New Year delights

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New Year delights

Happy New Year! Welcome to a new start, a clean slate and a fresh new, never before seen or experienced year!

Traditionally new year is a time to make resolutions and whether they are personal goals or general statements of good intent, new year is a good time to look forward and to strive for better days.

January can feel like a bit of an anticlimax after the Christmas festivities. It can feel a bit austere in the often cold dark days of the early new year, but I hope I might be able to cheer you up a bit and reassure you that your garden can be (and may well be already) a haven of fresh new life and interest.

Like many of us more fortunate types I have had a break over Christmas, in fact I've been away from the garden for almost two weeks. It's easy to think that very little would have changed in that time considering the time of year, but in fact the garden has moved on a huge amount. The break away from the garden allows you to view things through fresh eyes. We as gardeners can get very easily bogged down in the details and lose sight of the bigger picture, a break can really help to put things back into perspective along with drawing your attention to jobs which you may have overlooked.

I'm pleased to say that the first thing I noticed about the garden on my return is that generally it looked pretty tidy! There were a few little tidying and finishing off jobs that got overlooked in the dash to get the final leaves cleared and beds tidied before Christmas, but with those little tasks done I feel better still.  Many plants have been busy over the last few weeks, bulbs have begun to break the surface, buds have started to swell, and flowers have been breaking out across the garden!

So today I have taken a bit of time to properly explore the garden and to catch up on which plants are doing what. Unlike in spring and summer where the colour in the garden is concentrated in the flower beds close to the house, my trip today took me into the margins of the garden where the garden meets the landscape.

One of my favourite flowers of the whole year are out now; the tiny flowers of our native hazel appear just above the catkins before they start to open. They are a vivid pink and star-like in form and if you've never noticed them before then have a really close look at a hazel now. Perhaps it is their diminutive and rather 'shy' nature that appeals to me so much.

The edges of the common and the old drove way are carpeted with the leaves of snowdrops with cowslips dotted in between. The very first snowdrop is out already and if the mild weather continues, white blooms will soon spread right across the area. There are occasional cowslip flowers also, although the rosettes of leaves that are dotted far and wide hint at what is to come.

The hellebores in the studio bed and along the riverbanks have big swollen flower buds and will be flowering any day. On my little trip I only found one which was partially open but Arne has been promising some very beautiful and unusual flowers. I love hellebores and can't wait to see them!

Elsewhere there are witch hazels flowering now too. Just before Christmas Hamamelis 'Arnold Promise', a beautiful warm yellow witch hazel started to flower and it is now ablaze with colour and joined by a rich mahogany cultivar called Hamamelis x intermedia 'Diane'. Again there are more to come.

There are some winter flowering shrubs that offer fantastic fragrance and one of them, Daphne bholua 'Jaqueline Postill', is located right outside the front door. Lonicera x purpusii 'Winter Beauty', Chimonanthus praecox 'Grandiflorus' and Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn' all add scent and are found throughout the garden, all in flower, at the moment.

Winter can be a season that is overlooked when planning a garden, which is a shame because there are some great plants out there which will really add to your year-round enjoyment. Whereas summer is all about exuberance and excess, winter in the garden is about unexpected jewels, just when you need them most.

Arne is running several courses over the summer here at Allt-y-bela where you can learn more about how he approaches planting. One of the joys of my job is the opportunity to learn first hand how gardens are created and structured and the courses provide an opportunity to gain some insight here in Arne's own garden. The wonderful thing about gardening, and what keeps most of us hooked, is that there is always more to learn, and the courses at Allt-y-bela provide a great opportunity to do just that.

Words: Steve Lannin, Gardener at Allt-y-bela

Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer