Winter gardening: which flowers to plant in your garden in January

Ilex crenata (a holly with tiny dark green leaves) works well in a topiary garden

Ilex crenata (a holly with tiny dark green leaves) works well in a topiary garden - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Jane Earthy from Monkton Elm garden centre tells us how we can give our green spaces a new year makeover.

After twelfth night there’s something rather gorgeous about a clean, tidy and bare Christmas decoration-free house. Although generally one of life’s untidy brigade, I love the look of everything in its place once more.

In the garden, January is when one can really appreciate the clean lines and tidy shapes of clipped evergreen plants used as topiary and in knot gardens and parterres, as flowering plants are scarce so can’t distract the eye. Morning frost on topiary, especially when coupled with the sun’s low rays, merely heightens their appeal.

Topiary can be incorporated into virtually every garden, whatever size, it’s simply a matter of scale, and there are plenty of evergreen plants to choose from, depending on the result you want to achieve.

At its simplest, evergreen plants grown as standards can be found easily at garden centres providing instant results -a particularly attractive front door can be highlighted with a ‘lollipop’ shape bay or holly placed either side for instance.

I use box balls as repetition plants which is pleasing to the eye, providing structure and contrast to herbaceous planting, and also use various topiary shapes as punctuation points, either where paths change direction or as full stops at the end of a vista. Both draw the viewer’s eye through the garden.

There is a major problem with using box (buxus) though; box blight is rife now and has ruined some of my topiary and although I do spray regularly with a suitable fungicide, once it has arrived in the garden it’s hard to control. Keeping the plants healthy with feeding and good air flow around them helps, along with removing any clippings and fallen leaves (a hoover works wonders for this but be prepared to get strange looks from your neighbours!).

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I will probably struggle with box for a few more years before admitting defeat and using an alternative. Thankfully, and especially for those about to embark on a topiary/knot garden project, alternatives are readily available.

Ilex crenata (a holly with tiny dark green leaves) works well and is said to most closely resemble box, along with the evergreen shrubby honeysuckle Lonicera pileata.

Taxus baccata, the English yew also responds well to becoming topiary and euonymus ‘Green Spire’ is perfect for low hedging. Euonymus is the one I will probably eventually use in my tiny knot garden and yew will be replacing larger topiary.

It will break my heart to dig up the box topiary but gardens are forever evolving and as I am also trying to cope with the devastating effects of honey fungus in parts of the garden, perhaps it is time to make changes. Fortunately topiary seems to work with any garden style.