A Happy New Year in the Garden
Shrubs that are flowering at the moment include one of my favourites, the winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima and L. x purpusii), which fills the air with wonderful scent. Left to its own devices, winter honeysuckle grows into a large shrub, but I grow mine as a climber on a trellis. It also makes a lovely cut flower, so you can cut a few sprigs to enjoy inside if the weather out is too much to bear! Mahonia Japonica, which is flowering now, has a distinctive scent and should not be overlooked for winter colour when there is very little else flowering. It copes with a shady position in the garden so is a good one to use under a tree. Most winter-flowering species have to have a strong scent, that carries for some distance, to guide in those pollinators that are still on the wing. In winter, flowers need to be perfumed with the sort of scent that travels and lingers in the air; this is why nearly all winter-flowering plants are highly scented with small flowers better able to withstand the weather than big, blowsy ones.
Make sure you feed the birds this winter. Even in cold weather, water is important for all our native birds so as well as laying on food you may want to consider opening a drinks bar. They aren’t too fussy – a simple bird bath will do the trick and they won’t turn their beaks up at an old dustbin lid; just make sure it’s kept clean and unfrozen and enjoy watching them splashing about. In freezing weather, when they can’t get water from an alternative source, this is a very important job.
Attracting wild birds into your garden is not only very rewarding but also helps wildlife conservation and helps reverse the declining trend in the populations of once common species. Our gardens are becoming a vital component in the wider conservation effort.
Even though this is the coldest time of year and the garden in January may look asleep, this is a month for optimism. By the end of the January, pearly white snowdrops and golden winter aconites will appear, making a perfect partnership with hellebores. Those brave plants that are flowering at this time of year can be admired without distraction.
There is always something to see and do in the garden. Happy New Year and happy gardening in it!