What to do
*Pick flowers of Iris unguicularis, (formerly Iris stylosa). If you don't get them, the slugs will. They are much easier to enjoy inside than out and the warmth indoors releases the lovely scent. When you are picking, pull the stems gently, rather than snapping them. They are desperately brittle and prone to snap, just under the flower head. Take care.
*If necessary, prune winter shrubs such as witch-hazel (Hamamelis mollis) as soon as they have finished flowering. They are slow growing creatures and take time to fill a space, so don't be too severe. Cut out any dead bits, thin out congested growth and get rid of any weak, spindly branches. If you want to grow other plants – herbaceous stuff or bulbs – under the witch hazel, cut out some of the lowest branches entirely to release the necessary head room. You also need to watch out for suckers coming from the base. Witch hazels are usually grafted, so these suckers will most likely be from the rootstock, not from the shrub itself.
*This month is also the right time to cut back dogwoods grown for winter effect. This means varieties of Cornus alba such as 'Westonbirt', with brilliant red winter stems. The colour is brightest on new growth so the point of pruning is to persuade the shrub to produce more new stems. Take out a third of the old stems, leaving the rest to make a framework. You need not be so harsh with variegated 'Elegantissima' since you will be growing it as much for its foliage as for its coloured bark. NDS
Blunt-nosed Cyclamen coum with flowers of brilliant magenta has been in flower in our garden since before Christmas, joining the last flowers of Cyclamen hederifolium, which had started in July. Both these are essential plants for any garden. They are exceptionally generous with their flowers and the foliage (especially of C. hederifolium) is the best ground cover you can wish for: subtle, varied and never in the way. Enthusiasts should join The Cyclamen Society which costs only £10 a year. For further information, contact the membership secretary, Mr A Nicholls, Little Orchard, Church Rd, West Kingsdown, Kent TN15 6LG NDSReuse content