February can be cold and miserable. But it can also be bright and sunny and lend itself to wonderful expectancy of great things to come. In either case, it is the last month of winter and with spring just on the doorstep, the time to get thinking about the coming year has well and truly arrived. There are plenty of jobs that can be set about now. You should certainly be thinking about what you want to do to make the next year a good one in the garden.
In the flower garden if you have tall Helleborus argutifolius, with leathery leaves and lime green flowers, make sure to put a support around the heavy flower stalks now. In doing this, the flowers will eventually reach up to a metre tall. Their height makes them extremely useful in among other spring flowering plants, most of which are fairly low to the ground. Planted at the back of a border, they deliver flowers at a storey above daffodils, dwarf irises and snowdrops. The bright green flowers are dramatic and, to my mind one of the best things you can have in the garden. But if you don’t stake them well the heavy trusses of up to a dozen flowers, can find themselves lying uselessly along the ground, getting splashed with mud when it rains. In any case they will also be out of sight which is a great waste.
The other job that can be carried out on hellebores, is to cut out any of last years scruffy leaves. This is particularly important with oriental hellebores and the Christmas rose or Helleborus niger. You open up space for the new foliage to unfurl.
Put a protective copper ring around emerging foliage of young specimens of any of early shoots that attract slugs and snails. Snowflakes are obvious candidates. I have a small clump of yellow tipped snowflakes that always seem to be savaged by the slugs before I get to protect them. As a result, the clump soldiers on but never gets the chance to bulk up properly. This year, I will overcome. Protected from the munching slugs each bulb can maximise its growth and the resulting plants with put up good flowers and ever increasing number of baby bulbs When you have a big clump, you can let them manage by themselves, but in the early years when you are establishing plants, a bit of protection is a good idea.
Cut back the last of any dead clumps of foliage and stalks from last years perennial displays and pull any weedlings from around the base of what are already, or are about to become, the fresh new shoots that will be the coming season’s growth.
In the kitchen garden there are as many jobs available as you might wish to tackle. Don’t go at the work like a bull though. Take it easy and deal with a small number of jobs at a time. Garden work is like eating. You should always leave the table a little less than full, and wanting a bit more. Likewise you should leave the garden before you are exhausted or you wear your back or knees out. That way you will be back to do more work with enthusiasm.
Shallots are among the best vegetables to grow in even the smallest kitchen plot. They are perfect for using in sauces and salad dressings as they are sweeter than ordinary onions. It annoys me how expensive a small net can be in the supermarket. But growing them is easy and now is the time to start shallots. You plant the little sets or small onions in February. Choose a nice sunny spot in well drained soil. Plant about 30 cms apart in a diamond formation or in lines 30cm apart with 15cm between each plant. The first method makes hoeing for weeds easier as shallots do not fare well in competition against weeds.
If you grew black kale or Cavolo nero last year, it is still perfect for harvesting.
Begin to chit early potatoes now. Put them in trays or egg boxes in a cool bright greenhouse or on a bright windowsill. I have been saving up the neat little wooden boxes that the Christmas clementines came in for just this job.
If you plan on creating new borders or re planting weedy ones, choose a dry period to dig the ground over and take out the weeds. Even if the ground is dry, use a plank to walk on as you go. Never try to work soil if the weather is wet and the ground is heavy and damp. Trying to dig and walk on wet soil can be disastrous. It can lead to compaction of the ground. The weight of your feet presses down on the ground, squeezing out the oxygen pockets and making the soil hard, dense and an inhospitable place for plants to gain a foothold. Rule Number One is never walk on a soggy border. You could take this as permission to take a day of from the hard work – the opportunity to put the feet up and watch an afternoon black and white movie before getting back to the work programme.