February is the month the patio at the back of my house comes alive with beautiful Camelias, some pictured in header.

Though roses top the charts for romance, these are equally dreamy flowers that bloom now!

The ruffled flowers could easily be mistaken for a rose, if it weren’t for the glossy, deep bottle-green foliage that makes it worth growing as a stand-alone evergreen shrub all year round. The blooms are particularly appealing and generally last through to March.

I’ve got 6 shrubs in both pink and white that really liven up the outlook at this time of the year. They thrive in acidic soil, so benefit from being in a container or raised bed with other acid loving plants and shrubs.

They can survive in neutral soil if needed too. Raised beds, made from old railway sleepers, work really well, I’ve used new ones on my patio. Fill the beds with good ericaceous potting compost and if you plan to top off, use bark chippings. Other plants that work well with them are native primroses and pulmonarias which finish off the woodland look.

Mental Health

Those of us that have been lucky enough to have a garden (or any outdoor space, no matter how small) throughout the last 12 months soon realised what it was doing for our mental health, even if we had perhaps not truly cottoned on before the pandemic!

My own situation was that my partner and I were caring, in our own home, for my 93-year-old Mother, who was deemed extremely vulnerable. In the warm weather, she relished access to her favourite spot in the garden, where she would happily enjoy the view, the ambience, the fresh air and the company of Chester, our rescue dog! We too were eternally grateful.

Whilst none of us were able, or chose not to leave the house (other than for medical reasons) it became a real sanctuary for us all. We have still not set foot in a shop since March last year! Whilst Mum has not ventured out in the cold, I still spend time out there every day for my own sanity.

Garden Tidy Up

Now it you really want to get out and achieve something in the garden this month, then maybe try removing any soggy leaves around the heads of newly emerging shoots from bulbs. They really dislike wet around their necks as this can cause them to rot before having the chance to bloom. Another trick, if the bulbs are in containers, then move them out of rain, as the soil can get too wet and cause the bulbs to rot too. If they get too wet, then try standing the pots on feet, to raise them off the ground, allowing excess moisture to drain

off. Waterlogged earthenware and ceramic pots can also crack if weather suddenly gets cold, as the water in the soil expands as it turns to ice.

Trimming Shrubs and hedges

As the garden comes to life again, it’s time to consider pruning shrubs and climbers as well as evergreen hedges. I’ve got many low trimmed hedges and divisions between my various garden rooms, so have to trim fairly regularly to keep them as I want them. They were extensively trimmed back in the Autumn but are now beginning to show signs that I need to trim back slightly again. Remember that if you usually have birds nesting in your hedges, it is vital to do what you have to do now, before they start making their nests this year and keep leaving food out for them to help them through the cold spells.

Hydrangeas

I’ve got quite a few hydrangeas in containers and now is quite a good time to go out and prune them. The dead flowers do give some interest over the winter and some say, they protect the new growth from frost. You should be able to see quite clearly the stems that need attention. Trim them down and this will give way to new growth in the next few weeks. You need to cut each flower stem back to a healthy pair of new buds and wait for the plants to dazzle again this Summer

Border Checks

While the borders are still a bit sparse, it is a good time to see what needs to be done, either removing a plant or two, completely or transplanting it to another area of the garden. It is always useful to perhaps make notes, through the Summer, when the garden is looking its best, to remind you what plants are not performing as well as you would like, and then take action to deal with it now.

Read more of Geoff’s garden at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk