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The Independent Online
Hellebore heaven

DESPITE broad hints, no one gave me The Gardener's Guide to Growing Hellebores (David & Charles, pounds 16.99) for Christmas. Not a single copy. This is my excuse to go out and buy it. Like many another gardening book today, it has been written by two people. Graham Rice already has many books to his name, and his co-author, Elizabeth Strangman, is the owner of Washfield Nursery at Hawkhurst in Kent.

The book is splendidly illustrated, and includes many close-ups of the flowers themselves. It is aimed more at gardeners than botanists, so if your taste is for the wild species, then you may prefer the more academic Hellebores by Brian Mathew. The scholarship comes at twice the price, so look before you leap. Hellebores costs pounds 31.90, including p & p, available from: the Alpine Garden Society, Avonbank, Pershore, Worcestershire, or from bookshops.

Squirrel puzzles

JUST before Christmas I collected a pound-and-a-half of monkey-puzzle seeds under a tree in a Yorkshire garden. This is the time to look out for them. They ripen in late summer, and those great cones, like green hedgehogs, break up on the tree. Winter gales bring down the individual seeds, of a size between an almond and a brazil nut.

I have to grab them quickly in my garden or the red squirrels take the lot. Squirrels appear to be as puzzled as monkeys about how to negotiate all that spiny foliage.

I am left with only a few nuts to eat, having given the rest to sympathetic gardeners and the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. The tree is very scarce in its native Chile, and Edinburgh is working to establish seed-bearing colonies elsewhere in the world. If conservation is not a sufficient reason to plant monkey puzzles, remember that they fared best of almost any tree in the great gales. Plant at least two if you hope to produce seed, as they are either wholly male or female. Plant a grove if you can.

Rocket fuel

WHEN I put together my seed order this week, it will definitely include some rocket (Eruca sativa) to add zest to green salads next summer. Do not confuse this with sweet rocket, which is a tall, cottage garden flower. Salad rocket is a small member of the cabbage family, and it does its useful business under six inches.

The leaves, which are reminiscent of watercress, taste warm and gently peppery. Half a dozen leaves chopped small will flavour a salad for six. It is said to be an aphrodisiac, but I cannot say I have noticed any effect. I imagine much more than one leaf per person is required. Perhaps some rocket soup would set the pulse and appetite racing?

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