I AM in my typical post-Christmas no-mans land. Over the last fortnight I have rested, feasted, partied and generally let my hair down.

Apart from the occasional flick through the wonderful mountain of gardening books I received as gifts, I have paid very little thought to the world of horticulture.

However, now the days are getting longer again (got to be positive) and I can feel a small pinch of tummy bulge that wasn't there before Christmas, I am itching to get back outside and start working on the garden.

It only seems a moment ago since I was gently swaying in the hammock in my small orchard, wondering what the coming year would bring. Weather-wise, the early spring was a very warm and sunny one. The summer gave us sultry, dry and close conditions. Autumn was wet, and winter so far has been a mixture of sharp frosts and warm but damp days. I wonder what weather anomalies this year will bring.

The most memorable pest of 2002 has to be the vine weevil. I must have squashed many a beetle over the year. I also made sure to empty any pots or containers and clear them of the fat white grubs. All of my plants are in the ground now; I am not risking pots for another year or two. Let's just hope that the winter temperatures get low enough to prevent another infestation next year.

The gardening grapevine, though, is warning us of a continued problem, not just from the present vine weevil but also from at least one other variety of the beast. Add to this the fact that Armillatox (one of the products used to fight the weevil) has not been granted an EU sales licence), and 2003 could be an interesting year for the vine weevil.

My prairie garden did well over the year. Even in winter it maintains form and structure. I kept adding to it. In the autumn sales I planted a load of crocosmia of varying shades of red, orange and yellow. I filled in gaps with schizostylis (kaffir lily), day lilies, achillia and clumps of fennel. It should look stunning next summer.

The pond has been a success. The problems of stagnation were solved by a simple solar-powered fountain. The two water lilies spread well, but didn't flower. This doesn't worry me as they are still young and have a few years to build up to it. The frogs have hidden away in the crevices for the winter. The small plugs of alpine sedum, geranium and iris are spreading over the surrounding rocks. This should blend the pond into the garden much better next year.

My decking was a big hit in summer. I gave it a dark oak stain so that it melted into the background rather than staring you in the face. It proved its worth, remaining dry and non-slip throughout many a wet barbeque.

I managed to keep my leylandi hedge under control round the back garden. It does take some energy but looks smart, is private and provides habitats and aphids for the birds and insects. I am slightly concerned however, as my hedge is just over the six foot limit about to be set by the government. It is going to be interesting to see how and to what extent the rules are going to be enforced.

My mixed front hedge still needs a final trim, as does the lavender border lining the path to the front door. I hope that the Sunday churchgoers forgive me for delaying the task, but each time I plan to do it, the weather turns against me.

The Neonatal Unit at the James Cook University Hospital have been enjoying their new courtyard. It has provided the staff with somewhere to escape to when the pressures of work get too intense, and it has given anxious parents and relatives a space to think. Some of the paintwork has been updated. The jazzy bright blue has been toned down to a more pastel green. I suppose it is more restful.

The in-laws' garden is doing great too. The lawn has taken and grown as hoped. The border plants are mostly dormant now, but should start to bush out and flower with the warming of the year. It has proved very low maintenance. The flagstones that were removed from the front garden have now been laid as a crazy paving patio round the back. The cracks have all been sown with thyme seeds, which should give off a wonderful Mediterranean aroma when the summer sun hits it.

I managed to entice some wonderful birds into the garden this year. Amongst my favourite were the chattery groups of long tailed tits, who would fly in en-masse, dine and then flutter away somewhere else.

As well as the usual starlings, sparrows, dunnocks, blackbirds and robins and wrens, I have a resident (garage roof) group of blue tits, a number of coal tits and several pairs of willow tits.

The green and gold finches make clustered visits and I even had a few appearances from the goldcrest. I hear the owl at night (tawny, I think) but have yet to spot it. No doubt the swifts will make their nest in the roof lining again next summer. Let's just hope that the wasps stay away this time.

Best of all, the cider made from the apples growing at the bottom of the garden (my five tree orchard) is not only palatable, it is good enough to share with friends. It has a light, fruity and powerfully fizzy taste. This year's trial will definitely be repeated again next year.

Well, it's been a challenging and yet very successful 2002. I have many more plans for the garden in 2003. The perfect garden is never finished, there is always something to be improved on or tweaked around.

You can contact Brigid by emailing her at brigidpress67.freeserve.co.uk or writing to her care of Nature's World, Ladgate Lane, Acklam, Middlesbrough.

Published: 04/01/2003