Gardeners are generous and optimistic souls yet some might say fool hardy. Even I question myself sometimes after burying precious autumn bulbs, no evidence to show for my efforts. By now, February, when the green shoots push through the soil, I’ll admit being a little surprised coupled with a nod to my past self for having the foresight to have done it anyway.
At this time of year, all of our attempts in the garden are made with hope and faith which is difficult for even the most seasoned gardener at the end of every winter. We are about to be blinking out of it, with brighter, longer days as the month unfolds. Rather than hunt for the flowers in the garden, I recommend planting winter scented and flowering plants near the front door or house to enjoy them daily. These will be some of the most potently fragrant of all, needing to attract insects with every flirtation. Think sarcococca, clematis, tiny bulbs of Iris reticulata, hellebores and those first snowdrops. When planting pots of these in early autumn, whilst it is still warm, one cannot imagine how much joy these can bring on a frosty murky day. Of all months, I reckon February is the one to plant for.
I am pleased that I thought to plant an Autumn Cherry, a wonderful small tree, just about 3m tall, by our living room window. It successionally blossoms throughout the winter with tiny pink flowers, bringing joy from cold days inside. Shrubs of Mahonia, Viburnum tinus, V. Bonantense and Winter Flowering honeysuckle branches twinkle and carry heady scent, year after year, perfect for bedside bud vases of delight. In the summer, these slink into the background but emerge to perform at the gloomiest time.
All gardening is done with a little gratitude to the past, be it sowing the seeds, mulching or tying in with investment towards the future. There are no instant gardens of worth, however beautiful the artifice, I am convinced that the steps towards its bloom are really where the joy is.
Celebration of St Valentine’s feels out of place in a month where anything of value must be planned with attentive effort. It is so sad to see lovers affections reduced to imported out-of-season Roses in a smash and grab a day before. It seems to miss out on all the fun, to gift flowers, without scent, movement or energy. How about giving something to grow and enjoy all the way to bloom?
Known as the birds wedding day, when the conditions are just right for mating, Valentines Day is also the date from which we begin to sow seeds. The sun is climbing higher in the sky and the days are lengthening. Give a packet of seeds this Valentines Day, to sow in March. Sweet peas can be pushed into the soil and if watered well, fed and tied in, your love will have fragrant wild stems to cut every day for weeks come June. It can’t be coincidence that in the ‘Language of Flowers’, Sweet Peas mean ‘everlasting pleasure’. Save the seed and have another go for next year. All that joy from few seeds.
February is also a great time of the year to plant bare root plants, including roses. Planting for summer flowers, dig a hole on a mild day and within a few months you will enjoy truly scented flowers, returning year after year. A reminder of your truest love.
Originally published Cambridge Edition February 2022