It’s common to think that after November, the garden is ‘put to bed for winter’ and that there are few winter gardening jobs and generally, not much going on. When you’re a professional gardener, people often comment, ‘It must be quiet for you now…’ No, the quietest time for gardening at Ham House Garden is August, not December. Christmas arrives and we gardeners need a good rest.

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During a largely hard frost-free winter is when we complete the jobs to make next spring the best. It’s optimism and hopefulness that spurs us on. From bulb planting to lawn re-edging, topiary shaping to mulching, winter tends to be a bit frantic.

Winter gardening jobs

Think about your outside seating

Sunny spot in winter at Ham House and Garden
© Chris Davies

Both at home and at work, I’ve been creating places to sit outside through winter. It’s not something I have spent that much time pondering before, but this year it’s important. What’s genuinely surprising is how many different spots in the garden capture warm(-ish) winter sun. As one of your winter gardening jobs you might need to identify the sunniest place for morning coffee and another for afternoon tea but it’s worth it and it feels like a discovery, even if you’ve had your garden for years.

Here's our piece on the best garden furniture and seats.

Re-assess your winter garden

One of the best winter gardening jobs you can do is take a good, long look at the winter garden you have created. Have a seat and take in the views that you most regularly have of your outdoor space; cast a critical eye over what you see. In many cases, the garden might look a bit empty or ‘shabby’: there might be gaps where colour should be.

Plant for you and the birds over winter

A robin at Ham House and Garden
© Chris Davies

If you lack evergreen plants, take some time to first think about your preferences and then what your visiting birds might like too. Planting evergreen shrubs with long-lasting fruit might be the aesthetic improvement and wildlife food source your garden needs. Look at crab apples for warm colours and Pyracantha to train and shape formally, around windows and along fences. If you do one thing differently for wildlife, don’t remove lots of ivy. Take modest amounts if you’re using it for wreath making but leave the fruit for birds – Christmas lunch is for everyone. Here's more on how to create a wildlife garden.

Don't miss our piece on how to create an edible hedgerow.

Think about wildlife in the garden in winter

In winter, take a few moments to do three things to benefit wildlife in your garden:

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  1. Provide water at ‘bird height’ (away from hunters) and ‘hedgehog height’, easy to sip from with tiny, short legs and no wings. Keep this water clean and unfrozen.
  2. Grab some logs and sticks and build a log pile. You can spend hours or just seconds, but the important thing is that afterwards, don’t touch your creation unless to add to it from above. Intact, unmoved and degrading it provides shelter, warmth and food, depending on what you are…
Log pile at Ham House and Garden
© Chris Davies
  • Find some less visible, out of the way areas by fences or under hedges and do nothing to them until spring. Leave the leaf litter, the twigs and a slight level of apparent untidiness. You are providing a warm resting place for something by doing nothing at all – enjoy the feel-good factor.
  • Garden leaves and mulch at Ham House and Garden
  • If there is an empty spot that you pass regularly in the colder months, it’s the season to treat yourself to winter or Christmas box (Sarcococca confusa/Sarcococca hookeriana/Sarcococca humilis). In the coldest months, this reserved shrub with smart, shiny leaves throws out a heady, sweet scent from small, white/cream flowers that will transport you to flowering summer roses and warmer, light-filled times. I promise.
  • Read Rosie Fyle's previous columns here

    Authors

    Rosie FylesHead Gardener of Ham House & Garden

    Rosie Fyles is Head Gardener of Ham House and Garden, a National Trust garden on the banks of the River Thames in Richmond, Surrey. Over the past five years Rosie and her team have been working to transform Ham’s garden into a beautiful, sustainable and nature-friendly re-creation of the 17th century original. Rosie is a Trustee of Silent Space, a charity that promotes peaceful time in green spaces.

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