Tuesday, 31 January 2017

The longest month of the year

The longest month of the year – January – is over, it has been dark, unusually cold and unusually dry. We still haven’t had any substantial rain, only a little bit here and there, but the coming week is promising a bit of rain now and then so it might help. If we don’t get a couple of WEEKS of rain soon, I fear we will be in trouble by mid-summer.

I have braved the cold weather – which has been almost down to freezing for a couple of weeks....I must have been living for too long here in London, temperatures like 2-3 plus in January (35 F) would have been considered absolutely balmy years ago, now I think it’s pretty cold. But I can’t keep away from my garden for too long so in true Norwegian spirit of ‘There’s no bad weather, just bad clothing’ – I have been out in the garden a couple of hours most days during January.

My usual view of the garden was taken today, the last day of the month, with a grey sky and drizzle in the air which came with the milder weather this week. Where is the proper rain??

But most of this past month we have had glorious crisp sunshine and blue sky due to the cold weather.

This is the second winter here in my new garden and it is nice to see that despite a much colder December and January, it is still benefiting from a sheltered surrounding, exactly like my previous garden was. The ferns have not lost their fronds despite the weeks of hoovering around frost, and the first spring plants are already up above ground.

And one of the new Hepatica nobilis has made a very early entrance, the other 3 are still in bud. I have 2 blue and 2 pink and I hope they will be happy here in my garden – but are fully prepared for them to turn up their nose at the London climate, the London clay, the London hot summer – and just about everything else to do with London gardens. Hepatica nobilis are not supposed to grow in gardens like mine - but that won’t stop me from trying!

A much better choice here in the Woodland Bed is primulas, and I have lots of them in various colours. I would have had many more if only the vine weevil grubs hadn’t liked them so much too!

The pansies at the front are doing well, and even though I do have perennials in flower all through the winter I still need to buy some pansies every late autumn, I just love to see those cheery flowers on gloomy days like today.

The three witch hazels I bought in late spring last year is flowering for me for the first time. They were advertised as ‘highly fragrant’, but as with so many plants – the reality has been very different.

Should I perhaps give the nursery the benefit of the doubt and think they possibly didn’t know? Perhaps they thought all hamamelis’ were scented - like I thought? Or perhaps they knew but didn’t care and assumed they would sell more if they called them scented??

I have since read about witch hazel and I realise now that none of the Hamamelis x intermedia varieties are particularly scented and many of them have no scent at all.

The flowers are pretty and very unusual though, and the leaves have pretty autumn colours. I intend to keep them in containers so they can be plopped in wherever there is an open space in the borders. A nomadic life awaits the 3 witches.

The fox is still around, she is here most days, and I often both see her and hear her in the evening, raiding the birdfeeders and digging in the flowerbeds. Before you start aaawing and oooing and say how lucky I am to have a fox living in my garden…..there is a price to pay.

The fox has taken a shine to this exact spot, and this poor pulsatilla which is just about to flower was dug up for the second day in a row. The fox isn’t interested in the plants, she just wants to find worms, beetles and grubs in the soil to eat.

This part of the Woodland Bed was dug up during the big upheaval in November, and I have just got everything back in the ground. All the plants are small, there are spring bulbs on the way up and plants just about to flower. So I have resorted to using chicken wire – and for the last 3 days this patch has been left alone. One point to me.

But that just moves the fox somewhere else…..she has been here before, a few times. This time the hole is really deep. Poor plants being disturbed yet again!

So I filled the hole and put a pot in the middle, but today when I came outside I could see the fox has been here during the night despite the big pot. What can I do....

The squirrels are pretty bad too at times, they don’t dig such big holes, but they dig MANY instead, and they usually come back to the same pots over and over and over again. Some of these seedlings have been chucked out so many times it is a miracle they are still alive. The rest of the chicken wire went over the seedling pots in an attempt to protect them. That was 2 days ago. Yesterday when I came outside there was a big pile of squirrel poo right in the middle of this area, on top of the chicken wire. It had obviously not been a problem for the squirrel to walk out in the middle to do its business, but it was possibly frustrated over not being able to root around as they usually do? I guess that was me told off then! I thought I would spare you a poo-photo so I scraped it off yesterday :-)

But no matter how much chicken wire I buy it would be impossible to protect everything, and this is what greeted me today when I came outside. It’s a 20 litre pot with 5 big lily bulbs, they have just started sprouting and with the fox digging that deep it is a risk of the new shoots being broken off.

The wildlife in my garden is inspiring and interesting most of the time, but boy do they add to my workload. I do hope I will have some really cute photos of fox cubs to show for at the end of the spring for all the extra works she is giving me :-)

I have a queuing system in my garden and during the winter and spring I use my garden bench to organise what to do when. Just like in a doctor office or a hospital department, the patients in my garden is waiting patiently to been seen to – and just like with patients under the National Health Service here in Britain, sometimes you have to wait a very long time to be seen but eventually you will be seen – if you don’t die in the queue while waiting!

Oh, must be about time to show off some snowdrops? This is Galanthus elwesii 'Maidwell L' – usually the first ones to flower in my garden.

And my earliest rhododendron has been shrugging off the cold weather as if it was no bother, flowering its heart out for 2 weeks already, this is ‘Bo Peep’. I wonder who comes up with all these cultivar names – silly name for a gorgeous rhododendron.

The hellebores are late to the party this year, I usually have at least a few in flower before Christmas, but this year they all still look like this – none fully open. Give them a few warm days and a bit of sunshine and I will have lots in flower.

I have so many plans for my new garden – so many things I would like to try to grow but also things that could make life easier in the garden – and things purely because it looks nice. It took me 10 years to develop my previous garden, and a further 4 years to tinker with it – before I moved house. I hope the experience I now have means it will be slightly shorter before I get to the stage where I can start just tinkering!

One if the things I would like to have in the garden is a door on the wall, and that’s why I already have these paving slabs leading down here. This photo is just a result of me playing around in Photoshop, but this is what it might look like. If you now imagine the rose on the right side growing for a couple of years so it reaches to the top of the wall, over the door and down to the other side with plants in the bed on both sides and some nice containers on the ‘step’ – then you got the full picture. The door is just an illusion and won't lead anywhere and can't be opened - it is made with an outdoor mirror behind the door frame and the actual door is cut on an angle so it looks like it is open – an optical illusion. The reflection in the image will of course be whatever is in the garden at any given time, what you see here is what was on their website. Link to more illusion mirror gates here.This is just one of many, many ideas I am playing around with, if I had a couple of acres I might be able to realise ALL my ideas!

I have a movie for you today too, and in the middle of it there is a part with not just one but TWO squirrels raiding my bird feeders. I just happened to see it while being in the kitchen and grabbed what I had at hand, which was my iPad, and there is no zoom on the iPad so unfortunately it’s not as good footage as I would have liked. And that day, right when those two squirrels where hogging the feeders and the birds had to sit and queue up to get something to eat, the cat next door was visiting me. He was sitting watching the whole thing through the cat flap looking like ‘this could have been a nice lunch’ on his face. I guess the cats learn very quickly that squirrels are MUCH quicker than cats!

The music was Largo - from The New World Symphony by Antonín Dvořák

Today it is 4 weeks till spring starts here, it is at this time of year I appreciate most living and gardening in a climate like here in London. So whether you have T-shirt weather or 6 ft of snow in your garden right now, enjoy February because after the longest month of the year comes the shortest of the year – and then it’s spring!

Take care everyone, see you again at the end of February.


  1. Your fox sounds remarkably like my raccoons - cute to look at but very hard on a garden. I wish I had a solution for you but, as you discovered, thwarting the creatures in one location usually means they just move on to another. I hope your wished-for rain comes soon - we finally got ours!

  2. Hej Helene!
    Alltid lika trevligt att få se din trädgård. Du har mycket som blommar, och de söta snödropparna längtar jag efter. Härligt att se alla djur som besöker din trädgård, även om de gör skada. Hade både grävling och rådjur förra året, hoppas de inte återkommer. Hönsnät brukar jag lägga på mina tidiga krokus, så de blir lämnade ifred. Man vill gärna se dem blomma, då man planterat dem. Dörren i muren är riktigt fin, hittade mycket intressant på websidan.
    Ha en fin februari.
    Hälsningar Marika

  3. I would sum up our January as cold and gloomy Damp but little 'real' rain. Sunny days have been few and far between. Shame that the fox is creating havoc. We have them on the allotment but the damage is minimal.

  4. Hello Helene,
    I wanted to congratulate on your new doors as it seems to be very realistic at first glance :-)! I love your Hellebore hybrids I have to buy one at least... But they are quite expensive here what I have noticed. Beautiful photo with those snowdrops! We are having snow layer after good three years and I am very happy as groundwater lever here is in general very, very low here... I fell sorry for you ragarding missing rain as we have also struggled hard with lack of watter in last few years. As we are already 1st of February today and there is still about 15cm of snow on the ground it could help garden during the summer hopefully. I am looking forward to February video! Take care and have good repotting and seeding time :-)! Hela

  5. You ask Helene, where is rain? Here, in my garden. January was long, rainy and a bit cold month. I'm scared that my plants will survive this rainy winter and yours are in dry and cold weather. I'm very very sorry about damage you have had in your garden, hate these fox, squirrels, bunnies etc.
    Liked your rhododendron in the video, is so pretty.
    Take care!

  6. Dear Helene, I am amazed. Your rhododendron is already covered in flowers!I agree, January is the longest month of the year!Here, in Italy we had a awful, horrible, cold month with chilly nights.Some plants were damaged by the cold weather, but I hope they will heal and recover over the spring.Happy gardening!

  7. I have never been able to pick up the scent of any witch hazel, regardless of species. I thought it was my nose!
    And there is another place the rain is... Devon!

  8. Helene-Your witch hazel is a nice addition for winter interest in your garden and I also like your snowdrops and Hellebores. The idea of an illusion mirror gate would be fabulous for your space, and the photoshop picture you created makes it look like its already there! It has been a pretty mild winter here on Long Island as you get freezing temperatures. What I mean by mild is that it has been mostly in the 40's and 50's until now. The temperatures have just recently dropped into the 30's with an occasional dusting of snow. It looks like spring is just about underway in your garden. The only thing I have blooming now are the hellebores, so I have to rely on evergreens. For now I can only dream of warmer days ahead! Happy February!

  9. Hi Helene, gosh, I so love the Hepatica nobilis! Hope it likes to grow in your garden, even though it is not supposed to ;-)!
    Well, honestly I think I could do without the fox. You seem to have tremendous patients with it and that is wonderful!
    I really love snowdrops, but they don't want to grow in San Diego. Another blogger recommended to plant spring snowflakes instead, which I did last year. They are coming up right now, but no blooms. Today I have seen a clump at my friends house in full bloom! What a bummer, I still have some hope, though, that mine will "do something". The clump at my friends house is very established since many years.
    Wishing you rain and a wonderful February, as you said yourself, spring is not too far away anymore in your neck of the woods.
    Warm regards,

  10. Hei Helene!

    Alltid hyggelig å se bilder fra din vårlige engelske hage!
    Koselig å se blåveis og snøklokker i januar :)

  11. This has been my favourite January since records began (i.e. since I started disliking January some time last century). There have been so many glorious sunrises and sunsets - I don't remember them being this good! Your garden looks lovely as always, despite the better efforts of the fox and squirrels. Seeing your flowers really raises the spirits. Spring will soon be here!

  12. Fortunately we have had sufficient 'proper ' rain this January but I am still looking forward to more in February 'fill dyke'
    When I tell my none gardening friends that I want some proper rain they do not understand and think if they have needed a few swipes of their windscreen wipers it has rained.

  13. Your garden looks so beautiful, even in January, and despite the fox and squirrels making modifications.

    In my climate January is the shortest month as it is our best for gardening work like moving/removing/planting. August is the long one as it is so hot and the plants mostly look so unhappy.

    I will remember the saying about no bad weather, only the wrong clothes!

  14. Oh, I like your Photoshop image with the door! That will be nice! Your Norwegian quote about the weather is one used often here in the northern U.S., too. Sometimes the many layers of clothing (and boots and scarves and hats and mittens) help. Other times, all I want to do is read a good book and sit by the fire all day. Our soil is frozen solid and all the plants are dormant, anyway, so I envy you your green, growing plants. February always seems like the longest month here, even though it's literally the shortest. It's pretty much a repeat of January for us. In March, things start to change...

  15. It is 2 days past Valentine's Day, and i haven't seen your post. I saw your blog link in someone i visited, so i came in here. So how are you and your climate now? Keep warm! God bless.


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