One of the many pleasures of gardening is the range of new varieties to try each year, particularly seed raised flowers and vegetables.
The seed merchants’ catalogues and websites are full of tempting photographs and glowing descriptions singing the praises of their introductions.
If you have problems with slugs sampling your annual flowers, try growing begonias.
We have found them less attractive to slugs and snails than most other annuals, especially when grown in containers.
In addition to their wide ranging flower colours – they can be delicate pale pastels or full, in your face scarlets – many have attractive dark red or burgundy foliage.
Illumination Apricot Shades has beautiful 7.5 centimetre-wide double flowers produced on plants with a trailing habit of growth, ideal for cascading down the sides of pots or growing in hanging baskets.
So too Santa Cruz, which combines bright red flowers and narrow, deep green leaves.
Keep removing faded flowers and feed plants with a tomato fertiliser high in potassium and both will keep producing a succession of new flowers until the first hard frosts, usually in October.
Another plus with begonias is that, along with fuchsias and busy lizzies (impatiens), they will grow and flower in partial shade.
I’m a big fan of sweet peas and most have gorgeous scents and petals that can be pure coloured, rippled or delicately veined.
New this year are sweet pea Maloy, described as ‘a delicately scented unique reverse bi-colour’ with coral pink flowers, Heathcliffe, blue with large, highly scented flowers and, a re-introduction, Queen of the Isles, which produces raspberry ripple flowers which have an intense perfume.
It was raised in 1885 by Henry Eckford, considered by many to be the ‘godfather of the sweet pea’.
All are climbers, growing to a height of more than 1.8 metres.
Slightly smaller, at 1.5 metres is a new morning glory, Inkspots.
These are ideal for growing up a trellis or fence, provided they get plenty of sunshine.
They have trumpet-shaped flowers in blues and purples and they are best treated as a half-hardy annual, sown indoors in a 10 centimetre pot in a heated propagator in April.
Although grown for its edible fruits, cucamelon Melothria has highly decorative foliage.
We’ve grown cucamelons in the glasshouse in Clumber’s walled kitchen garden for the past couple of summers.
Their fruits are small, about the size of a grape, and have a flavour which combines melon, cucumber and lime.
Plants grow about 2.4 metres tall under glass, but if you’d like to grow it outside, it will do best in a sunny, sheltered spot.
Seeds need a temperature of 21deg C (70deg F)to germinate, so they are best propagated in the same way as the morning glory.
Hardy annuals, such as nigella and nasturtium can be sown outdoors directly into prepared soil where they are to flower.
Nigella Midnight is around 55 centimetres tall and has typical rich blue flowers and fine cut foliage, but its seed pods develop a dark purple colour, which extends the season of interest into the autumn.
At around 25 centimetres tall, a couple of nasturtiums are suited to growing at the front of beds to provide summer ground cover, or in containers and hanging baskets.
Cream Troika combines cream flowers with marbled cream and green foliage, while Crimson Emperor bears cherry red flowers.
For further details about these new varieties, go to www.unwins.co.uk, www.thompson-morgan.com, www.suttons.co.uk or www.mr-fothergills.co.uk
The start of a new year is the time, in a heated propagator, to sow seed of pelargoniums, begonias and lobelias.
All three need a long growing period in order to produce flowering plants in June, when they can be used in outdoor bedding displays.
Alternatively, wait until next month and buy pots of young seedlings, which good garden centres should have for sale.
The heated propagator can also be used to sow onions and early cauliflowers and cabbages.
January and February are usually the two coldest months, so check that protection given to plants against the frost is still in place, as rain may have washed away soil and straw placed over the crowns of marginally hardy plants such as dahlias.
Bubble pack wrapped around plants and containers may also have come loose and need replacing.
After heavy snow carefully remove snow from evergreens such as hollies and rhododendrons to prevent damage to branches.
The dormant season is a good time to propagate many plants.
Hardy perennials such as hostas and delphiniums can be lifted, divided and re-planted.
If ground conditions permit, and the soil is neither water-logged nor frozen, soil can be prepared for new plantings by digging and adding well-rotted manure, leaf mould or home-made compost.
Bare root plants, such as fruit trees or hedging plants can be planted into prepared ground.