A QUIET TIME IN THE GARDEN
January can be a very quiet time in the garden. A few hard frosts and a blanket of snow soon obliterate any remaining flowers surviving the mild winter. Most early snowdrops and aconites are not yet ready to push up the, though I have had some varieties of snowdrop in bud since December.
Tulips, narcissus and hyacinths are all showing a wee bit of growth, but will be very vulnerable if we run into a cold snap.
Winter cleanup and digging are just about complete, so there is plenty of time to start the pruning of shrubs, roses, fruit bushes and grape vines. Then just when you are all organised and feeling good that you are ahead of the game, along comes more gales and a few more fence panels come tumbling down.
The days are now very short, so garden tasks are quite limited. This gives me more time for studio work and so, back to my easel.
In the studio
Frosty mornings and a covering of snow can give you fantastic opportunities to get the camera out and find those special winter landscape images to capture on canvas. It is too cold to paint outdoors, but travelling around quickly I can get enough good photo shots for four to six snow scene paintings in the few hours while the sun shines. I take lots of photos then compose good scenes for a painting, often using several images together. In the studio I may start off with a good image, but then the creative juices kick in and I explore all the “what if” options. Do I change the sky, do I alter time of day, do I add a man and his dog, or a young mother and child, and do I remove trees or add a few in. Often I can get six to ten very different paintings from one good photo. My allotment site has given me many great images to paint at all times of the year, but it is now time for snow scenes.
My latest winter landscapes will go on display in the West End Gallery in the Perth Road, Dundee.
January and February are perfect months for pruning as bushes are dormant, and the ground may be snow covered or frozen so you can’t get on with other seasonal tasks.
In the fruit garden the currants, brambles, raspberries and gooseberries all need pruning and I will lop out one or two tall shoots from each of my mature Saskatoon bushes right down to ground level. Over vigorous goji bushes will get some pruning and some tying in to see if I can get them to flower and fruit this year.
Apple trees will get a few taller main branches removed to encourage young growth to keep the trees balanced and not get too big as I want to do most of the picking from ground level.
All rose bushes and climbers can be pruned then spread a bit of compost around them and lightly fork it in.
Before you prune garden shrubs, look them up in Google or a good garden book, as they all have different pruning needs. Do not prune good bushes into square or round shapes just because it tidies them up. This style, often practised by some professional landscapers shows those who have not got a clue. Some like forsythia and philadelphus get pruned like blackcurrant bushes, buddleia gets cut back to just above ground level and others such as pyracantha get spur pruned. Many like rhododendrons don’t need any pruning. Cornus and other shrubs grown for their coloured stems do not get pruned till the end of March.
There are still plenty of winter vegetables to keep the kitchen supplied with fresh greens and roots.
Cabbage, sprouts, leeks and Swedes are not troubled by the winter, and if you still have any beetroot left, earth them up a wee bit to protect them from frosts. Kale and Swiss chard are still perfect for soups and stir fries. Parsnips have had their few days of frost to sweeten them up so now appear in many dishes from soups to roasts. Onions in store are still perfect and now quite sweet.
In the kitchen
During summer I look forward to our courgette soup, but at this time of year on a cold winter’s day, the pumpkins are in a world of their own. They are very versatile as they can be stored for months fresh, then you cut them up and scoop out the flesh which can be frozen for future use. Fresh made soup can also be frozen if, as normal you make a pot too big for a couple of days servings.
I no longer ask Anna to make a note of the recipe as every batch is slightly different from the previous one, but they are all brilliant, so what does it matter. Various pumpkin soups have had stock, onion, garlic, celery, carrot, sweet potato, tomato, Swiss chard, kale, lemon, rind of orange, ginger, cloves, coconut milk, butter, thyme, parsley and crisped bacon added, but not all at the same time.
When the ground freezes and the last berries have been consumed from the garden bushes the birds can have a tough time foraging for food so keep the bird table stocked up and the frozen water dish replaced with clean fresh water. Any apples not keeping too well in store may be ok for the blackie, and bacon rind is ok if chopped up. We have to look after our local wild life even if they still return in summer to eat our strawberries, blueberries and outdoor grapes when our backs are turned.