1 February 2014 - 12:00am

How to love your garden in February

It’s hard to love your garden in February, isn’t it unless you are blessed with lots of early Spring bulbs? Earliest here are snowdrops and winter aconites. The latter are especially cherished as they are a cheery bright yellow and it took me ages to get them established on our heavy soil. I love crocus, but they tend to be mouse food here, or fatally pecked over by birds. I get round it a bit by planting some in pots and keeping them covered, but it’s hard to get a good annual show by that method without a lot of work and expense. February Gold is one of my favourite daffodils, but it usually flowers in March so it’s not well named, not this far north at any rate. We’ve a lovely swathe of them on our back lawn mixed in with clumps of the slightly later flowering and paler February Silver. If you buy little pots of bulbs from the garden centre to brighten up your house or porch, remember you can plant them out after they have flowered so you can enjoy them for years to come. If you do want to get out there on a sunny day, here are some jobs you can be getting on with: • In a mild spell prune your Buddleia to about one third of its summer height. You can be quite ruthless and, if you go for it, you will prevent it from becoming huge and ugly looking. The same applies to Mahonia – prune out some old stems each year to the ground and you will keep it rejuvenated. Wisteria can also be hard pruned now – if you have an established framework of branches cut back to 2 or 3 buds on all the lateral stems and it will flower better for you, especially if you give it a handful of sulphate of potash or a spadeful of wood ash. The RHS website is really good for more detailed instructions with useful diagrams; • Check out your greenhouse if you have one for signs of pest and mould. Dahlias in particular can go rotten quickly, so it’s worth a check every now and then. • You can start sowing seeds, which always cheers me up on a dark late winter’s day. If you can provide some heat in a greenhouse or a well lit windowsill, sow a few tomatoes. I admit it’s a bit early and I quite often don’t get round to it until early April, but you may be picking your first tomatoes in later June if you look after them and keep your fingers crossed! With Valentine’s Day approaching I wonder if any of you are lucky enough to have mistletoe growing on one of your trees? I’ve had several goes at getting it going to no avail. Mistletoe is the only truly aerial parasitic plant that can be found in Britain and has evolved to rely on birds to help spread its seeds. The word mistletoe even originates from the Anglo-Saxon "mistel-tan" meaning dung on a stick – delightful! While the berries of mistletoe are poisonous to us humans, they are loved by birds –especially the mistle thrush and over-wintering blackcaps. Inside each of the white berries is a single green seed, surrounded by a sticky pulp. Once eaten, the seeds are pooed onto another host tree when the bird is perching – the sticky pulp helping to secure it in place. Seeds are also spread by birds wiping the pulp from their beaks. Happy Valentine’s Day!