Planning is essential in the garden at this time of year

These cactuses at Kew gardens gave me inspiration to pot up a small cactus garden in a large planter

These cactuses at Kew gardens gave me inspiration to pot up a small cactus garden in a large planter for inside my cottage - Credit: Archant

AS is the case every new year, many of us will have made resolutions. Some people (probably me) will have already broken some by now, and others will be wishing they’d never signed up to the gym/start walking to work even when it’s raining, etc., etc. But one resolution which I have made, which is one that I think I will stick to, is to make some real changes in my garden this year. It was with this in mind that I went to Kew Gardens to look for inspiration.

Inspiration can be taken from formal gardens and adapted for a smaller scale in your own garden

Inspiration can be taken from formal gardens and adapted for a smaller scale in your own garden - Credit: Archant

When you move to a new house, it’s very easy to continue to maintain the garden that is already there, and although I slightly changed the shape of one of my flower beds, I have worked with the canvas that was already there, and added to it.

There are still splashes of colour in the garden – as shown by this iris at Kew

There are still splashes of colour in the garden – as shown by this iris at Kew - Credit: Archant

I have added plants that I loved already – mainly sown from seed, like Nigella, and English bluebells. I have added several hundred bulbs every year, which is by far the best way to fill a garden with spring colour.

Most gardens will have some bulbs already, but for most gardeners, spring is a very special time of year, and the initial smattering of colour provides such a lift in spirits, that for me, I can never have enough!

The first house that I lived in after university had a tiny garden. There were only about six daffodils in the whole garden, and I remember deciding that the next year I would have the whole garden full of daffodils.

I went out and bought 500 bulbs, and for a novice gardener – and for one who had very small flower beds – it was rather over-optimistic to think that I would a) find space to put them all in, and b) have the willpower.

I remember working for a very long day, until it was dark, desperately trying to get to the end of a sack of daffodil bulbs… since then I have learnt that gardening is a marathon, rather than a sprint.

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If I don’t manage to completely cover my garden with bulbs one year, there will always be the next, and the building up of different layers is actually more effective and can result in a much more interesting mix of spring bulbs.

If you want to have a specific colour scheme, or want to be sure that you will have some areas of just daffodils, or just tulips – it’s a good idea to keep a note of where you have planted each thing – you can draw a rough sketch of your garden and keep a plan of where you want to put things.

This will make it much easier when planting the following year, when you will inevitably have no idea where you have put anything.

So my new year’s resolution for this year is to be more organised in my garden. By proxy of my garden being very much the patchwork quilt equivalent of a garden – with plants flung in wherever I can find space and no real structure at all, I have decided that this year I am going to start planning.

I still want my cottage garden to be “a cottage garden” – it will never be big enough to have sweeping borders, or a neatly trimmed parterre of box hedging, but there are certain times of the year when the garden just disappears.

I have enough evergreen shrubs, and ivy to mean that the garden never gets completely drab, but there are definitely things that I can do to ensure that there is a more measured approach to the colour throughout the year.

I intend to start looking through the dozens of gardening books which gather dust on the shelves of my gardening room, and actually sit down to consider which shrubs and plants I should be putting in at what time of year.

I hope, that by this time next year, I will be able to look at the garden and see a real difference – whether or not it will look anything like my initial plan, remains to be seen, but that’s the joy of gardens, they very rarely do exactly what you want them to do.

They will normally do roughly what you want, if you consider the planting sensibly, but there is always the extra element involved – nature will always take her own path, and more often than not, the garden ends up looking much better for it.

Like most of the nation’s gardeners, I am a complete Galanthophile (snowdrop lover) – so in next month’s column, I will of course be looking at snowdrops; the different types you can buy, and the best places in the local area to see them in February.

Focus on: January jobs

IT’S very easy to think that there is little that can be done in the garden at this time of year (it’s something I often find myself saying when I look out of the window and it’s freezing cold, and tipping it down with rain), but there are plenty of things to be getting on with during January.

For me, it’s great to feel that, with the new calendar year, I’m getting started with the new year in the garden too. It’s great to get out in the fresh air and working off some of those extra Christmas pounds.

n Make sure that you have raked, and picked up the last of those leaves from autumn.

This job will need to be done really carefully, as all of the tiny shoots from the spring bulbs will be coming through, and you don’t want to damage them.

If you clear away the last of the leaf debris, you’ll be able to see the snowdrops when they do start to appear – this, for me, is my favourite moment in the whole gardening year – spotting the first snowdrop.

n January is a great time for a shed tidy up. With new year’s resolutions and the new year, it’s a great time for a spring clean and to get rid of all of the clutter, or the broken plant pots which you’ve been hanging on to just in case... Don’t throw away broken terracotta pots though, as the broken pots make great crocks for putting in the bottom of plant pots for drainage.

n Similarly, an excellent but bracing job if you can face it, is cleaning off any old terracotta pots, with some water and a sturdy brush – for me, if I can bear it, this is the freezing water butt – but the pots look much better for it afterwards!

n If it really is TOO cold for you to bear going outside, you can sit next to a nice warm fire and flick through plant catalogues, and pick which plants you might like to order for the coming year, or start making a list of what you might want to include in your planting plan for the year.

Planning your planting for the year

CONSIDER what you want from your garden – whether you want it to “tick over” nicely, or whether you want to be kept busy with different jobs to do throughout the year.

* Are there times of the year when you don’t think you will be around to tend to the plants? For example if you always go away during the summer months, having lots of plants in pots, which will need constant watering might not be a good idea, unless you have particularly kind neighbours!

* What kind of soil type do you have? If you have a garden which doesn’t drain very well, getting drought-resistant plants probably isn’t a good idea, and similarly, if you really like plants which enjoy wet conditions, there may be no point in buying them if you have really well draining soil and moisture-sapping trees.

* Gardens can be expensive, if you are in no rush, you can always buy smaller plants, or grow things from seed, and wait for them to mature, but for an instant impact, buy one of two statement plants each month, and build on the structure of your garden (whilst keeping to your January plan!).

* Be realistic. If you don’t think you have the time, or the money to give your garden a complete makeover, just decide on a few small things that you might like to change.

It is very easy (and free) to completely change the look of your garden by changing the shapes of flower beds, rather than making big and expensive plans to bring in benches, archways, etc.

* If you’re ever unsure as to what plants should go in at what time of year – for example bare root roses – you can always ask at your local garden centre, who will be likely to have seasonal plants in each month, and should be able to advise you on what needs to go in, and what your plant will need in terms of planting conditions.