The seed merchants’ catalogues and websites are full of new flower varieties to grow from seed, with lots of tempting descriptions and photographs.
It is always worth experimenting with two or three new varieties each summer to see how they will fare.
Performance in plant trials, such as those conducted by the Royal Horticultural Society or Fleuroselect are good indicators of which varieties have flowered well.
Cosmos is receiving attention from plant breeders, with several introductions this year.
Xanthos is described as ‘a unique new colour’. It has pale yellow flowers, on compact, bushy plants and can be used in mixed or annual borders or in containers.
In trials across Europe it earned a Fleuroselect gold medal, with the description ‘Xanthos adds a completely new colour to the compact cosmos range – an absolute breakthrough in breeding’.
If you prefer your cosmos to have bright orange and yellow flowers, Klondyke Mixed and the compact Brightness Mixed are worth considering.
Amongst the other new cosmos are Razzmatazz with semi-double flowers in shades of deep to pale mauve and Capriola which carries two-tone mauve and white blooms.
These cosmos are best grown as half-hardy annuals, so you will need a greenhouse, ideally with a heated propagator, to sow seed next April.
The taller varieties are excellent for impact plantings in mixed borders, most have attractive feathered foliage and they usually make good cut flowers too.
Two new antirrhinums have been named after artists.
Rembrandt, produces vibrant bicolour blooms in orange and yellow and ‘will paint your borders and containers with colour all summer’.
Picasso Splash has an unusual mosaic flower pattern with red, pink, orange and yellow colouring and is described as having excellent weather tolerance.
As with the cosmos, they are usually treated as a half-hardy annual.
Calendulas and sweet peas are hardy annuals and can be sown directly, usually in the spring, where they are to grow.
New sweet peas for 2016 include Nimbus, which has white flowers marbled with deep red markings and Route 66 which is a pink and white bicolour.
Both are described as having a good perfume – ‘divine’ in the former, ‘perfect’ in the latter.
Look out also for the pink-flowered Dusty Springfield and the maroon and mauve Emilia Fox, similar in colour to the original wild sweet pea, but with larger petals which have frilly edges.
Calendulas, also known as English or pot marigolds are easy to grow as a hardy annual.
Funky Stuff bears large semi-double orange flowers, while Pink Surprise has orange and yellow double blooms with the outer layers of the petals flushed pink; For further details about these new varieties, go to www.dobies.co.uk, www.unwins.co.uk, www.thompson-morgan.com or www.mr-fothergills.co.uk
We are now into January and and in a heated propagator you can now sow seeds 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.
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.
Ornamental shrubs like flowering currants, elders, dogwoods and rambling roses can be propagated as hardwood cuttings.
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.
Plant hellebores and winter flowering heathers for colour and winter flowering viburnums, witch hazels (hamamelis) and the lemon scented winter honeysuckles for colour and fragrance.