I garden on clay, in south England so we get plenty of rain, a bit of frost and the sunshine in winter is pretty limited.
So here goes. It's March which is the beginning of the gardening calendar so that's not a bad place to start. My first flower is the crocus. They seem quite expensive when you buy bulbs in the garden centre, but the great thing is that they gradually multiply, both by seeds and by bulb offshoots and they always look so beautiful - serene like this in the shade and then gay when they open in the sunshine. This little group were never planted, they just turned up, probably from some badly home-made compost.
In parts of the garden I have more than I need, but I never worry I just over-plant them and let them push their way through.
Crocuses go well with snowdrops. They both like being moved whilst in the green - so you can just dig up and separate clumps if they get too crowded.
For much of the year you could forget that you have crocuses, but not so my next addition to the all year long garden. April is the true month of spring, so I could have chosen any number of flowers - not least all the spring bulbs, but instead I've chosen forget-me-nots.
For anyone on clay soils annuals and biennials can be difficult to grow. The problem is that the seeds just rot in the ground during a wet winter and then the slugs come out to play. So what you need are annuals and biennials that produce huge quantities of seeds that are hardy. Forget-me-nots are easy to buy as bedding and then once you have them they will seed around the garden with impunity. All you really need to do is learn to recognise the seedlings and then don't pull up the flowers before they have seeded. Again - badly made home compost is an ideal way to spread the seeds around :-)
Forget-me-nots are biennials, that is they start growing one year and then flower the next. That's the main reason I've included them. A purely herbaceous border is a very drab affair in the winter, but forget-me-nots keep the ground looking green. Then in spring when I want to put in other things I just pull up the plants I don't want.
If April is full of flowers then May is bursting with choice, but I am allowed only one flower for each month in my thought-garden, so it just has to be the Columbine (Aquilegia) seen here framing one of the loveliest flowers in my life - my mother.
If you have never grown Aquilegias then let me give you a few good reasons why to start.
They are easy to propagate, and self-seed with gay abandon.
They are not weeds - Aquilegias are easy to dig up wherever you get sick of them, but they are also easy to weed round (unlike some Sweet Williams I could mention that give up on roots at the drop of a scythe).
Every new flower is a tease. You really don't know what you are going to get. But if you get a flower you really love you could always put a ribbon round it and then divide it when it has bulked up.
Aquilegia plants are pretty all the way through winter when there is so little of interest. They form tight green rosettes of leaves that never go black and seem never to succumb to slugs.
You can get Aquilegias in almost all colour ranges, including purple and orange combos and they are always beautiful - except for the sludge coloured ones which I'm afraid I just pull up!
They are loved by bees, particularly the really large bumble bees who take no notice of all the furbelows and simply dig a hole through the petals at the back of the flower.
The seeds are also loved by long-eared mice, who incidentally have no interest in living in my house, but exist purely to be entertaining as they run up and down the stalks stealing the seed-pods.
You don't have to stake them at all, ever. Not bad for plants that often stand three feet tall.
If you are still not interested, by all means plant something else!
June has to be the month of the Geranium. All Geraniums are beautiful and there is a good span of colours from the nearly blue through all the pinks, purples, blacks and then back to white. The shocking pink one in this picture is a particular favourite of mine. It's called Geranium Psilostemon and it is very attractive from the moment that the ruby red buds break the ground in February, though sadly the leaves do die back in winter. Apart from the strength of colour it is also good because the flowering season lasts such a long time, which is just as well because some Geraniums have really lovely flowers but quickly go over. I don't want lots of foliage in the garden during July.
A classic example is the beautiful blue called Himalayense - it gets no place in my thought-garden because last year it was barely in flower for three weeks. This year I have taken the plunge and bought a new Geranium called "Brookside" which is also blue but has a white eye. It won an Award of Garden Merit because it flowers for such a long time, and it has won accolades at the Chelsea flower show too. The particularly good news is that it was cheap - about £3.50 from Claire Austin perennials. I love cheap flowers - anything cheap is easy to propagate! As it bulks up I intend to replace Himalayense with it, but we shall see.
July should be the month of sunshine - but it doesn't always end up that way, and last year the garden ended up like a jungle, because there was so much rain.
I feel far from easy about including Sweet Williams in the thought-garden. They aren't massively long-lived, or tall, or dramatic but they do add an element of nostalgia to the garden - perhaps because they smell a little of cloves which is not a smell I often come across now, but which I associate with grand-mothers and slightly musty places. Still it is my thought-garden so I shall add them with impunity.
By the time that August comes, if the weather has been hot, it can feel like the garden has all but gone over and it is now more than ever that it is so important to keep moisture at the roots of the plants.
The Clematis above is a Jackmanii type. Clematis like to be planted deeply, they like their head in the sun and their feet in the shade with a good bit of moisture and they all rely for their display on showy sepals rather than petals, but that is about where the similarity between the different types stops. The Jackmaniis flower throughout the summer and they are also manageable. You can grow them up trees and over fences, not to mention along the tops of walls, and all without structural damage. If they get too big worry not for come the spring you can cut them right down to the lowest bud and they will spring up again quite unharmed and flower the same year. Clematis Montana on the other hand appears to be so called not because it grows on mountains (though I assume it does) but because it aspires to be one.
I have tried a number of Clematis and I must say that I find them a little tricky. Whilst the Montana overwhelms me the Armandii get burnt by the frosts. Many of them are a little on the tender side and some simply failed to thrive for me, but your basic bog standard Jackmanii is always reliable. I constantly play with it pulling it round from where it wants to be on a south facing wall to pin it to another wall in a lonely little hell-hole of a passage. It is cold, windy and shaded: not ideal for any plant. Yet still it flowers it socks off, and offers a nice welcome into the garden. I keep meaning to try a Tangutica because the wonderful thing about Clematis is that you can always squeeze another one in!
It would be obscene to have a thought-garden without a rose, so perhaps September is the time to look for a good one. There are many lovely roses in the garden in June and July but if I can only have one in my thought-garden it will need to thrive throughout the summer and still be delicious.
I don't know which rose to choose yet. It has to be a David Austin because I need both good looks and organic living. A rose which comes at the cost of insecticide and fungicides and fertilisers is not worth having in my book. I also need a good strong perfume.
In the last few years I have really enjoyed James Galway, seen below in September, but perhaps that strong pink is not exactly what is needed in September.
Last year I planted Lady Emma Hamilton, seen below - also in September - and she has a different feel entirely. She has much more sophisticated colouring and a good scent. I'm also pleased that the new leaves, which are just beginning to come through, have a nice strong red colour. But perhaps it is too early to judge.
Which-ever rose I ended up putting in the thought-garden there would be sure to be one and it would always be a David Austin. The repeat flowering, scent and basic old English shape just tip the balance for me every time.
By the time that October arrives it is only the stalwarts that remain. There is still good colour because the Cleome and Cosmos are going strong, but they can't come into my thought garden because they are tender annuals and as such are far too much effort for the casual gardener that I have in mind. Instead I've chosen a group of plants that come into flower when everyone else is giving up and going home - the salvias.
The name of the blue Salvia in the middle of the picture is lost to me, but there are many that flower late in the season - even later than Asters. It is a wayward child, forever needing propping up, and even then it flops about all over the place. The true benefit though it that it looks very fresh - almost like a spring flower - when all about it the garden begins to look tired out.
I'm not too fussed by the fact that it flowers so very late because the leaves are late out too so it doesn't take up space for much of the year. In fact every year I think it's dead until I remember how tardy it is.
By the time that November comes a series of heavy frosts cut through the garden killing off the last rose and the last Geranium Psilostemon.
There is no doubt now that this is the turning point. It is only the truly tough that will push forward new life.
Yet there is one plant that remains from when it first started flowering in August. Every morning it is laid low, and yet every afternoon it perks up drained of a little more colour.
That plant is the Persicaria Superbum, and it surely deserves its name.
Seen here with the Japanese Maples, the Persicaria simply got on with the job of being beautiful right through the summer, autumn and well into the winter. It is a joy to have but it is VERY thuggish. Down here in the wild garden I ruthlessly staked it away from the Hellebores to give them a chance at life. But for a last gasp at summer it can be beaten by no-one.
December's flower is the Hellebore Niger or Christmas Rose.
The Hellebore in the garden now are reaching their peak, but when they first push through in December and January they have the benefit of bringing joy to people who desperately need it. Last year the Christmas rose came out in November. This year it waited till the first week of January, but it is a must in any thought garden. The thing is simply that it is a big bold flower when all around the other flowers are small - and that has to be good.
Which leaves me only one more month - February. A difficult month for most gardeners I should imagine and worse this year than most with bitter winds, snow, frost and floods across parts of the country. What is better then? a snowdrop or a primrose.
My money is on the primrose - or primula whichever you choose. If they were more difficult to grow we would call them auriculas and pay a fortune for them. They have wonderfully cheerful cabbage like leaves when a lot of the ground is bare, and may well flower on and off all winter and well into the spring. But their chief benefit is that they make us think forwards to the spring rather than backwards to the snowy depths of winter. Still I can't resist throwing in a picture of the snowdrops as well so there you are - two for the price of one.