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Garden Cuttings

PUBLISHED: 09:00 21 January 2014

Toby gets busy making a raised bed

Toby gets busy making a raised bed


Toby Buckland delivers some sound practical and seasonal advice


Hello! The late, great plantsman Christopher Lloyd used to say that the best thing about January is the back of it but it doesn’t have to be like that. It’s a month when even the smallest flower counts for a lot and if you can get out and make improvements you’ll be ahead of the game when the growing season starts.

If it’s so cold there’s frost on the grass, stay off it so it doesn’t get ruined and tidy the shed or greenhouse instead. If we’re blessed with mild weather – and here in the West Country we often are – it’s a good time to carve out and dig new borders, build raised beds for veg and get round to putting up that archway or pergola you’ve always dreamt of.

What to do now

Plant of the month: Snowdrop

Snowdrops are a midwinter highlight remarkable for flowering through frosts and snow – hence the name - and unlike crocus the squirrels leave them alone. This is prime planting time as they establish best when growing, aka ‘in the green’.

For a natural look, stick to Galanthus nivalis or if you want something big and beautiful then Gelwesii is the choice. They’re easy to grow in semi-shade with hellebores and ferns and under deciduous trees, or even in grass but they’ll do all the better if you put a trowelful of leaf mould under the roots when planting. In time, they spread into a blanket of white that’ll appear every year to brighten the gloom.

Raised beds are a good way of defining a growing area for example for veg-growing or herbs. The earth inside is easily improved and the extra depth means that even if your soil is stony your carrots will come straight and true. Economical to buy, scaffold planks are ideal for the sides as they come in long lengths while for the pegs that hold them in place, choose treated timber battens at least 40cm long.

Make your bed no wider than 4ft for easy access, set out the planks where you want them and then drive pegs into the corners – this saves a lot of time measuring and re-cutting. Fork over the soil in the bed and top up with a 50/50 weed-free mix of topsoil and compost/soil improver.

Now is the time to buy your potatoes while the pick of varieties are available. My favourites include ‘Swift’, the fastest to crop and ‘Winston’ as of all the earlies, it’s the first to produce spuds big enough to bake.

If you have a greenhouse or frost-free porch you can get them going now for earlier crops in pots. Set out in trays to chit (sprout) in a bright spot and when the sprouts are 2-3cm long bury three per bucket-sized tub in a 10cm layer of compost. As shoots grow top up with more compost until the bucket’s full and you could – weather permitting – be feasting on home-grown new potatoes in April.

Join us

Our Gardeners’ Coffee Morning topic is ‘Cheer up your garden in winter at 10.30 on 22 January at our Plant Centre at Powderham Castle. Tickets cost £7 and include light refreshments. Call to book on 01626 891133. All our 2014 events are now online, see

The last few winters we’ve been caught out by cold and flurries of snow so be prepared with rolls of horticultural fleece to cover borderline hardy plants like penstemon, agapanthus and salvia. Tie up cordylines and upright branched evergreens like bay to stop splaying should a heavy snowfall threaten. Bring containers close to house walls where they’ll benefit from the shelter of the brickwork and be less likely to freeze or crack.

This article was first published in the January issue of Devon Life. To get the magazine delivered to your home, subcribe at or call 08448484217


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