Suffering from cabin fever? Fancy a bit of exercise? Ruth Chivers has just the thing for you, with ideas for adding new interest to your garden, and improving existing features.

Even bleak midwinter days offer opportunities for gardening. The virtual, planning kind can be done in the warmth of indoors. In chilly but dry weather, a great escape to the garden helps work off cabin fever, and get your creative juices flowing. Winter is a great time to take stock and plan changes.

Wet or frosty conditions put lawns and borders out of bounds. Concentrate instead on the hard surfaces in your garden. Check that your paths take you where you need to go, keeping your feet clean. Are they wide enough for wheelbarrows? Start work now on making new paved paths or extending old ones. Sheltered patios and other corners that catch winter sunlight are welcome havens. If your garden lacks such inviting nooks, now is a good time to plan and build one. Patios are often too small for outdoor dining. Extend yours now if this is the case. Brushing paths and patios with a good stiff broom is great aerobic exercise, and helps keep surfaces slime-free and safe. Really stubborn mossy debris can be shifted with Jeyes Fluid or Armillatox.

Winter gales can loosen fence panels. Left to flap, these will damage plants, so fix them as soon as you can. With much foliage stripped from your garden, its structure can be appreciated – or not, if your garden lacks form. Walls, fences, trellis, pergolas and arches can all be used to divide up space and give year-round vertical interest. Adding these features now means they’ll provide backdrops for plants in summer.

Evergreens add weight and year-round interest to planting. Now is a good time to decide whether you have enough of them in your garden. Sarcococca (Christmas box), Mahonia japonica, and Viburnum tinus 'Eve Price' all look great at the moment, the first two adding a bonus of deliciously fragrant flowers. Winter starkness can highlight the lack of screening plants, or structural planting in the form of trees and hedges. Hedging of any type can still be bought and planted. Bare-rooted trees are only found on sale in winter. So if your ground is frost free and not waterlogged, you can tackle these planting jobs now.

Use frosty mornings to check where frost pockets are in your garden. Remember these when it comes to later season planting. Don’t plant borderline hardy plants in chilly spots. Perennials and grasses add winter interest to your garden if you resist the temptation to cut them back after summer flowering. Miscanthus seed heads look magnificent against a winter sky. Spent flowerheads of bronze fennel and Phlomis russeliana achieve spectacular good looks in winter frosts.

All gardens should have space for snowdrops. A horticultural Prozac, there’s nothing more uplifting than seeing the first snowdrop of winter – some of mine are out now. They’re best planted ‘in the green’, so buy now or divide existing clumps. And snowdrops mean that spring can’t be too far off!

Check out our related workshops… Laying paved/brick paths
Paving a patio
Extending patios
Taking advantage of microclimates
How to fix fence/trellis panels
How to make/install a pergola/timber arch
Planning a winter border
Planting a hedge
Dividing clumps of bulbs/planting in the green

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Other Ruth Chivers Articles
   Design Corner - Making Changes        Design Corner - Simply Does It
   Design Corner - Tips from the Shows        Design Corner - Visits Two Nurseries
   Greenfingers Garden: Planting Up        Greenfingers Garden: The Brief
   Greenfingers Garden: The Design        Greenfingers Garden: The Survey
   Greenfingers Garden: Wrap Up        Greenfingers' Garden: Work Begins
   Message From… Philadelphia USA    
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