Blackcurrant, Goji and Cranberry to start us off. We lifted turf and dug in plenty of rotten organic matter into the heavy clay soil. Around that we constructed a very simple cane and twine construction to keep the ducks, chickens and geese off them for now. Eventually I’ll add a plastic net to protect the developing fruits. In the kitchen garden, the bed of strawberries remains. I’m leaving them to run free, rather unorthodox I’m sure most people will think. We are so used to seeing them growing in rows but I’ve got so many and like to the somewhat ad hock nature of them. I can leave them to spread out as they like only tidying them up when they really start to fill the paths. It really is down to what you want in your own garden.

We’ve got plans for the borders, big plans, or should I say big plants. We eat a largely vegetarian diet…after keeping chickens and geese etc and seeing their individual personalities, eating one is so much more unappetising. This year we made some beautifully tasty pumpkin soup that was lightly spiced and I was disappointed to find that unless it’s near to Halloween you just can’t buy them. Now why is that if they store so well? So, taking matters into our own hands I’ve bought about 10 varieties of pumpkin and squash. Some can be massive plants that need space to grow and spread out. I want to grow and produce as many as I can, testing which ones grow and store well and also which taste the best. I’ll write up our results as we go, pass on what we learn and include those recipes so you can all try them out.

As well as big plants we’ve added to the range of veg to grow this year. I’ll be growing in pots as well as fully utilising the raised beds, so as the year goes on you can see what does well, what tastes good and, hopefully, you’ll feel inspired to grow your own whatever you would like to eat.

While we plan a fruitful year ahead, we have the basic tasks on the nursery to keep up to date with. Let something slip now on the schedule and trying to play catch up is nearly impossible. All our plants for sale are grown in pots, so those growing over several seasons need checking to remove weeds and any dead leaves or stems. We top-dress everything and as this year started so warm we took the decision to re-pot some plants and divide others early. They all went into the polytunnel to keep them protected, because as I guessed right the weather turned and we had a spell of some quite severe frosts.

As we use polytunnels we find that using our own garlic spray helps to control grey mould or other fungus at this time of year. This is the perfect time to start our clean up and spraying routine. Garlic has proven itself to be very efficient at controlling fungus, bugs and mould on plants. We have other additives to the sprays we use, all are organic and totally safe to use. We’ll post the mixture on another blog for everyone to copy at home.

When you’ve done all your jobs you might find, like we do, that you’re standing there looking at your handy work with a brew in one hand. This is the time you can see what your garden lacks, whether that’s structure or interest. As many do, we reviewed our main border deciding what worked and what didn’t. We’ve got a mix of stock plants and my overspill plant collection in there. Most are herbaceous and so are sleeping at the moment but there are plenty that are not. We suggest that you get down to your local nursery and ask them what looks good at this time of the year. There is a huge range of flowering shrubs and plants that shine through even on the dull grey days. Our personal home garden is a mess at the moment, thanks to the building work last year. But, we have plans! And I’m enjoying the small alpine iris that’s popped up around the base of my bamboo and then there is the flowering shrub Hamamelis, which I love! We grow Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’. If I had more space I’d buy loads of them, all different colours. Or why not try the dogwoods, Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ has the most deep red stems. I’ve planted that variety with a selection of evergreen ferns just behind them to make the most of the red stems. Then there is cyclamen, primroses, snowdrops and so many more that flower whatever the weather.

But I can’t do a January blog without reminding you that although you can sit with a brew deciding what seeds or plants your ordering this year, you also need to get those warm socks out of the drawer, boots on, scarf on and out you go. Do the basic tidy up and top dress your borders with compost or muck. Do that now so that when your plants start growing you don’t have to try to put it down around them. Your garden will look tidy, neat and ready for spring. This is such an important gardening job that I can’t over estimate just how vital it is. Your soil will thank you for the next 12 months and your plants will shine for you. The soil is a living organism and you need to feed it if you expect it to feed your plants. It will also help to suppress any young weeds that might be starting to grow on warmer days so you will reap the rewards later in the year with less weeding to do.

If you can, buy buying local flowering plants from local nurseries. We’ll always cham­pion the independent nurseries whenever we can. Wherever you live in the country you will find an independent nursery growing a wider range of plants than can be bought from garden centres, which will inspire you to create the garden you’ve always wanted.


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