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WINTER  Recent winters have been so mild that it has been possible to garden all the year through. This allows extended planting time for trees and shrubs etc. Doing so at this time of year, is the best time for the plants because they are dormant and will settle in better ready to start growing in the spring. January is a very good time to plant for the gardening year ahead. Many early season products become available to purchase at this time as retailers begin to stock up with new items. Seed potatoes are in stock from the beginning of the month, Buy them early and ‘chit’ them ready for planting around Easter. This is especially advisable for ‘early’ varieties which will provide delicious new potatoes in June. Onion sets and garlic bulbs can be purchased at the same time and planted in February if the weather is good. Summer flowering bulbs also start to become available by the end of January, and will add extra dazzling colour to your borders and pots. Buy them early, pot them up and they will be ready to provide instant impact in the heart of summer. This technique is especially useful if you want to enhance your borders, because dahlias and lilies can be plunged into the ground in their pots and then dug up easily in the autumn for winter protection. Seed sowing should commence early in the year, especially if you are using a heated greenhouse or propagator. This will give seed an early start so you can plant out seedlings sooner. Also many vegetable seeds can be directly sown into the ground if the weather is good. New ranges of fresh seeds are ready to buy now. Fresh bags of compost will be in stock soon and it is a good idea to buy your compost early and use your greenhouse or conservatory to warm it up ready for early spring use, especially if you are seed sowing. Seeds germinate quicker in warm compost. Don’t forget that winter is when the birds need the most help, so put our some extra food now to help them through the hard times. The choice of foods is endless these days, with many specific mixes to suit particular species. Remember that the higher the calorific value, the better it is for the birds because they need the fat to give them maximum energy. Lastly remember that there are several plants that flower in January and many of them are scented. These include Hamamelis (witch hazel) in yellow, orange or red. Winter Honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima or purpusii) shrubby forms not climbers with cream flowers. Golden yellow Mahonia, beware the spiky leaves. My favourite though is the dwarf evergreen Sarcococca known as Christmas box, because for its early flowering time. The variety ‘confusa’ is the best for pure white flowers and very prolific too. All in all gardening is a twelve month hobby, so don’t forget the winter season. Phil Dunnett