January is upon us and we can be thankful that the dire predictions of a cold snowy winter, compliments of La Nina, have, so far, failed to materialize as we seem to be enduring a fairly benign and somewhat typical rainy Vancouver winter season that is a little drier than normal if anything. Now that I have said that I have likely upset the weather gods who will promptly deliver a dump of the much-maligned white stuff in revenge. I hope not – leave it on the ski hills and let the rest of us deal with that to which we are accustomed; rain, rain and more rain.

Little does it matter anyway; as gardeners we are thinking only of spring and now that we have turned the January corner it is drawing closer with every passing week. Soon I expect to see the first prodding shoots of Hellebore orientalis (x hybridus) promptly followed by the brave stirring of Iris reticulata and various other early small bulbs. They sound the call for other spring bulbs that will start to appear in March until the scale tips and the greater variety of spring plants are upon us. Spring flowers have a beauty and variety of form and colour unmatched by other seasons but it is their appearance at the end of winter that most warms the heart of gardeners who, like children awaiting the arrival of Christmas, have been stoically sublimating their horticultural ambitions through the leaner months. Only now do we start to dream of flowers again.

I started to mulch my garden this winter with mushroom manure but, concerned that it is raising the ph of my soil, switched after the first load to soil amender (from Meadows Landscape Supply); it is entirely produced with organic materials and has no added sand. It is essentially compost. Hopefully that will balance the ph of my soil and I must admit that it looks considerably more attractive than the mushroom manure. I’ve also spread around a little peat close to certain plants towards the same end. I always recommend that some kind of organic mulch be applied to garden beds that have been cleaned up at the end of the growing season to replace the nutrients lost during the cleanup process.

Early on in the construction of my beds they would consume 5 or 6 yards of autumn mulch but now, as everything slowly settles, they require only 3 yards and I expect that to lessen in years to come as the soil finds its own degree of compaction as it does in nature. I then hope to be able to garden in what is essentially a no-till garden that might be a little more amenable to self sown seedlings of garden plants, as opposed to weeds, that will hopefully be arrested by the mulch. We shall see.

Jim Thorleifson