Our gardening editor LOUISE MIDGLEY recounts some of her gardening highlights from the first few weeks of 2017
Despite the chilly weather, I’m easily enticed outside, as long as I can find my trusty woollen hat.
If there has been a hard frost, I wait until after lunch to begin pottering in the garden and usually remain there until the light begins to ebb away.
At this point the crows begin to gather, amassing in the sky from all directions and swooping across the fields at the end of the garden, screeching in happy unison. Until quite suddenly when their number is complete, with one last surge of aerial acrobatics, they disappear into the tall trees and settle peacefully for the night.
A stillness descends upon the garden and leaning against the barbed wire fence looking back at the warmly lit houses, I feel privileged to witness this daily spectacle.
With darkness comes a drop in temperature. A roaring bonfire to burn the discarded Christmas tree holds me in the garden for another hour. The crisp branches crackling and spitting as they ignite, fill the air with a subtle festive aroma. The bonfire draws me in with its warmth making me feel reluctant to leave the garden.
Gardening in January is unlike any other month of the year. The pace is slow and jobs done make you believe you’re getting ahead for the year.
Essential tasks already tackled include removing old hellebore leaves to allow emerging flowers the light and air they deserve, pruning back side-shoots of the vigorous wisteria and ridding borders of brambles, encroaching ivy from the hedge and early weeds such as bittercress and speedwell.
The resident Robin keeps me company on most days and follows me through the beds feasting as I turn the soil, unfazed when I point my phone at him and take a photo.
Plenty of birds have been visiting the garden, a flock of Redwings descended on the apple tree a few days ago but no doubt will be conspicuous by their absence when I take part in the RSPB’S Big Garden BirdWatch at the end of the month!
Blue tits, blackbirds and magpies are the most common visitors in winter but recently I’ve noticed green ring-necked parakeets flying noisily overhead and settling on the tops of the tall Poplar trees.
Encouraging signs of new growth can be found daily; miniature, ice green rosebuds at the base of the perennial sedums, fat, red peony buds pushing through the soil and curious, green rockets of foliage from the horseradish plants all indicate the shortest day of the year has well and truly passed.
Yellow Winter Jasmine is providing a welcome blast of colour against the back wall, lime green Hellebore foetidus is all but ready to flower and Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ and Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ are saturating the air with their sweet fragrances.
I have big plans for the layout of the garden this year, although the very mention of sacrificing even the tiniest section of lawn will throw my husband into a tailspin.
A new shed to replace the rickety one that has mice for squatters will provide the perfect retreat to write and some generously proportioned raised beds would give me extra space to grow fruit and vegetables.
I will set aside one bed for netted low-growing soft fruit. Last year a group of female pheasants descended upon the borders and plucked off all the unripe gooseberries and white strawberries, wastefully discarding them on the lawn uneaten.
They won’t be so lucky this year.