November and December were wet, with the sort of rain that flowed in rivers down the lanes in our village, leaving sticks and mud and debris everywhere. For weeks I didn't touch the garden, the beds so saturated that it would have damaged the soil to trample on them. I looked out to leaden skies and sad silhouettes in the garden. A couple of times I skirted round the edge of the borders, half-heartedly weeding, but I didn't find the momentum to do any proper gardening until a couple of weeks ago, when the skies cleared. I tackled the front borders first, which are small enough to weed without stepping on, weeding and doing an interim cut-back of anything looking sorry for itself. Yellowing alchemilla and soggy geranium foliage got the snip, and overgrown Stipa tenuissima was pulled out, making way for new seedlings. This will give other plants the chance to thrive, re-energising the beds. I spread compost on the veg beds, followed closely by the chickens who scratched it all in for me.
My auricula theatres and plant shelves (available to buy in my shop) have played a big part in the winter garden. While the colour drains out of the main garden in winter, the shelves provide a platform for colour, and at any time of the year you can find something to brighten things up. I have had little violas flowering all winter, to draw the eye as you walk past, and in the last few weeks I have added bedding primulas. They may be gaudy but that splash of colour is enough to leave a lasting imprint for the day. I have dressed the charcoal auricula theatre with seed heads and, in the last week or so, with snowdrops, sweet and tender in little auricula pots. They are just bog standard snowdrops - if I had had time I would have sought out more interesting forms.
In other parts of the garden colour is starting to appear; little hints of magenta, purple and blue that I seek out, crouching down to see the detail. A confused cirsium thistle is flowering in a sunny spot near the house, the hellebores are starting to flower, and a clump of Iris reticulata is making its annual appearance, pushing up through the gravel. These iris were literally the only flowers in the garden when I arrived two years ago, the previous owners having gravelled and lawned everything to a soulless blank canvas. Looking at the bigger picture, I appreciate the green structure of the garden at this time of year: spheres of silvery-grey Teucrium fruticans (which I clip two or three times a year to keep them in shape), loose balls of Hebe salicifolia, and monster hummocks of Euphorbia x pasteurii (shown below far right). Good old Euphorbia characias wulfenii is another evergreen stalwart which I'm encouraging to self seed in the gravel. And finally the seed heads and grasses are doing their bit at this time of year: Stipa tenuissima and Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster' are the most useful grasses, whereas Molinia 'Transparent' has collapsed. For seed heads, I love the darkest black-brown pom poms of Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm', the whorls of Phlomis russelliana (below second left) and the silvery mesh of Aster umbellatus (below, far left), and the birds do too.