Sudeley Castle
I guess not many blog readers have a garden the size of Sudeley Castle (where this photo was taken), but visits to ‘stately plots’ provide both inspiration and ideas

As I sit by the fire contemplating this week’s post, the full moon shines through a gap in the wooden shutters, yet I am dreaming of hot summer days and the joy of working in my ornamental garden. The scent of roses, bees and butterflies in our ‘cutting patch’, and a productive potager filled with salads and herbs. For the moment, the vegetable plot is forgotten, or at least pushed to one side as reality surfaces; for I realise I have not yet ordered flower seeds for this year. Our summer ‘annuals’ border is always a visual delight, continually alive with bees; though sadly less honeybees, and so the humble bumble is increasingly important for pollination.

annual border
annuals are a speedy way to fill flower borders with colour – just rake weed-free soil to a fine tilth and sprinkle the seed in patches; thin as required and keep the plot weed free (hardy annuals can be sown ‘in-situ’, half-hardy should be started in the greenhouse)

As more and more gardeners turn to growing vegetables, the ornamental aspect can be neglected, or removed altogether, just as I remember my parents doing in our London garden 70 years ago in their bid to ‘dig for victory’ – or at least my mother’s attempt to feed us. Yet it is the shrubs and beautiful flower borders that add bio-diversity and, well in my case, excitement. Whereas bringing vegetable produce into the kitchen will save you money, a continual source of decorative material will feed the soul, and beautify the overall garden (even the allotment).

raised beds
one of my raised beds – a mix of herbs, vegetables, shrub roses with edible flowers and perennials for cutting (and quite a few weeds!)

Plan such areas so that there will also always be something to gather in every month of the year – evergreen and deciduous shrubs and climbers; perennials, biennials and annuals; bulbs and corms; and herbal foliage as well. Even a tiny posy to grace the dining table will delight; your ornamental garden need not be of ballroom proportions! Of course, there is always the dilemma of ornamental versus vegetables, and maybe you HAVE a decorative garden and want to introduce vegetables. Don’t dig everything up! Consider creating patches within existing beds and introduce your culinary produce a bit at a time.

male greater-spotted woodpecker on feeder
(a male greater-spotted woodpecker on one of our many bird-feeders)

Wildlife will also benefit – and we gardeners are a vital cog in providing ‘bird-corridors’, particularly in urban localities, so plant a few fruit bushes or trees to share with feathered neighbours; protect those you want for yourself! Talking of birds, do check the website of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and register (free) for the Big Garden Birdwatch ready for next weekend (29th/30th January).
(a male greater-spotted woodpecker on one of our many bird-feeders)

Bookshelf: an old favourite of mine is Rosemary Verey’s invaluable book, ‘The Garden in Winter‘ originally published in 1988 and still as relevant today as when it first appeared. The depths of winter need not be an impoverished time with everything under wraps. Even when the ground is snow-covered, your winter garden can become a thing of beauty: crisp, frosty days and sweet-smelling winter flowers, evergreens splashed with gold and silver, and spiky shrubs with stems the colour of a dark rainbow. Frances Lincoln, ISBN 0-7112-05-7-8.

Keeping you in the picture: I’m signing off for a week now – someone else from the Dobies team will be writing the post for you, with our February e-newsletter following the week after that.

(This post written by contributor, Ann Somerset Miles.)

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