Ring in the Changes

As in all walks of life it is possible to become stuck in a dreary rut in the garden. For the past couple of years I have been coasting along, a bit smug, a lot lazy, letting the garden just tick over. The death of a few key plants to a mystery disease has given me a metaphorical boot up rear end and forced me to re-think my, rather grandly named, long border. In late spring it depended on a great showing of huge, lush oriental poppies which no longer thrive. The bed has become heavy with self-seeded/-spreading day lilies, Pachyphragma , Bergenia purpurascens and perennial geranium, disrupting its balance and composition. This in turn has made me turn a critical eye over the whole sorry garden and it is time to make some changes, some attitudinal and some physical. First on the list is the realisation that less can be more; I suffer from a particular weakness common among amateur gardeners – pathetic gratitude. This manifests itself in an inability to get rid of any plant which thrives, seeds itself and does well in the garden –  even if I loathe it, or is in the wrong position. This is something I recommend any new gardener to overcome immediately. As a rule of thumb if it is easy to grow and self-propagates in abundance it is probably nothing special (though of course there are many notable exceptions). However, if the plant is tricky, precious, needs continual faffing and staking and behaves like an all-round primadonna it is generally  very desirable. This explains why slugs adore delphiniums and the nicest of lupins but won’t touch gurriers like Campanula glomerata – or dandelions. So it’s goodbye Acanthus, farewell Agapanthus and death to Anemone japonica  (and that’s just the As). I have spent a back-breaking few days pulling out plants which have over spread or which I have become fed up with (most have been re-homed with friends) and I now have lots of lovely big spaces to fill anew. I have, in the past, been a shocking fashion victim and the evidence is everywhere, most notably in a preponderance of dark leaved plants (in vogue 20 years ago) has made my long border look dreary in high summer and it needs lifting. I have decided to take out most of these but leave a few (Persicaria purpurea, dahlias) and add a bit of punch with the acid yellows and greens of euphorbia and golden tansy. Inspired by June Blake’s magical polychromatic garden I think I will also be less restrictive colourwise and throw a few more into the mix. I love this time of year, my head is buzzing with plans and ideas and it is wonderful to back outdoors and in the garden again. How lucky we are to live this far north when we garden until half past ten or eleven at night!

 

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Spring Jobs in the Garden

Jobs for Spring

Spring is almost over, so finish all those jobs you need to do before the summer madness begins:

  • Plant summer flowering bulbs.
  • Divide snowdrops while in the green.
  • Lift and divide overgrown clumps of perennials and replant. Again plant in groups of 3, 5 or 7 for maximum impact.
  • Pot up any bits you don’t want and give to pals or to a sale
  • Commence slug and snail patrol
  • Attack weeds before they get out of control.
  • Start opening windows and doors of greenhouses and cold frames on warm days, but don’t forget to close at night.
  • Finish pruning wisteria, summer-flowering clematis and late-flowering shrubs but postpone pruning evergreens until April. Cut back up to a third of old flowering stems back to old wood on winter-flowering shrubs, such as forsythia and jasmine, as soon as the flowers fade to promote fresh flowering stems for next year.
  • When the soil has begun to warm up (about 6˚C)you can start to sow a number of seeds directly outside including salad leaves such as dill and rocket and hardy annuals like nigella, larkspur and poppies.
  • Start feeding roses with a foliar feed and add slow release fertilizer to the soil around the roots. If you find foxes nuisances in your area avoid blood fish and bone meal.
  • Tie in and get supporting wires or trellis in place for climbing plants and roses.
  • Pot on any seedlings sown under glass and start leaving outdoors in the daytime to ‘harden off’ (no sniggering at the back please)
  • Start staking plants which grow tall and tend to flop
  • Prune and tie in your climbing roses
  • Tie in climbers such as Wisteria and prune as soon as finished
  • Cut back out of control clematis montana as soon as they have finished flowering
  • Pay attention to your containers, if plants are looking poorly you may have vine weevil. Empty the pot and look for the tell tale white maggots. If you have an infestation chuck the soil out, do not under any circumstances add it to your compost heap. Re pot and give a good feed. Top dress other containers and transfer plants which are pot bound to new pots.
  • Wash all your pots with Jays or Milton fluid before reuse

 

What to grow in Damp Soil

Now when the primrose makes a splendid show,
And lilies face the March-winds in full blow,
And humbler growths as moved with one desire
Put on, to welcome spring, their best attire…
~William Wordsworth, “Poor Robin,”

Damp Gardening

I have a very hot, dry bed at the front of my garden, which is wonderful for growing Mediterranean plants, grey leaves, lavenders, hardy prairie plants and opium poppies all thrive there, but sometimes I just long for a damp garden. The list of covetable plants that never truly thrive unless one has damp, or even boggy soil is endless, so I do feel envious when I hear people complain of their waterlogged soil.

There are a number of types of damp garden, they can be shady areas, with soil which tends to be clay and thus water retentive . Bog gardens are those which never really dry out fully, plants will always have their roots in waterlogged soil, only certain plants can tolerate these conditions.  If you truly hate your boggy patch you will need to install drainage pipes and spend a lot of time adding grit and organic matter, but you should embrace it and grow the plants that will thrive there. Bog gardens are magnets for wildlife, attracting dragon flies, frogs and birds. Plants which like these conditions tend to be showy and lush, think of enormous gunneras, skunk cabbages, yellow iris and ligularia. If you merely have a garden which is shady and damp, you can again grow the loveliest lush and delicate plants, astrantia, astilbe, candelabra primulas and hostas all love a damp spot.

The best book for you soggy soil owners is Beth Chatto’s classic, Damp Garden, which is generally available either new or second hand (or in the library). She every conceivable type of damp garden, my mouth waters looking at the photographs alone.

Here are the categories of damp and some ideas for planting:

Plants for truly boggy soil:

Gunnera manicata

only grow this if you have lots of space. Its massive leaves and strange flowerheads make it look truly alien.

Lythrum salicaria

purple loosestrife – spires of purple flowers which attract wildlife.

Zantedeschia aethiopica

elegant white waxy spathes which flower all summer long.

Ligularia

tall yellow flower spikes and large, glossy serrated leaves, with a mahogany underside.

Iris pseudacorus’Variegata’

upright, sword-like leaves marked with creamy-white stripes. Bright yellow flowers appear in May.

Rodgersia pinnata

Perfect if you haven’t space for gunnera. They have frothy, pink-white flowers and fabulous, huge, horse chestnut-like leaves.

Astilbe chinensis

Its fluffy spires comes in a variety of dreamy colours, from deepest purple to white.

Cornus alba

In winter its bright red stems will shine and provide winter colour. Cut back old, dull stems in spring to ensure plenty of new stems the following year.

Salix vitellina ‘Britzensis’

Like Cornus, this will bring colour to the winter garden with its golden-yellow stems. Like C. alba, cut in back in spring for colourful new growth.

 

Damp soil

Ferns and hostas love damp sites, but here are a few more plants that will thrive in similar conditions:

Astrantia major
the red forms, such as Ruby wedding love damp spots – avoid pale coloured Astrantias which prefer a drier, sunnier position

Cardamines quinquefolia

Lady’s smock, is a short purple-flowered plant with delicate lacy foliage which flowers in spring.

Erythroniums
beautiful, under-represented, delicate nodding plants flower in shady spots in late spring/early summer.

Euphorbias
The Himalayan deciduous euphorbias love the damp. Go for the spring flowering orange Euphorbia griffithii and the acid-yellow summer-flowering Euphorbia sikkimensis.

Iris sibirica
lovely deep blue flowers on tall stems, go for tough varieties such as ‘Perry’s Blue’ and ‘Caesar’.

Lysimachia
go for Lysimachia clethroides if you want spires of tidy white flowers or if you prefer a more cottagey wild feel, bright yellow Lysimachia punctata.

Schizostylis
The South African Kaffir Lilies are delicate pretty plants and come in a variety of reds from orange to pink to deepest tomato red.

Primulas
Candelabra primulas come in a huge variety of colours. To see them at their best go to Mount Usher gardens in Wicklow or Lissadell in Sligo.

Trollius
Globe flowers thrive in damp,  Trollius x cultorum hybrids, come in cream, yellow and white and are hardy and vigorous.

 

 

January and February

“The shortest day has passed, and whatever nastiness of weather we may look forward to in January and February, at least we notice that the days are getting longer.  Minute by minute they lengthen out.  It takes some weeks before we become aware of the change.  It is imperceptible even as the growth of a child, as you watch it day by day, until the moment comes when with a start of delighted surprise we realize that we can stay out of doors in a twilight lasting for another quarter of a precious hour.”
–  Vita Sackville-West

 

Enjoy a period of respite, read some good books and look forward to snowdrop season

Winter time in gardening terms, truly only lasts a few weeks – the space between the last of the asters, dahlias and other autumn flowering herbaceous plants in mid-November, and the first of the snowdrops, hellebores and spring bulbs shortly after Christmas. Winter plants however tend to be less demanding and more stress free than the summer chorus. Sweet snowdrops will appear now, reliable, quiet, unassuming and beautiful, needing no care at all apart from a division every three years or so. This hiatus is a useful time to catch up on all the niggling jobs that need to be done that were postponed because the rest of the gardening year is so busy, or plants that need attention are in flower.

 

I love garden books, all kinds – encyclopaedias, glossy coffee table books full of beautiful photographs which inspire and inform and more academic volumes, containing thoughtful essays about the theory and practice of gardening. This year there are a few new books which I have been delighted to get my hands on.

The first is a reprint of an old favourite, my original copy is dog-eared and tattered with love. It is Andrew Lawson’s Gardener’s Book of Colour, which has been reissued in a new updated format. Whenever I am puzzling about where to fit a plant in the garden or design a scheme, this sourcebook proves invaluable, with pages of pictures of plants categorised by colour and images featuring various combinations of hues. It explains the theory behind colour and is full of gorgeous ideas for plant and colour combinations.

Head Gardener’s by Ambra Edwards , with photographs by Charlie Hopkinson is hot off the press and The book interviews 12 of the best garden managers around. It allows head gardeners to tell their story, and gives us an insight into how their eyes and brains work. I was particularly interested to read how Fergus Garrett of Great Dixter, who was responsible for the ‘tropical’ hot garden look, has  to say and understand their approach to planting and planning.

Anther lovely new title is Sowing Beauty by James Hitchmough, the man responsible for London’s Olympic Park and the Oxford Botanic Garden. This volume is ostensibly about meadow planting, but the ideas and plant associations can be scaled down and work just as well in a small domestic setting.

 

 

The Gardener’s Book of Colour

Andrew Lawson

Pimpernel Garden Classics

Price: £25.00

 

Sowing Beauty: Designing Flowering Meadows from Seed

By James Hitchmough

 

Head Gardeners

by Ambra Edwards
photographs by Charlie Hopkinson

Pimpernel Press, £35

 

Colourful Containers

 

If you haven’t already done so, empty your summer containers and replant with seasonal colours – red and white cyclamen, ivy, box and winter cabbages are perfect for now and will last until spring.

 

Jobs for Winter

Tidy the shed

Throw out all those things which you thought ‘would come in handy’ but never did, and never  shall.

Wash you pots and containers thoroughly with ward soapy liquid – good hygiene in the garden stops diseases and pests spreading.

Clean and sharpen all your tools. Once cleaned rub with oil to keep them from rusting.

Fix fencing and install vine eyes on walls where you want to grow climbers. Establish a good network of wires and supports before the plants grow and they will be far easier to manage later.

Prune climbing and rambling roses. Leave only a few good stems and arch them horizontally for better flowering next summer.

Order seeds for sowing in February and March.

Order summer bulbs.

If you haven’t taken in your pelargoniums and other tender container plants, and they have yet to be decimated by frost, do it now. January and February are usually the coldest months of the year.

If we have a heavy frost and ponds ice over, do remember to crack a hole in the ice to allow fish, and aquatic plants access to oxygen. The same applies to bird baths.

Check dahlia tubers and other tender roots stored indoors for mould.

 

The Green Green Grass … Making and Maintaing a Lawn

roll-out-grass

Lawns can be utterly beautiful, a green sward, freshly mown looks wonderful, and makes a lovely simple backdrop to flowerbeds. In an ideal world, I would have a garden of about an acre and a half. It would have lots of different areas; wet, dry, shady and sunny, a small piece of woodland and a meadow.  I would step out of my french windows, from my library and have a stone terrace overlooking a perfect lawn. In this dreamy universe I would have a lot of money and could afford to pay someone for maintenance. As it happens I have a tiny little plot and am madly greedy for plants so space is at a premium and the plants take pride of place. While my daughter was young we had a patch, which if one was feeling particularly generous, could be termed a lawn. It was small, weedy, soggy in parts and bald in others. I wanted to maintain a bit of grass as it makes a lovely play space for children. We camped out in summer (torture, it really doesn’t get properly dark until midnight this far north, especially if there is a full moon), we had a paddling pool, my daughter put up obstacles for the dogs to do showjumping and my little patch of green could justify its existence. Now my girl is grown up, the grass seemed surplus to requirements. It was a fag to mow – sometimes twice weekly in a warm and damp Irish summer (no wonder our beef is famous, our climate is perfect for grass), after mowing it had to be edged by hand and it was so small it hardly seemed worth the effort. Last year we made a decision to get rid of the grass altogether and replace with a jumble of reclaimed bricks and slabs. I cannot tell you how much this has transformed the garden and my enjoyment of it. I have far more time to footle around with plants. I don’t have to weed and reseed every spring, no more mowing and labour and I have a nice spot for my table and chairs and loads of room for yet more plants in containers.

 

For those of you with space, or who like a good lawn, rather than a daisy and dandelion and moss filled slab of greenery, now is the time to take control so you will have something decent by mid-summer.  Some of you (mostly men), may even hanker after the perfect lawn, a bowling green swathe of grass, if so you will have to put a lot of extra work in.  I think it is almost impossible to get rid of moss in the Irish climate unless you are prepared, as someone I know, to kill off last season’s grass with a herbicide, and start again from scratch each year. Personally, I think this is excessive, if not verging on clinically insane.

 

Here are your options:

 

If you are starting from scratch and laying a new lawn you choices are to sow grass seed yourself (very cheap, very easy and surprisingly quick in summer) or, if you are rich and/or lazy, you can buy turves which come in rolls like carpet. The ground where the lawn is to be will have to be prepared properly however you will need to have it levelled, cleared of big stone and roots, very well weeded and then spread with a nice mix of sandy loam and fertilizer. I suspect that if you are flash enough to buy the grass this way that you can afford to pay someone to do the tedious labour for you.Do not under any circumstances take a rotovator to an old weedy patch. The blades will break up roots of weeds like dandelion and dock and make lots of baby little root cuttings to spread all over the place and you will be in a far worse state than when you started – the weeds will all pop up though your fancy new lawn.

 

A useful, but time consuming way to rid the ground of perennial weeds before laying a lawn is to week out as much as you can by hand, then cover the ground with plastic sheeting for at least year. When you take off the sheeting you will have to wait a couple of weeks and weed yet again, or if not feeling very green spray with glyphosate, and then prepare the ground.

 

Once you have the patch ready and the surface of the ground looks smooth, level and covered in a nice fine tilth you can sow your seeds or, have your manservant lay the turf for you.  When choosing your variety of grass consider what the lawn will be used for. Grass comes in various qualities, tough rye grass is suitable if you have children, footballers or pets and the lawn is in constant use. There are finer grades suitable for lawns which are more decorative and extra fancy fine grass for the bowling green effect.

 

If you just want to fix up an existing lawn there are lots of things you can do to improve its appearance , starting now:

 

if the ground is dry enough, mow the grass with the lawnmower blade at a high setting; then go over it, poking holes in the soil with a fork or for the very serious, buy one of those tools designed especially for the job. This aerates the soil and improves drainage.

 

Pull as many weeds as you can. To remove’ moss, use a grass fork to drag out as much of it as possible.

 

Reseed bald patches.

 

If you think it all sounds too much like hard work and don’t like using herbicides, an application of lawn sand, available in any garden centre or supermarket will both weed and feed the lawn, but it is good idea to hand-weed out the real hard core thugs such as dandelion and thistle first. Spraying individual weeds with a general all-purpose herbicide is not a good idea, as any drift will kill surrounding grass. The lawn sand, which should kill off any remaining weeds, should not be used on grass less than about six months old.

Grow Plants for Cutting – Make Plans Now

flowers-in-a-glass-vase-with-a-dragonfly-on-a-marble-slab-1710

 

Nothing lifts a room as much as fresh flowers and vegeta­tion; it automatically looks brighter and better dressed. A few well-chosen cut flowers can somehow pull a scheme together. This yea,r you should try and create a good cutting garden to provide year-round foliage and flowers which are ideally suited for indoor displays. People have been growing flowers for the house since the middle ages, either dedicating large gardens solely for cutting, or incorporating them into their overall garden scheme. These days people tend to have smaller gardens and very few of us have enough space to annexe a whole section specifically for cut flowers but should be able to grow them alongside our other plants, to provide colour and interest both indoors and outdoors all year round.

When growing plants for cutting, the principles are the same as when planning any garden site; prepare the soil, add tons of organic matter and compost, and use a balanced organic fertiliser, preferably a slow release form as it will give plants a consistent boost of nutrition throughout their growing season. During peak production time, apply periodic doses of dilute liquid fertiliser, but ensure that you don’t encourage too much leafy growth by adding anything very nitrate heavy, a tomato feed is more suitable. Ensure that you water regularly, especially during dry spells, erratic water­ing leads to erratic blooms.

To ensure flowers have a long life indoors, there are a few simple rules to follow:

  • Never pick flowers during the day in the full heat of the sun. Early morning or late afternoon is the best time.
  • Have a bucket of water ready to put the flowers into as soon as picked.
  • Fill a clean sterile vase with room temperature water, then add a tiny splash of bleach to keep the water clean. Be careful not to overdo it as too much bleach will simply kill the flower off.
  • Remove any of the foliage that is just below the water line because it will only encourage algal and bacterial growth. Recut the stems, immediately plunging them in boiling water for about 20 seconds to seal them.
  • If you change the water in your container each day you will extend the life of the display further.

What to Grow

When selecting plants, especially for cutting, go for flower, fruit, texture and foliage. You probably are already growing many plants that work well in arrangements such as Shasta daisies, coreopsis, phlox, euphorbias and delphiniums. Some plants just don’t work indoors, once cut they flop and wither. Examples are oriental poppies, cherry and other may blossoms, hellebores and day lilies.

 

To encourage production, and keep plants blooming throughout the summer, remember to deadhead every single day. Deadheading prevents plants from forming seeds and fulfilling their biological destiny, so they have to flower again. Also be vigorous with your pest control, be it organic or chemical.

Below are some of my favourites for cutting

  • Achillia
  • Anthemis
  • Aster
  • Carnation
  • Chrysanthemum
  • Cornflowers
  • Cosmos
  • Delphinium
  • Echinops
  • Eryngium
  • Fennell
  • Gazania
  • Marigolds
  • Nicotiana
  • Nigella
  • Peony
  • Quaking Grass
  • Queen Anne’s Lace
  • Roses
  • Scabious
  • Snapdragon
  • Zinnia

 

 

 

Pruning to make space & create interest

My own garden is finally, after almost fourteen years living here, and one year since he builders wreaked their havoc, starting to look more mature and take shape. My priority was to get some permanent planting established – trees, shrubs and evergreens – to give it year-round interest and create some privacy (vital in a town garden), structure and refuge for birds and wildlife. The problem with this is that large shrubs and trees, apart from sapping nutrients from the soil, create shade and take up valuable space. What I have done, and am continuing to do, with young shrubs is to create a sort of lollipop effect. If you trim out all of the lower branches and side shoots, you can turn almost any evergreen shrub into a standard. This means that you create light and valuable space underneath, where you can continue to grow flowering plants. You can get really creative and topiarise evergreens into various shapes to suit. I have (admittedly a rather cack-handed-looking) sort of umbrella and a large ball of laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) on top of bare stems about one metre tall, cones, balls and squares of box (Buxus sempervirens) and am working on cloud pruning a holly (Ilex aquifolioum). Cloud pruning refers to a technique whereby you thin out the branches of the plant to a few good strong leaders pointing in various directions and create puffy cloud-like balls of foliage at the end of each. The benefits of pruning and shaping plants can really be seen in winter, when the garden is bare and the herbaceous plants have died back. The structure and various shapes give interest and look far less boring than a few blobs of untidy greenery. Take a look now at what you have growing around and underneath your shrubs and small trees, and take out a loppers to give them space to grow. Versailles it is not, but maybe I can aspire to the Petit Trianon!

Colour in Spring for the unprepared Gardener

So many people I meet sigh and moan that they have no colour in their gardens in spring. Inevitably, this is because the unfortunate gardener wasn’t quite as organised as they had hoped to be, and never got around to planting any bulbs back in the autumn.

Gardening is all about forward thinking and note taking. There are, however, things you can do to brighten up a spring garden devoid of bulbs. The insanely expensive solution is to go to a smart garden centre and buy lots of spring bulbs in pots and plant them out. The more sensible course is to derive colour from elsewhere, by using perennials and self-seeding annuals. Some of these plants are not easily found in garden centres, though, so look online or ask a friend, very nicely, to give you some divisions and spares and get them into the ground as soon as possible.

A dead easy plant, which is as tough as old wellies, is Doronicum, a yellow, daisy-like flower on long stems that will seed everywhere. Another is Pulmonaria officinalis. The most common Pulmonaria is the familiar “soldiers and sailors”, named for its blue and red flowers. This has large, white spotted foliage and is a great and vigorous filler, providing year-round interest. There are far smarter varieties available from specialist nurseries, such as the red flowered David Ward, with lovely white and green variegated leaves, and Roy Davidson with its azure blue flowers, or try a homegrown variety, June Blake’s lovely Blake’s Silver. The better varieties tend to seed the usual spotty variety, so pull them out as soon as you see them and propagate the good ones by division only.

Other good ground cover spreaders are the blue bugle flower Ajuga reptans and white flowered, glossy leaved Pachyphragma macrophyllum. For damp patches, Lysichiton americanus has gloriously exotic looking yellow heads with showy, phallic spadix (the long pointy looking thing) and is quite easy to transplant. Another failsafe plant, which is also as cheap as chips, is the common or garden wallflower, Cheiranthus cheiri. These plants are sold in all garden centres, come in lovely reds, oranges and yellows, and have a delicious, heady scent. Primulas and primroses, pictured below, are also great plants to have in the garden, as they are easily divided and many self-seed with abandon. Primula varieties come in a plethora of colours and are cheap to buy and easy to find. The native primrose is, naturally, the nicest of all. It is illegal to dig it up from the roadside, so again buy or beg this one.

Last, but not least, think of all the gorgeous spring flowering shrubs you can buy to add height and year-round interest. Viburnums, evergreen or deciduous, all have spring flowers, as do Magnolias, Camellias, Amelanchier and the suburban cherries. So don’t be disheartened by your empty garden — grab your wallet and your spade and get going now.

KPRIM-662137

Jobs for March and April

  • If you are short of colour from lack of bulbs, add fillers – see right for my top tips.
  • This is a good time to move shrubs.
  • Cut back hard shrubs grown for colourful winter stems, such as dogwoods, to ensure the best colours for next year,
  • Layer shrubs and clematis to propagate. This means covering shoots close to the ground with soil and allowing them to root to give a new plant.
  • Keep lifting and dividing large clumps of perennials – throw out the old, worn-out centres and make new plants from the surrounding rooted pieces.
  • Plant summer bulbs.
  • Sow hardy annuals, such as Nigella, where you want them to flower.
  • Reseed bare patches of lawn.
  • Start mowing the grass with the blades
  • Start of your dahlia tubers and take cuttings for new plants when about 5cm long.
  • Stake perennials that are starting to grow and apt to flop.
  • Deadhead daffodils, but don’t cut away the leaves until rotted down.
  • Start sowing and planting outdoor veg and plant tomato seeds under glass.
  • Be slug and snail vigilant.

set high.

 

 

Hope Springs

I cannot begin to describe the joy my garden brings medownload. It is just a small, bog standard suburban patch, but I love it with a passion. Last week I spent two full afternoons outdoors, getting my dose of vitamin D, exercising muscles in every part of my body, using my arthritic hands, clearing away the last of the leaves and stealing a march on the weeds. If it weren’t for the garden, apart from bringing my beloved dogs for a quick scoot around the hill, or park, I wouldn’t get a fraction as much fresh air and exercise. The most uplifting bit of gardening is however, observing the seasons and being close to nature. All through my work last week a robin, a wren and a married couple of blackbirds kept me company, searching for worms and insects in the freshly turned soil. Today I did my customary inspection and found, to my delight, that the snowdrops I thought I had lost during the building works are popping up again. The early hellebores are blooming apace, and most gratifyingly, many of the herbaceous perennials are starting to peep their noses above ground and put on new growth.

The only problem with the hellebores if the hundreds and hundreds of seedlings which have started to appear. This always poses a terrible dilemma, a true judgment of Solomon. Which to keep? Will the ones I discard be the best? Will they be doubles? Will they be deepest slatey black? Richest of plums? Or, the holy grail of hellebore enthusiasts, almost pure red? Hellebore seedlings take about three years at least before the flower, so one is in for the long haul. How often have I spent three years or more nursing potted seedlings only to find, at the end, that they are boring old single flowered, pinky meh coloured specimens? I have left them all in situ while I have a think about it.

Lots of early narcissi are in bud. I always silently chuckle when I hear, year in year out, talk of how global warming has made all the daffodils come up early, ditto tulips. What people don’t realise is that these are early varieties, bred to come up early. (Please note that I am not in any way a climate change denier).

  • Most beautiful of all the early flowering plants is the Daphne, already in flower and spreading its glorious, heady scent. ‘Heady scent’ is such a cliché, but in this case there is no other way to describe the heavy perfume from daphnes, or for that matter viburnum farrerii or the Bodnant gardens version. I lost my viburnum during the build and must get a new one. The great thing about the scented viburnums is that they throw out suckers very easily so cadging a new plant is usually no problem at all.
  • Here are few things you can do in the garden on fine days now:
  • Divide clumps of primroses and other primula varieties and spread them about
  • Weed as much as possible
  • Move plants that are in the wrong place
  • If you are evil, like me, spread some slug pellets
  • Clear up the last of the autumn leaves and cut back hardy perennials (leave the old stems on more tender plants as they will protect them from frost)