Verdant View – January 2023


January is a winter month in the northern half of the world and a summer month in the southern half. The name January comes from Janus or Ianus, the Roman god of passage and new beginnings.

I’ve always loved the start of a new year: new calendars, new plans, a new verdant view. For gardeners, we also have a rebirth of our gardens to look forward to. An exercise for this time of year could be to look back on your accomplishments and look forward to what you would like to create in the new year.


As a child playing in my mother’s garden, I would wake up to the most amazing array of red poppies. The flowers seemed to appear overnight and would reseed each year, seemingly bigger and brighter than the previous year. I was amazed at the magic of these flowers, flapping in the wind with their colors, oh so bright. For me this signified the renewed efforts of Mother Nature, rebirth and the new year.

The recorded history of the poppy flower dates back to 2700 BC, when it was grown and cultivated in the Mediterranean Basin for its medicinal and recreational use—primarily as a mild sedative. Now found all over the world, the poppy’s pain-relieving properties are the base source from which morphine and codeine may be extracted.

Poppy seeds actually need to be cold stratified to germinate, so early sowing is a must. Because they do not transplant well, seeds are best sown directly in the flower beds. This can be done any time between late fall and early winter.

Poppy flowers love full sun and well-drained soil, requiring little water once they have settled into the ground. Too much water can produce tall and spindly growth. Deadheading spent flowers, by removing blooms, encourages regeneration. 

The small, round, bluish-black poppy seed is rich in fiber, healthy fats, and micronutrients (particularly manganese). They improve digestion, treat asthma and insomnia, and alleviate headaches and coughs. 

How to Direct Sow Poppies

Select a site in full sun that has soil with good drainage.

Prepare the area where you want your seeds to grow by raking the area smooth and removing any rocks.

Sprinkle the seeds directly on the ground.

Because poppy seeds are so small, you can mix the seeds with some sand to help you distribute the seeds evenly. You can sprinkle the seeds without any sand; just make sure to use another kind of marker to indicate where you’re planting.

Poppies germinate best with some light so do not bury the seeds. Cover them with a very thin layer of fine soil or just press them into the soil.

Keep the soil moist but not soggy until seeds germinate.

Once the soil temperature is at least 55 F expect germination in 10-15 days.

Source: Burpee (May 18, 2021). “How to Grow Poppies”

What to plant in January

The weather is cold at night and in the early mornings, but warms up nicely in the afternoon. Every few years there are January rains, called Cabañuelas, but don’t count on them. At the viveros, look for pansies, petunias, stocks and bergenia. For the flower garden, from seed try Brugmansia (syn. Datura) Angel’s Trumpet, corydalis for its attractive foliage, michauxia with its exuberant, white flowers, and Lady’s mantle for future flower arranging.

​At this time of year we depend on every leaf of lettuce and spinach, every broccoli floret, every kohlrabi and cabbage, every Brussels sprout. We’re either glad we’d planted so much in the late summer and fall or regretting that we didn’t plant enough.

Aside from transplanting, most outside gardening activity is limited to pruning and spreading soil amendments. You may want to prune your roses and do the first pruning on the poinsettias late in the month. Continue watering when necessary, remembering that the native plants know it’s the dry season.

Indoors, sow more broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, chamomile, caraway, cauliflower, chervil, chives, coriander (cilantro), dill, fennel, lettuces, marjoram, mint, oregano, curly-leafed parsley, sage, spinaches, tarragon, and thyme.

What you forget is that plants themselves want to live as much as you want them to.  More.

Elizabeth Smart, “Elizabeth’s Garden,” 1989

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Francisco Nava
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