February is a time with plenty of growth in the garden, finds Gina Parkinson.

Many cite January and February as the worst months of the year. Money is tight after Christmas and the weather is grey and windy.

I disagree and love this time of year. November is the downer for me when, apart from being lifted by my son's birthday at the beginning, I find it a struggle to get through the month with increasing darkness and daily death in the garden. So by the time the new year dawns, my spirits have lifted and I'm busy outside looking for the signs of life that signal the imminent arrival of spring.

Of course the weather can be tricky in February. One day will gift us with high winds and persistent rain but the following dawn can be crisp and clear. Such days are often cold with frost, but the sun will clear this away through the morning and leave us with a balmy afternoon - perfect for pottering around the garden.

Such a lot of growth emerges in beds and pots in February. The snowdrops that began in January are in full flower this month, white heads dotted about the garden in the shady places they prefer. I always buy a pot or two of snowdrops at this time of year to help increase the numbers in the garden, although I have noticed the established clumps are at last beginning to spread about quite naturally too.

It has taken some time for this to happen and I have usually been disappointed with the number of snowdrops in our garden, but this winter there are definitely more about both in the front and the back gardens.

Another success story this year has been the Lenten roses, Helleborus orientalis. These beautiful plants are seen gorgeously pictured en masse in gardening magazines at the beginning of the year and it is impossible not to covet one or two plants for one's own garden.

So a couple of years ago I bought two dark purple specimens and out them in the front garden where the semi shade and damp soil would provide the right conditions for spectacular growth.

I have to admit last year was disappointing. The large plant managed to produce two or three flowers and plenty of leaves. The smaller one got to the foliage stage and not very much of that.

This was of course natural. These are slow-growing plants that need time to settle and grow large enough to flower.

I let them be and have been rewarded this year with a wonderful display of fat buds and rich flowers since the middle of January. The foliage was cut away as soon as the flower stems identified themselves, leaving two clumps of straight stems each carrying rich, dark petalled flowers at the centre of which are clusters of pale lemon stamen and pollen.

Patience is a virtue with these plants. They dislike disturbance so once they have been planted they need to be left alone, even if this extends to two or more years.

They are not cheap to buy, so less expensive specimens are more than likely to be very young and will therefore need more time to reach flowering size.

Weekend catch-up

I visited a local nursery a couple of weeks ago in the search for snowdrops and was distracted by the joyful singing of a bird. We tracked it down in one of the greenhouses where, perched on a pipe just above our heads, was a robin hitting the high register as loud as he could. He didn't ruffle a feather at our appearance, despite being within easy reaching distance, and carried on singing.

The robin's singing was of course not for our benefit. He was calling for a mate and will, along with lots of other garden birds, soon be nesting. So it is time to get hedges sorted out before this happens. Birds need a quiet place to raise their young and may desert eggs or newly hatched chicks if trimmers or shears disturb them.

Clipping and cutting out of dead wood needs to be done this month and the hedges then left until the summer, when the brood has fledged and is independent.

Gardening news

Doug Stewart will give an illustrated talk entitled Why Plants Talk To Insects And Why Pumpkins Don't Fly, at Askham Bryan College on Tuesday.

Organised by Askham Bryan College Gardening Club, the talk will begin at 7.30pm in the Conference Hall at the college.

Tickets are free to members of the gardening club and cost £5 on the door for non-members.

Gardening TV and radio

Sunday, February 17

8am, BBC Radio Humberside, Gardening phone-in. Phone number: 01482 225 959.

9am, BBC Radio Leeds, Gardening, with Tim Crowther and Joe Maiden.

2pm, BBC Radio 4, Gardeners' Question Time. The team of gardening experts help gardeners from Surrey with their horticultural problems. The series on gardening fundamentals continues with a lesson on pruning and the gardening weather forecast is at 2.25pm.

9pm, BBC2, Around The World In 80 Gardens. Monty Don vists gardens in Brazil, Argentina and Chile on the latest leg of his enviable journey.


1.30pm, BBC Radio 4, The Garden Quiz. Anna Ford tests more contestants on their gardening knowledge.