The All-Year-Round Garden

The All-Year-Round Garden

The idea that all garden pleasures have to be tidied away every year with the terrace furniture at the end of September is at last dying a well-deserved death. This school of thought insisted that nothing remained but to get the vegetable garden dug over and then to retire indoors with the seed catalogues and a pile of detective novels until the following spring. Fortunately this is a travesty of the truth. Gardens are, or should be, capable of providing year-round pleasures. Pleasures for the eyes, nose and taste buds in every month of the twelve. They will be different and indeed should be evocative of their season.

A Christmas rose or a winter iris are the treats they are, not only because they are beautiful flowers, but because they flower when they do. Similarly vegetables and fruits in their season fresh from the garden are one of the prime pleasures of a gourmet’s and a gardener’s life. Much more so, I would suggest than strawberries, for example, flown from California in January at incredible expense.

Of course, the first peas or the earliest daffodils in pots are delightful. The pleasures they afford are enhanced by anticipation. But however delicious to the senses, the power of each to charm is bound to be diminished by twelve month availability were it possible. A big enough garden and a deep-freeze to match does make this possible nowadays in almost every way. But the almost is a big one. Even when flavours are hardly distinguishable (perhaps only true of peas) from the really fresh a dullness creeps in from repetition and the lack of looking forward.

In short, for gardeners in countries with well-marked seasons much of the satisfaction comes from working with the climate in addition to that inevitable feeling of one-upmanship of having brought forward or extended the period of which one is most fond by either cultivational guile or plain expertise.



While the all-year-round garden refers particularly to effects from flowering plants, which is a relatively new concept in gardening, the vegetables and fruit are not to be neglected in this context. It is always worth studying the recommendations (though perhaps with just a small pinch of salt) of the seed catalogues. New varieties are continually being bred for earliness, hardiness, flavour and so on and it is a mistake to stick to the old favourites too religiously. Sometimes a vegetable entirely new to our gardens appears as with Chinese cabbage for an admirable autumn salad or sugarloaf chicory for use well into the New Year. While once we had to rely on lettuce and the vagaries of the weather, salads are now available from the outdoor unprotected garden throughout the year.


Protected Places

It is, then, a combination of factors which take us from the fireside and television into the garden during the winter weekends. And one of the most important aspects is its basic design. Emphasis has already been put on the importance of a spot to catch the first or last of the warm sun, quiet and out of the wind. This may be usable for morning coffee or even lunch as late as the end of October and as soon as early March. Quick drying paving or wooden decking is vital here: sun on the face is little compensation for shoes soaking up the wet.


Winter-Flowering Plants

all year round garden - corkscrew hazelIn such places the winter-flowering plants are necessary. Mahonia japonica will give scented sprays of yellow flowers from November to April inclusive and look splendidly statuesque for the rest of the year. Chimonanthus, the winter sweet, though taking up to ten years to settle down to flower well, is worth waiting for: a couple of sprigs of its horn-yellow bells will scent its area or a whole room. (It is a dull plant in summer but makes a useful support for a clematis, this is a way of getting two for the price of one.)

Winter cherry bursts out into flower every time there is a mild spell, and there are numbers of other woody plants to give interest at this time.

At a lower level, no garden should be without Iris unguicularis (the Algerian or stylosa iris). It is ideally suited to be left alone in a narrow border against the house, even in a gravel path, in the hottest position available to provide some of the most ethereally beautiful flowers for cutting throughout the winter. You may be lucky with Christmas roses (Hellebores niger) but they won’t flower well for everyone. However, other hellebores, notably Hellebores orientalis, Hellebores atrorubens and Hellebores corsicus, most certainly will if rather later. They all mix well at the base of shrubs and enjoy the summer shade.

Early flowering bulbs are usually small enough to fit into the tiniest courtyard garden. What is desirable is that, in most cases, they should be left alone. A few aconites or snowdrops could surround a tree set in the lawn placed really close to the trunk so that the leaves which must be allowed to die down naturally in late spring, are not a bother. Various wild crocus species start to open in February. Crocus tomasinianus is a delicate lavender and is happy under deciduous shrubs, Crocus chrysanthus and all its lovely forms are not much later. These are admirable in a raised bed or against the edges of paving. There is certainly no lack of delightful flowering plants to link autumn to spring and tempt the gardener out.


Other Attractions

Other aspects include shrubs with coloured bark and ornamental berries. (Remember that in areas with a voracious bird population yellow berries last longer than red, no doubt they think such fruits are still unripe). And, of course, the clothed or furnished look that carefully chosen evergreens give is invaluable. No winter garden can be inviting if everything is leafless and apparently dead. Obviously, especially in small gardens, heavy evergreen shade is quite unacceptable. Avoiding this, however, there are small conifers available in every shade of green, to near blue and gold; broad-leaved evergreens also exist in striking variegated forms. Elaeagnus pungens ‘Maculata’ is as bright as a forsythia bush in full bloom, especially when caught by the low winter sun. All of these provide invaluable cut material for indoors.

Dry walks should lead to most if not all of these plants — another reason for edging lawns with paving. And, similarly, it should also be possible to reach any rows of winter vegetables dry-shod. The rows themselves should be short in order to reduce traffic on the wet soil, not only for convenience but to avoid puddling down the ground. On a heavy clay it is wise to have a few planks to lay alongside rows which need frequent visiting. But even here change is apparent. New varieties of Brussels sprouts have helped the problem as the sprouts develop nearly simultaneously up the stem; this can be cut whole and the picking done at leisure indoors — another reason for finding new varieties for new needs.

12. May 2011 by admin
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