Spring Hellebores.

Despite the cold, wet winter there are at long last signs of growth in the garden and although many gardens are still too wet to work in, it is encouraging to see new shoots emerging.

One reliable spring flowering plant is Helleborus orientalis also known as the Lenten rose. This hellebore is very popular because it is easy to grow and has a long flowering period. The hellebores in my garden are now starting to flower and they will still be in flower in April, making them excellent border plants. To grow best they prefer a moisture retentive soil, but good drainage. Clay soils should have organic matter mixed in to improve the surface drainage. They are also ideal plants for growing in a shady or woodland border, or planted between deciduous shrubs. Care is very simple and once established they more or less look after themselves. Some people cut off the old, dark green leathery leaves in autumn, but I prefer to wait until the first sign of new growth in late winter before removing the old foliage. New flowers emerge from the centre of the clump, followed by fresh new leaves.

Flower colours vary greatly and you only have to look around nurseries and garden centres to see what is available. Over the years many new and interesting hybrids have been introduced with dark coloured or spotted flowers and even doubles. These new hybrids do cost a little more money but they are certainly worth it. One of the good things about hellebores is they often self-seed and in spring you will find tiny seedlings around the base of an established clump. If grown on the seedling will usually be different to the parent plant and you will get a mixture of colours. Most of the hellebores that are growing in my garden, including the one in the photograph are seedlings that I brought with me from my old garden. They take two or three years to reach flowering size, they the wait is worth it!

Start veg undercover

The soil is still too wet to start sowing or planting outside in the vegetable garden, but there are a few things that you can be getting on with if you have a greenhouse or conservatory. In a heated propagator seeds of tomatoes, peppers and onions can be sown in small pots or trays, but to germinate they need constant warmth. In a cold greenhouse broad bean seeds can be sown in small pots or cell trays. In cool conditions they will germinate in a couple of weeks and will be ready for planting out at the end of March. You can also start off shallots in cell trays. Simply push the shallot bulb into loose multipurpose compost so that around half the bulb is exposed. Water the compost and in a very short time roots will develop and new growth from the top of the bulb. Again the growing shallots can then be planted into the garden in around a month’s time, when hopefully the soil conditions will be much better!

Jobs for the Week

To help dry out and warm up a patch of soil in the veg plot, cover the area over with a sheet of black polythene. This keeps the rain off and the black polythene absorbs the heat into the soil.

Plant up containers with potted bulbs and primulas for early spring colour

Check plants that have been over-wintered in cold frames as they may well need watering.

If you have a gardening question for Martin Fish please email him at martin@flowershow.org.uk and we’ll print a selection of questions and answers for readers to share. Or, write to Ackrill Media Group, 1 Cardale Park, Harrogate and we’ll pass on your question