Signs of spring

Our expert Kim Wilde explains how to bring colour to your garden even in these last dull weeks of winter.

This is the time of year when I make a point of wrapping the children up warmly and taking them to enjoy the stunning snowdrop displays at some of the big local gardens. These delicate white flowers herald the coming of spring, so watch out for snowdrop weekends in your area.
If you don’t have snowdrops in your own garden you can put that right for next year. They’re easy to grow, will thrive in a wide range of soils and conditions, and are perfect for brightening up a shady spot.
Garden centres will be selling them ‘in the green’ at this time of year, which means they’ve been dug up after flowering.
Winter aconites, crocuses, and, later on, early daffodils and primroses, will also be flowering this month, whetting our appetites for spring, which is just around the corner.
Every garden should have them.

Seasonal favourites

These plants and shrubs will help your garden look its best in late winter.

  • Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ brings colour and a spicy scent to the garden in winter. It will be happy in moist but well-drained soil that’s acid to neutral, displaying spidery orange flowers on bare twigs in late winter.
  • Clematis cirrhosa ‘Freckles’ is an evergreen clematis that flowers from December to March. It has nodding cream flowers speckled with red and can reach 6m. It doesn’t need pruning, so it’s good for growing through a tree or over an old shed.
  • Elaeagnus pungens ‘Maculata’ is a large shrub with bright-centred leaves.
  • Elaeagnus x ebbingei ‘Gilt Edge’ is edged with golden yellow. Both have fragrant flowers in autumn.
  • Cornus sanguinea ‘Winter Beauty’ has vibrant gold, orange and red coloured stems. Its compact growing habit makes it a good choice for small gardens. Unlike other Cornus species, it should not be pruned hard back to the base in winter – just remove the oldest stems to help retain the mixed coloration.
  • Daphne mezereum has very fragrant deep purple/pink flowers on bare stems. The red fruits that follow are highly poisonous to humans, so if you have inquisitive children this is not for you.
Jobs for February
  • Hard prune clematis that flower from June to September, including the sky-blue Clematis perle d’Azur and Clematis viticella cultivars. Cut them back to about 40cm above the ground, just above a pair of plump buds.
  • Heavy, prolonged frosts can freeze containers, so where possible move pots under cover, or plunge them to the rim in sand or peat substitute. 
  • Shallots can be planted in open ground at the end of the month, provided the soil is not frozen or waterlogged. Leave 15cm between sets and 30cm between rows.
  • Autumn fruiting raspberries can be cut down to ground level. 
  • Lilies on sale now can be potted up in containers. Tall varieties like lilium regale need more nutrients, so use John Innes No. 3 compost.
  • Drainage is key, so place some broken crocks in the bottom of the pot.