Mea culpa, I’ve been very late getting the garden to bed this winter. Normally the first frosts hit the Dahlias around November and I dig them up (because they don’t over-winter well in my clay soil), dry them out in the greenhouse, and then store them in an old laundry basket in newspaper and straw in the shed.  I also plant any new daffodil and tulip bulbs in beds and pots and try to do this by December at the latest.

For a variety of exceptionally boring reasons, none of this happened in 2013. Luckily, we’ve only had one mild frost in SW London to date (though horrible rains and winds), so the dahlias were still not blackened by Christmas. As I left for a family holiday time in Worcestershire, I felt guilty......but not very. “It’s been mild” I told myself.

                                                    Dahlia tubers drying in the bubble-wrapped greenhouse

So, I have just come in having finally bubble-wrapped the greenhouse, dug up the Dahlias and planted the tulips. I’ve also re-done my North-facing front window pots (simple blue and lavender shades winter pansies) and kitchen window pot (Hellebore ‘Christmas Carol’ - which has lovely, large, white, upward-held flowers - with two variegated Japanese rushes, Acorus Ogon, whose light green and yellow colours contrast with the dark green leaves of the Hellebore). The Hellebore was very expensive (£10.99), hence only the one, but its large, open flowers sparkle at me through the kitchen window as I write and cheer me, so it was well worth it.

                                                   The Hellebore and rushes in the kitchen window pot

I bought some tulip bulbs months ago but most went mouldy in the shed so I just had two, more recent, packets left – one of orange doubles called ‘Chameleon’ (because apparently they turn red from orange) and one of the statuesque, dark purple ‘Queen of the Night’ given to me by my friend Victoria. Both had started sprouting in their bags in the shed but looked fine. I have planted them together, in two pots, (in John Innes No 2 compost with lots of gravel and a bit of multipurpose on top) in the hope that they will flourish despite being planted so late. I hadn’t planned it like this but, if they flower, they will provide a striking homage to the colour palette of the late, great Christopher Lloyd of Great Dixter fame.

Which is a happy coincidence because I am now reading the new edition of the charming and informative “Dear Friend and Gardener”, the book of letters between him and Beth Chatto. For fear of losing an eye or two I can only read it when out of bed because it’s a hardback.  I've discovered I also need an Encyclopaedia of Plants at my side as I read so I know exactly what they are talking about. I thought I was pretty good