Update from the Gardens – January 2024

January is an interesting month at the Harlow Museum Walled Gardens. Our winter border comes to life with colour and scent.


Despite the weather in January being very unhelpful we have been able to make some good progress in the gardens this month. It started off wet and then turned frosty, meaning we haven’t been able to get on the borders as we would like.

Highlights in the Garden this month

The Salix alba var. vitellina is displaying its yellow stemmed glory, and looks fantastic next to the Mahonia ‘Charity’ with its clusters of yellow flowers.  Despite the recent spell of frosts and cold weather the flowers have lasted beautifully and with the milder weather we have had this week, the queen bumble bees have already been very grateful for the nectar on offer.  This corner of the winter border also features our Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’, and Cornus alba ‘Siberica’.  Planted for their winter stem colour the complement the ‘yellow’ corner as well as to set off our yellow Yucca planted in our small monocote border.

The scent of the winter garden is also something to admire.  We have a well established Sarcococca hookerania hedge which is pumping our scent from its tiny flowers.  This will be cut back once it finishes flowering to keep it in shape but also make sure it has enough time to make new flowering buds for next winter.

Other plants known for winter scent and doing their thing in the garden at the moment are our Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ and Lonicera fragrantissima.  Putting on a fantastic visual display are our Garrya eliptica, whose tassels are gloriously fresh.

Jobs in the Walled Garden for January

  • We are cutting back our hellebore foliage, to allow the flowers to shine.  We started this job in December, but a few still need our attention.  Cutting back the leaves is especially important for those leaves affected by black spot, as removing them now will help to prevent spread on the newly emerging leaves.  If you are doing this job at home, do not put these leaves in your home composting.
  • Cutting back the old growth in the Herbaceous border.  The old stems and flower heads on the herbaceous perennials have seen us through the winter, adding interest and the Cynara looked particularly fantastic when frosted over the last few weeks.  Cutting back the damaged stems and soggy foliage now allows the new growth to come through unhindered.  If you are tackling this at home, try not to remove everything all at once, to allow insects over wintering amongst the old growth to emerge as the weather warms.
  • Turning the compost heap.  We have a three bin compost system in the garden, with each bin being turned into its neighbour until the final product is ready in the last bin.  We are sieving some of the compost into bags to use in the spring for potting, and using the rougher material as mulch.  We will also bag up the rest of the ‘ready’ compost, to that we can turn the neighbouring bins into it and start the process off again in the spring.
  • Winter pruning our trees where necessary (including our trained fruit trees) and our hardy shrubs.  We have left some of the plants damaged by the cold weather last winter for a full year to allow them to recover as much as possible, and we will now be reshaping them to better show off the new growth.
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