Gloomy Monday 24/1/2022

Actually I was thinking of the song by Billy Holiday which is Gloomy Sunday. There is a song called Gloomy Monday but it’s quite cheerful by comparison.

I don’t know if there is an official midwinter point for the UK but from a gardening point of view it would perhaps fall close to the end of January. The dead stems of grasses and herbaceous plants are starting to break up if they haven’t already been cut down. Frost has killed the top growth of the leftover Salvias, Cannas and Plectranthus. Balancing this are a few snowdrops and cyclamen in flower, the odd speck of pink from the hardiest Fuchsia microphylla. The hellebores are just beginning. Bulbs are pushing their noses through the soil; tulips, crocus, Camassia.

Hakonechloa doing its best to provide some winter colour on a very grey day.

I am grateful for these small pleasures. They lift my spirits a little, bringing hope of things to come. I note what is performing now and plan to add more. I’ll try out new things, see if I can’t get just a little more colour. Only a couple of months to get through.

Then, come the summer I struggle to plant anything without digging up those very same bulbs. I don’t like to cut down the Narcissus and Crocus foliage too soon. There’s a drab area I can do nothing with because it’s full of Hellebores.  I cannot go near our precious cyclamen collection, they must remain undisturbed so I can collect the seed. The winter flowering Camellias are blobs of dark foliage.

Having even a halfway decent level of interest in winter suddenly seems to have come at the expense of colour in the summer. The grasses that were so valued for their winter contribution are just background in summer. So too the late flowering Chrysanthemums, Asters, Nerines and sasanqua Camellias. The spring flowering Camellias are long gone too. OK, the spring flowering Magnolia is festooned with a summer flowering Clematis to disguise its dullness and Fuchsias have grown back up where species tulips and crocus were planted between them.

Beggars can’t be choosers, an imperfect Hellebore but still welcome.

I do sometimes wonder though why I put so much effort into having things happen in winter. I spend very little time out in the garden and no-one ever visits to see the fruits of my efforts. Disappointment comes with the territory, the beautiful Camellia display turns to mush overnight, the late ‘mums get flattened in autumn gales, assuming they’ve survived the slug onslaught.

The way it is supposed to work is that the wood anemones in spring die down as the Roscoeas come up through them; then they are cleared away just as Cyclamen hederifolium buds start to push up in autumn, followed by their mottled leaves through to spring when the anemones come again. Here and there it does work out like that but most plants don’t conveniently die down to nothing when they’ve stopped performing. They remain on stage, minus their motley, and in so doing they stop other players taking their place.

Generally, for me, having something happening right through the year has comfortably trumped the summer crescendo. Then along came the notion of opening the garden in summer and the insidious, corrosive notion that the paying public must be given what they have paid to see. It might cross the mind of a few of them that some of what they are seeing would have been flowering months before or will be in a few weeks time. For most I think they judge only what is on show on the day of their visit. In fairness, I probably do the same when I visit other gardens. I am being pulled in opposing directions and have no more idea of which way I’ll go than you do.

By no means all gloom but should all the eggs go in the summer basket?

9 thoughts on “Gloomy Monday 24/1/2022

  1. Winter interest if overrated, even in our mild climate where it is easier. I don’t get it. My colleague in Southern California keeps his garden spectacular throughout the year, and he does sort of use it through the year, but really, even there, the garden deserves a break. What is so bad about dormant plants? My garden is utilitarian, so it is naturally bare through winter. I actually prefer it that way, because it looks clean to me.

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  2. Well put Jim but what a question when any answer has its upside as well as downside. I suppose this is the reason people with smaller garden much smaller ones than yours are beguiled by ‘arrangement of plants’ already grown by someone else which end up in the green recycling bin as soon as a new season arrives.

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  3. We’re more inclined to have bits and pieces through the year but then we don’t open to the public and have no audience to please only ourselves.

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  4. It’s a balancing act, isn’t it? Like you, I like to emphasise winter. Even a small amount of growth/colour is appreciated.
    Winter reminds me also to appreciate the down time…. slow & easy. Despite how things look, there’s a lot going on.


  5. It’s a good question, especially in a small garden. I have little of interest other than an underwhelming winter honeysuckle and a micro fuchsia that never stops flowering. Hellebores are just starting and other bulbs, mostly in pots, coming up. Skimmias in containers. Maybe that’s the answer? Have something of interest in containers. Trying to cram things in for every season is difficult and as you say, how much time do we actually spend on the garden during winter?


    1. I think the textbook answer is to get the main season planting sorted to be as good as it can be, then to add in other elements to perform at other times of the year. The textbook would be written by Christopher Lloyd, with a garden that gets most of its visitors in summer. In a largely unvisited garden the gardener gets to choose which should be the main season, or to have more than one in different areas, or not to have one at all.


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