GARDENING; Evergreen for Growth

Article excerpt

An afternoon of piercing wind and driving sleet was just what I needed after the Hogmanay party in Edinburgh.

Luckily, the gales didn't do much damage, apart from a few broken branches and a snapped irrigation pipe, but nothing major.

What really worried me was how far forward everything in the garden is.

There are fat crimson buds on peonies, delicate grey-green shoots on clematis and many things, like penstemons, just haven't died down.

This is the one time of the year that a mild and sheltered garden is a curse.

All you gardeners with old exposed sites can, for once, feel smug. You don't need to live the next six weeks on a knife-edge.

Your plants are sensibly dormant, whereas mine are merrily growing away with not a care in the world.

When January's frosts, or the cruel rain of February arrive, your plants will survive.

Mine, with their tender growth, will be blasted by cold and may even die.

I've recycled the Christmas tree into twiggy wigwams to protect the weakest, but I'll be glad to be through the next two months.

At least March winds mean frost-free nights.

January is a terrific time for taking a hard look at the structure of your garden.

The eye isn't distracted by foliage or flowers. It's the month which leaves the bones of the garden exposed and it is easy to see whether the basic layout works.

Take some photos. They often reveal faults and eyesores better than the eye.

Better still, get a few photocopies made of them and then you can really go to town.

Use your snaps to experiment with design. Take a felt-tip and make the planting a bit fuller here, widen the path there.

What about a focal point where paths meet? Draw it in and see if it works.

All gardens should contain evergreens to provide winter interest and to allow the eye to rest when the garden's in full glory.

But don't limit yourself to the usual dwarf conifers when you want low- level planting. …