Gardening Journal: Plant of the month – Lamium maculatum

January is a time for retreat and viewing the garden from indoors. It can also be a time for bright winter sunshine and crisp frosty mornings – often my favourite times of the year in the garden. I love seeing the bare “bones” of a gardens structure highlighted by that low Winter light. Frosty mornings can be quite pleasant, it gives us a chance, between the rainy days, to appreciate what winter can offer us.

Plant of The Month –  Lamium maculatum
Lamium would be considered a bit old hat. It’s a plant that has been used for years but can often be overlooked. It’s definitely long overdue a comeback and should be considered one of the up and coming stars in the ornamental plant world.

The genus Lamium is commonly known as the dead nettle. The name comes from the fact that it looks similar to nettles but they do not sting. Hence, they are ‘dead', in regards to causing pain when touched. There are about 50 species of Lamium, including both annual and perennial forms. They are all native to the Mediterranean region. Only a handful are attractive enough to be used as garden ornamentals and even these need to be watched as they can become garden ‘bullies' if left to their own devices.

Lamium maculatum is certainly the most popular of the genus and the species most used by plant breeders, resulting in a lovely palette of cultivars. It is a low-growing, prostrate perennial, often variegated with a scattered silver spotting. It is the variation in the amount of spotting that plant breeders have concentrated upon when creating the numerous cultivars that now exist. Individual flowers are held in clusters at the end of the stems and are generally white, pink or purple. They bloom from mid-late spring right through the summer into the autumn too. 

In the garden, they grow well in part to full shade, although in cooler summers they can withstand full sun. Well drained, yet evenly moist soil, will result in the most robust plants but once established, they are reasonably drought tolerant too.

Whilst they can look great in the summer, I often think it’s the winter that this plant comes into its own. With the absence of a lot of other groundcover present in winter, Lamium can create interest for gardens of all sizes. It can be used as groundcover under shrubs, as well as mixed with other shade loving perennials to create an interesting spring border. It can even be used in containers to add structure to winter and spring bedding. It’s such a versatile plant that we should all have at least one in our gardens whether that be on full show or in an unassuming corner helping to provide colour, structure and interest all year round.

Jobs to be done in January:
Ornamental Garden.

• If the ground is waterlogged then keep off the soil to avoid compaction and worsening the conditions.
• If snow falls – Do not let the snow sit on the shrubs, gently shake off to prevent damage.
• Prune bush or standard apples and pears, aiming to create an open framework of about 5 main branches.
• Sweet Peas can be sown this month and those sown in the autumn can be potted on. Place them in a sunny greenhouse, coldframe or windowsill.
• Plan annual cut flowers for the borders.
• Mulch borders if not already done in autumn.
• Plant deciduous hedges.
• Move deciduous trees and shrubs if necessary.
• Ensure protective coverings such as fleece / mulch have remained in place over frost tender plants.
• Avoid walking on turf when the grass is covered with frost or is waterlogged.

Vegetable Garden.
• Protect brassicas from pigeons with cloches, netting or fleece.
• Harvest Winter Veg such as parsnip, swede, sprouts, leeks and turnip.
• Remove one third of the oldest stems of blackcurrants at ground level to encourage new basal shoots.
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