Left Continue shopping
Your Order

You have no items in your cart

You might like
The January Garden 2023

The January Garden 2023

Where on earth did 2023 come from? The last time the world seemed normal was in 2019- did something happen? However, no matter how confusing the real world seems to be we gardeners can always escape to our little patches of normality and lose ourselves in what is familiar and pleasurable. In January you may be under the impression that there is little to do in the garden and that it all looks rather boring at this time of year. However, if you look a little bit harder you will still find plenty of plants to enjoy and, yes you guessed it, a few jobs to be getting on with!

Back in 2021 the January blog looked at some early flowers in our own garden including early flowering bulbs, hellebores, and buds and flowers on shrubs and trees. In January 2022 the blog concentrated on the gardens at Aberglasney where there is always something of interest to catch the eye. For this blog I am going to highlight two of the early flowering bulbs, a plant with very colourful winter stems and some shrubs and a tree which reliably flower in January.

Two of my favourite plants for this time of year have to be Galanthus (Snowdrop) and Eranthis (Winter Aconite) both of which should put in an appearance at some time in the month. Galanthus is a genus of about 20 species of bulbous perennials found from Europe to W. Asia, mostly in upland woodlands but also in rocky sites. They bloom mainly from late winter to mid-spring, each bulb usually producing a single, pendant bloom on an arching flower stalk from a slender stem above two or three strap-shaped basal leaves. The pear-shaped flowers are white with three small inner petals (more correctly called tepals) variably marked green and three spreading, larger, outer tepals. Most snowdrops are easy to grow and are suitable for naturalizing in grass or light woodland but also grow well in beds, borders and rock gardens in partial shade. Galanthus species hybridize readily in gardens and plant breeders have taken advantage of this to produce many modern cultivars. Galanthus nivalis, the Common Snowdrop, is probably the best known species and has several garden worthy cultivars including ‘Flore Pleno’ with double flowers and ‘Hopwick Yellow’ with yellow markings on the inner tepals. Other species and their cultivars are also freely available to gardeners and include G. allenii, elwesii, latifolius and plicatus. By far the best way to establish snowdrops in the garden is to plant the bulbs ‘in the green’ in the late winter/early spring following flowering but before the leaves die back. Clumps of bulbs can be lifted, individual bulbs gently separated and replanted straightaway a few centimetres apart either at the same depth or slightly deeper. In this way after just a few years quite large drifts can be established.


Eranthis, Winter Aconite, is a genus of about 7 species of small, clump-forming perennials with knobbly tubers, occurring in damp woodland and shady places throughout Eurasia. They are grown for their yellow, cup-shaped flowers borne in late winter and early spring. Their stem leaves form attractive, finely dissected ruffs immediately below the flowers. Most species are best grown around deciduous shrubs or trees where they will form carpets of flowers. The most widely grown species is Eranthis hyemalis but also look out for E. cilicica with its slightly larger flowers and E. x tubergenii ‘Guinea Gold’ with its golden yellow flowers and beautiful ruffs of dissected bronze-green leaves.


For colourful stems in the winter few plants can better the Dogwoods, Cornus. The genus as a whole comprises of around 45 species of mainly deciduous shrubs and small trees and a few woody-based perennials from grasslands, thickets, woodland, rocky slopes and swamps, mostly in northern temperate areas. Three species in particular, Cornus alba, sanguinea and stolonifera, have the most colourful stems which in winter following leaf fall have real impact in garden situations. Cornus alba, the red-barked dogwood, has, as its name suggests, red stems and dark green leaves. It has several good cultivars including C. alba ‘Aurea’ with yellow leaves, C. alba ‘Elegantissima’ with grey-green leaves margined in white, C. alba ‘Kesselringii’ with blackish, purple shoots and red and purple autumn leaves and C. alba ‘Sibirica’ with bright red winter stems and red autumn leaves.

Cornus sanguinea, the Common Dogwood, has reddish-green or entirely green winter stems and ovate, mid-green leaves turning red in autumn. Cornus sang. ‘Viridissima’ has green winter shoots and C. sang. ‘Winter Beauty’ (sometimes labelled as ‘Winter Flame’) has bright orange-yellow and red winter stems and is an excellent garden plant.

Cornus stolonifera has dark red stems and green leaves turning red or orange in autumn. C. stolon. ‘Flaviramea’ has bright yellow-green stems and C. stolon. ‘Kelseyi’, or ‘Kelsey’s Dwarf’ or ‘Nana’, is compact with red-tinged, yellow-green stems.

All of the above also carry flattened heads of small white flowers in spring or summer followed by white, white-tinged blue or blue-black fruits. They are best used in groups, if possible, where the low winter sun can shine through them or on them. The youngest stems always have the brightest colours so to encourage lots of new shoots to grow each year from the base plants need to be pruned hard in early spring ie. March. The simplest way is to cut all stems back to within 2-3 buds from the base which will be very close to the ground. If this is too drastic for you then pruning one third of the stems back to 2-3 buds from the base is a good alternative. In the next year a different third is pruned and so on. It is easy to identify the older stems as they will have little colour left in their lower parts.


Shrubs and trees which flower in the depths of winter are a real bonus in any garden at a time of year when flowers are in short supply. An added attraction is that many of these early flowers are highly scented in order to attract pollinators which are also in short supply in the colder months. Some to consider are Sarcococca (Christmas Box) which I highlighted in last month’s blog, some of the winter flowering shrubby honeysuckles (Lonicera), Cornus mas, Chimonanthus (Wintersweet) and the winter flowering cherry, Prunus x subhirtella.

The winter flowering honeysuckles include Lonicera fragrantissima and L. x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’ both of which can be found in most garden centres. L. fragrantissima is a spreading, bushy deciduous or semi-evergreen shrub up to 6ft (2m) high and 10ft (3m) across with paired, oval leaves dark green above and blue-green beneath. Tubular, 2-lipped, very fragrant, creamy white flowers are produced in pairs from the leaf axils in winter and early spring particularly if grown against a wall for a little extra warmth and shelter. L. x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’ is a more rounded, deciduous or semi-evergreen shrub up to 6ft (2m) high and 8ft (2.5m) across. It has red-purple shoots and paired, ovate, dark green leaves. The tubular, 2-lipped, very fragrant, white flowers also have conspicuous yellow anthers.

We grow Cornus mas, the Cornelian Cherry, in our front garden near the main gate and I have mentioned it in several blogs over the years. It is quite a vigorous and spreading deciduous shrub which does require a large space being ultimately 15ft (5m) in height and spread. Its dark green leaves turn red in the autumn but its main attraction are the yellow flowers produced in small umbels in late winter followed by fleshy, bright red fruits in late summer.


Chimonanthus praecox, Wintersweet, is another vigorous, upright, deciduous shrub, 12ft (4m) high and 10ft (3m) across, with large, lance-shaped, glossy, mid-green leaves rough above and smooth beneath. Pendant, fragrant, sulphur-yellow flowers stained brown or purple inside are produced on bare shoots in the winter.

Finally if you are looking for a small tree which flowers off and on throughout milder spells in the winter you need to look no further than Prunus x subhirtella, the Higan or Rosebud cherry. This is a spreading, deciduous tree with ovate, 3-lobed, sharply-toothed, dark green leaves which are pale bronze when young and which turn yellow in the autumn. Bowl-shaped white or pink flowers are borne in clusters intermittently from autumn to spring. There are several good cultivars available- Prunus  x sub. ‘Autumnalis’ has white flowers, P. x sub. ‘Autumnalis Rosea’ has pink flowers, P. x sub. ‘Pendula Rosea’ has weeping branches and pink flowers and P. x sub. ‘Pendula Rosea Plena’ has weeping branches and semi-double, rose-pink flowers.

 I am going to end the January blog with one of my own new year’s resolutions which I hope may encourage some of you to follow me. This is to plant more bee friendly plants. I have been inspired to do this by an excellent article in the January edition of ‘The Garden’, the RHS’s monthly magazine, in which writers Helen Bostock, Andrew Salisbury and Stephanie Bird suggest a nectar-rich menu of plants for each month of the year. Evidently honey bees are not over-picky about which flowers they visit but many of our considerably diverse wild bees have their own particular flower preferences. With 25 species of bumblebee and more than 250 species of solitary bee there are many which can be encouraged into our gardens and given a better chance to survive if we chose our plants carefully. Flowers contain two rewards for any pollinator- nectar and pollen. Nectar is basically made up of energy-rich sugars which power bees for flight- only honey bees using nectar to make honey. Pollen is more protein-rich and is collected to take back to the nest or hive. There it is stored in the cells where bees lay their eggs, to feed the developing larvae. The rewards for the gardener, of course, are that we can not only enjoy the sight and sounds of these insects but also that they will pollinate our flowers which can then produce the seeds and fruits which we need to sustain both ourselves and our gardens.

For January the article suggests the following:-

Erica carnea (Winter Heath)- This is a species of heather that doesn’t require an acid soil (Erica x darleyensis is another one) so it can be grown in most gardens. This is good news for gardeners wanting both colour and bee-friendly flowers in the depths of winter. Ericas in general like a sunny spot where they can slowly spread out and carpet the ground. Small, bell-shaped flowers hang from the evergreen shoots and nectar is produced in good amounts in the deepest parts of the flowers. Honey bees are particular fans of heathers which can provide a rich reward for intrepid workers active during milder spells.

Other suggestions are Eranthis hyemalis, the winter aconite, which I have referred to earlier, Clematis cirrhosa one of the early flowering, evergreen clematis, Viburnum tinus an evergreen shrub used in many gardens for some winter colour and structure and Corylus avellana (Hazel) which is much loved by bees for its pollen.

Finally there are jobs to do in January, of course. Here in our own garden Teresa and I will be starting to tidy the beds and borders by removing and composting broken stems, leaves which are covering other plants and any early weeds and then by adding organic matter to any bare patches of soil. Any organic matter, apart from peat of course, can be used- your own compost, leaf mould, well-rotted manure, spent mushroom compost, spent compost from tubs and pots or soil conditioner from recycling centres, often sold under the name ‘Greengrow’. This can simply be spread onto the surface, possibly ‘tickled’ into the top few inches with a fork and then left for the worms to work their magic. Once incorporated into the soil it will help to hold water and nutrients and make them available to plants when needed. January is also a good time to repair and treat wooden structures when they are largely free of plant growth and to clean and prepare greenhouses, cold frames, pots, trays and tools for the growing season to come.

I shall be back in February with some ‘Plants for the Month’, more suggestions for bee-friendly plants and some jobs to get you into the garden and to keep you out of trouble!

Until then I wish you all a very happy, healthy and successful 2023.


Leave a comment

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.