February is a good month for the start of a great season for what can broadly be described as woodland plants: think snowdrops, ferns, hellebores, hardy geraniums, epimediums and dicentra for starters. So many lovely plants will thrive in gentle shade, especially if it is on the damp side. Dry shade is a bit trickier but not impossible. Helleborus niger is the Latin name for Christmas Rose, with gorgeous white flowers for many months from December and sometimes looking good right up until Easter. The 'sister' of the white Christmas Rose is the Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis), which comes in many shades, often pink or purple or a mixture (see photo). They can seed around, cross pollinating so you can end up with a right old of mix of shades, no bad thing in my view but you may want to pull up the muddier pinks. Once settled and happy, Hellebores will improve with age, making big, generous clumps. It’s a good idea early in the year when you can see the new flower buds emerging, to cut off the old leaves as they tend to look tatty, and may get all blotchy and diseased. While browsing through a gardening magazine I found an advert for Ashwood Nurseies at Kingswinford near Stourbridge, a real obsessive plantswoman’s dream of a place with a wide range of woodland plants and shrubs including dwarf pines, hellebores and primulas. They have hellebore open days in February, so a trip is eagerly anticipated. The website is www.ashwoodnurseries.com ; phone 01384 401 996. I’ll let you know how we get on. Following the excitement of our glamourous visitor to our shiny new pond before Christmas, namely the kingfisher, Peter has found a camera that can be sited outside and, when activated by movement, will film any garden ‘visitors’. It wasn’t very expensive and is easily strapped to a tree so dead easy to fit. If you want to join in that kind of fun, the firm is a social enterprise called Naturespy: Shop.naturespy.org or phone 01978 437 837. If I get a photo of a bloomin rabbit chewing our much prized new Acers or the Magnolia stellata there will be Big Trouble…. We’ve been steadily doing the winter tidy at Charnwood, clearing away the leaves for leafmould, cutting back dead perennials and generally trying to make sure the thousands of spring bulbs can see the light of day. It takes a while in an acre of garden, but unlike when the growing season is in full swing, there’s no real rush. It is good too to provide a few leaves and general messiniess for hibernating insects such as ladybirds and small mammals to have a winter snooze under. February is a good month for pruning many things: apples, figs, wisteria, shrubs such as buddleia and the multi stemmed dogwoods. Don’t prune your spring flowering shrubs now though as you will chop off the tiny flower buds; a summer prune is usually best for them. I’m also going to sow some sweet peas before the end of the month. They like a long root run, so I sow 3 seeds to a long plant pot and pop them in a sheltered position away from mice and slugs. I’ve also gone a bit bonkers and bought a large quantity of those beautiful little yellow aconites ‘in the green’ to plant under our trees. Buying this way has a number of benefits, not least that you can see what they will look like straight away and you are unlikely to plant on top of other emerging bulbs. Snowdrops and other spring bulbs can be bought like this now and there are some good bargains online.