Now is the time to take a good look at the skeletal form of your garden. Mid-winter allows us to take stock and plan for the coming year and if you are considering planting shrubs you will find they are great time-savers.
Chosen well they will cover the ground quickly and for all-year impact plant as many evergreens as possible. If you provide a good evergreen background there will be places for those which lose their leaves in autumn so the garden doesn't look completely bare in winter.
Make a simple plan before going to buy the plants. A good book on shrubs is handy and a few winter hours can be enjoyed looking at the numerous varieties and finding out how high they grow and how far they spread.
Knowing the eventual spread makes planning more enjoyable because plants can be planted where you want them to grow. This saves a lot of money because you won't want as many as you thought. Shrubs, like kittens and puppies, grow.
Take winter-flowering heathers. They grow about six inches high and after two years will have a spread of about a foot. Plant them about a foot apart and after a couple of years they'll be touching and you'll be able to enjoy a carpet of winter colour.
Camellias vary quite a bit. Some have a spread of up to six feet but if left alone for years can spread to twice that distance. But in a cultivated garden, pruning correctly after flowering keeps the plant in check.
If you plant a camellia next to a choisya, they will have a total combined spread of about 14 feet so, to get them at the correct distance, plant them seven feet apart. The trouble with this theory is that the border will look gappy for a couple of years.
If professionals did it this way, Tom Dick and Harry plus their dogs will walk through the border and it doesn't become established because of the damage. So they plant everything about a foot apart to cover the ground as quickly as possible.
So, what's the solution?
Why not plant annual flowers to give colour all summer and perhaps cheap plants like wallflowers and bulbs for a spring sparkle?
This idea is not new and a lot of good gardeners find the effect pleasing. If you give it a try you'll find the number of annuals gradually drops. But because the effect is so good, you will possibly find yourself pruning back the shrubs to ensure there's room for the flowers.
We've now got a mixed border which has a lot of advantages because there's always room to add another favourite plant. Are you like us? Do you go along to a nursery or garden centre and buy a plant only to find it difficult to find somewhere to plant it? When we fall in love with a pieris Forest Flame, we have to prune one of the others to accommodate it.
But when you finish, isn't it great to look back at the border and say to yourself, you would never think it was winter, I'm so pleased we decided to plant those evergreens because when the sun shines on them, it looks like the middle of summer!
TIP OF THE WEEK
The principle of crop rotation is to grow specific groups of vegetables on a different part of the veg plot each year. This reduces a build-up of crop-specific pests and diseases and it organises groups of crops according to their cultivation needs.