In the garden in January

It was the bucket man who inspired me after a lifetime of gardening. We called him the bucket man because twice a day he would walk past our house carrying a bucket. In the morning, an empty bucket and in the evening it was usually full of produce from his allotment plot.

But that was thirty years ago, a lot of water has flowed under a lot of bridges since then, the last of which was more like a cascading crash as my heart attack left me with heart failure and I have had to reinvent my whole life.

But some things never change. The seasons call gardeners everywhere to do their thing, only for people like me they have to do it slightly differently, and since I am completely convinced of the therapeutic effect of gardening, what better way of strengthening your whole body in a pleasurable way than getting into the garden?

What to do in January


Boxing Day is the traditional day for sowing onions, but you can do it anytime into January, simply sow the seeds into a seed tray of compost, water and keep them reasonably warm. Later in the Spring they can be transplanted.


You can still plant garlic for the next month. It is usually advised to get those varieties specially bred for the UK climate, such as ‘Chesnock Wight’ and ‘Solent Wight’. The ground needs to be prepared a little, and if you are like me you have a problem!

First of all, I don’t go into the garden when it is cold – I get tired and breathless and angry with the world, so choose a warmish day. Then, if you can manage it, plant either in raised beds, so you can sit on the side of the bed and do your stuff, or in large pots.

Preparing the bed is easy enough – simply take a hoe and chop away at the soil as slowly as you like. Now, sitting and hoeing is not that easy, so I took one and had the handle cut down to make it easier to use.

Before I start though I do a warm up. In cardiac rehab we did all sorts of exercises as a warm up. So I replicate them. I take a spade and, holding the handle in both hands, tap my feet on the shoulder of the blade, ten times each. Then I carry the spade across the lawn, slowly, and repeat. Some days I can’t manage it too well, so I just manage with the toe taps.

This I repeat three times.

Then I pass the spade round my body, and If I can’t manage that I simply pass it from one hand to another.

Planting garlic

I use a clothes peg. The temptation is to make a hole with your finger and pop the clove in that hole, but I only have small fingers – you need a good hole about 2 – 3 inches deep (5 cm). Pop the garlic in each hole and firm in. Watch out, in a few weeks they’ll be growing roots, and they can push themselves out of the soil, so you’ll have to push them back in!

Plant a tree

I don’t know why, after I got sick, I wanted to plant a tree. Perhaps it’s something to do with permanence and legacies, laying down roots. January is the time to be planting bare rooted trees, and you might think this could be difficult, especially in my condition. But if you do it all upside down, it is actually easy.

Normally you dig a big hole, take the newspaper off the roots of your tree and hold it while you back fill with good quality soil. Well, that’s out for a start! All I do is take a spade and push it into the ground, wiggle it about to make a gap and plant in this. Then simply pile a load of compost around the tree and the job’s done.

Other January jobs

You can sow lettuce in trays for leaf picking. I love ‘Winter Density’, as lettuce goes it’s the rump steak of leaves! Also you can sow the cabbage variety ‘All Year Round’ in trays and modules for transplanting later in the year.

Those of you that love lawns need to keep off the grass during the whole of January, especially if it snows (but I don’t go out in the snow anyway – far too cold!) but if it needs a tidying up, give the lawn an edging. It might take you a fortnight to finish the job (it does me) but the results are as good as a good mowing – but more on that subject later in the year.

It was while edging the lawn that the bucket man came to mind. Eventually I got an allotment myself, and he was there every day. He treated his plants, and everyone else on the site, to ‘songs from the shows’. One day it would be My Fair Lady, and another Les Miserables, or Hair or Jesus Christ Superstar. He hammered them out full blast. He has been my inspiration. I cannot but imagine that for someone like me, usually short of breath, a little singing in the garden is a good thing. It’s not for the plants, it’s just for me! I have become the bucket man!

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