JANUARY might be the middle of winter and usually the coldest month of the year, but as the days lengthen the garden starts to grow, now is a great time to plan for the coming gardening year and to order seeds and plants. Enjoy the fresh air, on dry sunny days, and check your winter protection, stakes, ties and supports are still working after any severe weather. Also put out food for birds and leave some garden areas uncut, a little longer, to provide shelter for wildlife in your plot.

An area not to forget is the greenhouse. Because of the protection they offer, they encourage plants to hold onto their foliage longer than they would outdoors. This means that you are likely to have a lot of dying and decomposing foliage in there just now, while in the garden plants have long finished dropping their leaves. In damp late-winter conditions it is a good idea to clear up such foliage as often as possible to minimize the chances of disease and mildew. I’ve been checking mine every couple of weeks.

This year Sussex can enjoy 6 gardens opening their garden gates to display snowdrops for the NGS, through late January and February. Four of those six will require you to prebook your visit online, so why not take a look and pick your slot now. The first is 5 Whitemans Close in Cuckfield, opening on 10 different dates starting on 25th January and running until 17th February. Pembury House in Clayton, will open every Tuesday to Friday between 10th February and 11th March. Over in West Sussex, Denmans Gardens in Fontwell opens on the 19th February and Bates Green in Arlington on the 20th February. The other two, Highdown Gardens in Goring by Sea on 16th February and the Manor of Dean near Petworth on 6th February can be visited and paid for on the day! Log on to www.ngs.org.uk for all the garden details on each of the seven and remember to book your visit as slots go quickly.

READ MORE: Geoff Stonebanks' Driftwood Garden diary

January is a good month, on dry crisp days, to clear away soggy, collapsed stems of perennials and compost/discard them. I’ve got some wonderful hellebores in the beach garden and have just removed foliage marked with black blotches, to limit the spread of leaf spot disease. Keep an eye on any small alpines you may have in your garden to ensure they don’t become smothered by fallen leaves and other wind-blown debris, resulting in them rotting away. If you have some displays of winter pansies and other bedding then make sure you deadhead regularly, and remove any foliage affected by downy mildew.

Read more of Geoff’s garden at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk