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The best of the garden and what to do this week

PUBLISHED: 07:30 23 January 2015

Helleborus Rosemary. PA Photo/The Farplants Group

Helleborus Rosemary. PA Photo/The Farplants Group

Archant

The jewel of the winter garden, sometimes known as the Christmas or Lenten rose, this popular perennial flowers reliably from late winter to early spring. Its elegant flowers and attractive leathery leaves bringing a lift of colour from pale green to white, cream to pink, and purple to almost black.

Rhubarb. PA Photo/thinkstockphotosRhubarb. PA Photo/thinkstockphotos

There are about 20 species of herbaceous, evergreen, perennial flowering types. Their resistance to frost and tolerance of shady conditions makes them a popular choice and favourites include Helleborus foetidus, Helleborus niger and Helleborus hybridus.

Plant them in heavy, rich, limey soil that won’t dry out in summer months. Their leaves die down in June or July, after which the plants should be kept cool and shaded until they begin to grow again in early spring. They are wildlife friendly, a valuable source of pollen for early bees, and also make a good houseplant.

Best planted in herbaceous borders and in areas between deciduous shrubs and under trees, hellebores sit beautifully with snowdrops, primula and pulmonaria. Cornus, often grown for its coloured stems which are brightest in winter, and mahonia, a popular winter-flowering shrub grown for its bright yellow flowers, are also good plant partners.

Kitchen garden: Forcing rhubarb

If you are growing rhubarb and fancy harvesting some a little earlier than normal, place a rhubarb forcer or upturned bucket or dustbin over one of your well-established crowns now. The combination of darkness and warmth will help to produce the sticks earlier and should ensure they are tender. Forced rhubarb should be ready to harvest around eight weeks after covering. Don’t force the same crowns two years in a row. Alternate them for the best results.

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What to do in the garden this week

:: Lightly prune Group 2 clematis - the early to mid-season, large-flowered hybrids - before new shoots appear

:: If the weather’s good, treat your wooden furniture with coloured or natural wood preservative

:: Plant dormant crowns of lily-of-the-valley between shrubs, in well-drained, rich soil

:: Sow early, fast-growing crops such as radishes, early carrots and lettuce, in a frost-free greenhouse

:: Reorganise your storage space, making room for tools and garden equipment and de-cluttering your shed

:: Continue to remove dead pansy flowers and stems to encourage them to flower again

:: Water patio plants which are sheltered by your house occasionally

:: Continue to chit potatoes to give them a head start

:: Move deciduous trees and shrubs which have outgrown their allotted space or are in the wrong place, while they are still dormant

:: Keep a bag of grit or salt on standby to sprinkle over icy paths when it’s frosty

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