Shining through the darkest months: Winter can be beautiful in the garden

With the blossoms and blooms of spring and summer all but forgotten and many gardens closed to the public, you could be forgiven for thinking that as we retreat inside from the cold that the gardening year is over. But, far from being a time of rest, winter can be a really productive and beautiful time in the garden. We caught up with Sarah Pajwani, garden owner of St Timothee in Berkshire, to find out more about winter in her garden.

What are the main jobs to do in the garden during the winter months?

I think of winter as the perfect time of year to get ahead with so many jobs. The pressure is off because nothing is urgent and we have the luxury of time to choose the jobs we fancy.

Bulb planting is the only really pressing job which, for me, often drifts into December. Because I like to leave as many perennials standing throughout the winter, it can be tricky to add bulbs to established borders so some cutting back is needed first – and that usually reveals a host of weeds to also clear as well as self-sown seedlings to pot up.  These three jobs; gently cutting back and editing, weeding and potting up seedlings, form the bulk of what I do throughout the winter working around the borders and finishing with a mulch of home-made compost.

It’s also the time of year when we’ve embarked on any major projects such as digging out a new border or adding a pond. This year, we’ve no new borders planned but we are taking out two overgrown hedges completely. We’ve tried to renovate them but it’s not worked well so I’ll be replanting with bare root plants which it’s the perfect time of year to use – they’re a bit cheaper and it gives them time to settle and get off to a flying start come spring. It’s also a great time to plant bare root roses and peonies, both tough, high-impact plants that can give a tremendous boost to more difficult areas.

And then probably my final job for winter is to check over the trees and think about any pruning. We have lots of old apple trees which do need regular pruning to restrict their size.

What do you like best about winter in your garden?

I love the peace and quietness of winter. The overall structure of the garden is laid bare and so it’s a great time to see how that works and to have the chance to think and dream up new plans and ideas for the future without the flowery distractions of summer.

What do you like least about winter in your garden?

Definitely the short days! There’s a lot less time when you can get outside.

Is there any weather that drives you inside during the winter?

I don’t garden in any weather. I’m quite happy to wrap up and get outside in the cold, but if it’s pouring with rain, it’s no fun at all for me and I do garden for the pleasure of it.

What plants provide the most impact in the winter?

I would have to say deciduous trees. I think they epitomise what winter is all about when everything is stripped back and bare and yet can still be incredibly beautiful.

How can you add colour to your garden in winter?

I think the most impactful way to add colour in winter comes from using shrubs with coloured stems so in my garden, it’s the dogwoods with stems of all colours from yellow to orange to red.

Where do you find inspiration for your garden?

I would say anywhere and everywhere. Visiting other gardens and reading garden magazines, but most influences I am largely unconscious of.  I do actively look at what plants are growing wild around me when I’m out walking the dog and I like the challenge and process of solving a problem be it what to plant in a tricky piece of soil or how best to look after and care for a plant. When I’m weeding, I’m always thinking and having ideas.

What inspired you to open for the National Garden Scheme?

I feel very lucky to have the garden I do and so it’s a great way for me to be able to give something back. It’s lovely when people say that they’ve enjoyed the garden and the fact that the money raised goes to such important charities gives me the confidence to keep opening

What do you like best about opening your garden?

It’s a wonderful chance for me to meet other interested gardeners and chat about plants. Not many of my friends are keen gardeners so it’s great to meet some like-minded people.

Also, since opening for the National Garden Scheme I’ve also joined Twitter and discovered a fantastic community of fellow gardeners who like me love to share experiences and photos and are always happy to give advice. It’s been a great way to see what’s happening in other gardens right across the year. [You can follow Sarah on Twitter @Spajwani]

Sarah Pajwani by Marianne Marjerus

Find out more:

Join Sarah for The Winter Garden, ‘Talk and Walk’ on January 15, 2020 to find out more about what makes the garden at St Timothee shine through the darkest months.

All photos courtesy of Marianne Majerus


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