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Garden Cuttings: Toby Buckland’s gardening advice for January

PUBLISHED: 09:54 17 February 2015 | UPDATED: 09:54 17 February 2015

Toby finds there is still plenty that can be done in the garden at this time of year

Toby finds there is still plenty that can be done in the garden at this time of year

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Toby Buckland delivers some sound practical and seasonal advice

Don’t forget to lift and divide clumpsof snowdrops once flowering finishes to encourage their spreadDon’t forget to lift and divide clumpsof snowdrops once flowering finishes to encourage their spread

Hello! April may be the cruellest month – at least according to T.S. Eliot - but January is meaner. If last year was anything to go by we’re almost certain to have more ‘weather’ to contend with yet.

But that’s not to say you can’t get on and do things in the garden – on mild days you can still lift and divide perennials and add new plants to borders as long as the soil isn’t squelching wet underfoot. If rain or frost stops play and you’ve bought new shrubs or trees, keep them in their pots against the house wall where they’ll be out the worst of the weather but where they won’t be forgotten.

January is the month to get organised. Go through your seed packets and sort any that are past their sell-by date, it’s a nice winter job to do in the warm and one you’ll be glad is done when you’re too busy with sowing later. Even old salad and brassica seeds may still be worth sowing for their edible cress-like seedlings, while hardy annual flowers can be kept for broadcasting on spare ground in spring. You never know they might bloom into a colourful cut-flower meadow. What have you got to lose?

Leucothoe ‘Scarletta’ is evergreen, needs no pruning, copes with shade and makes a graceful container plant all year-roundLeucothoe ‘Scarletta’ is evergreen, needs no pruning, copes with shade and makes a graceful container plant all year-round

Plant of the month

Leucothoe ‘Scarletta’

Leucothoe ‘Scarletta’ (pronounced loo-ko-thee) is a much under-planted and perhaps under-known plant, surprising given that it’s evergreen, needs no pruning, copes with shade and makes a graceful container plant all year-round.

It’s lovely at this time as the leaves tint a shiny coppery-russet when it gets cold, giving the plant an extra dimension in winter. It prefers an acidic soil so if yours is ph7 or above, plant it in a pot. In a border it makes a good contrast with scented Christmas box and adds some manageable height to low plantings of snowdrops and hellebores. After ten years it gets to five feet but it’s slow to get there.

Frost can ruin terracotta pots, so take care to protect yours at this time of yearFrost can ruin terracotta pots, so take care to protect yours at this time of year

What to do now

Be nice to the birds. Feed them and they might just leave your overwintering vegetables and cherry blossom buds alone. Their favourite foods at this time are those that contain lots of protein – fat balls, sunflower heart and suet treats. Add netting over cabbages to keep off the pigeons but make sure it’s properly pinned down and checked after it’s windy as you don’t want a bird to sneak in and get trapped.

If it gets really cold, remember to lag outdoor taps and exposed pipes. Frost can ruin terracotta pots, shearing off layers and causing them to crack, so keep them somewhere sheltered. As a rule of thumb the darker coloured terracotta is hardier than the pale dusty types. I always go for the brand Yorkshire Pots as the manufacturers sell them with a lifetime guarantee.

If it’s colour you’re after, plant pot-grown early-flowering bulbs like snowdrops and crocus at the drip-line of trees and shrubs where they’ll gradually spread into cheery clumps. If you already have snowdrops, don’t forget to lift and divide the clumps once flowering finishes to encourage their spread.

Come and visit us

We have a packed programme of events planned for 2015 at our Powderham Castle Plant Centre, including monthly talks, a series of workshops on everything from willow weaving to garden photography and the return of my two-day Garden Festival on 1-2 May.

I’ll be kicking off with a Gardeners’ Coffee Morning on 13 and 14 January talking about what to plant in shade, a frequent problem in small gardens and built-up areas. Call 01626 891133 to book or if you’d like a copy of our events leaflet, send an SAE to Toby Buckland Plant Centre, Powderham Castle, Devon, EX6 8JQ.

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