I always think of January as being when winter really bites. In 2010/11 we endured minus 19C for three weeks. In subsequent winters snow and floods also made the headlines. Gardeners can be obsessed with the weather, it defines so much of our working life. We have all become more conscious of the weather in recent times, which probably lies in wider acceptance of global warming.
This winter has been remarkably mild. We only had any significant snowfall in the last week and although we have been hit by gales they have not done the damage that was done last February by freak winds. Over the last month in the garden we have been covering plants vulnerable to cold weather with thermal fleece. We have also continued cutting back plants in the herbaceous borders.
We have taken some risks this winter. (Whoever said gardening was a gentle profession). Some oversized Rhododendron fragrantissimum were planted out in autumn and are now shrouded in thermal fleece. These are usually kept in the greenhouse until they flower, after which they are displayed in the ‘Big House’. When I last dared to peak they were surviving!
There is no flower, with the exception of perhaps the snowdrop, that brightens a winter day more than that of the witch hazel or Hamamelis. We are all easily beguiled by their bright display, which is actually made up of floral bracts, the flowers being a rather insignificant cluster. Moreover, descendents of H. mollis, the Chinese species, also offer a spicy aroma that can fill the garden on calm days.
There are more than just witch hazels in the garden. One of the best wall shrubs for this time of year is the winter jasmine, J. nudiflorum. The cheery yellow flowers open in mild weather and contrast well with the green stems. It only lacks the spicy perfume of its summer flowering relatives. There is plenty to enjoy in January!