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Weekend work

One week snow, the next a balmy 14C. What can one do in the garden when temperatures fluctuate so wildly? A yellow brimstone butterfly fluttered past while I was talking to a countryman about the weather. "Well there it is," he remarked. "We'll have

snow before 21 March." I had never heard that one before. I hoped the butterfly was a sign that spring was on the way.

There is certainly a fuzz of green in the hedgerows that shows something is on the move. Perhaps it is not too soon to cut back penstemons, which look very weather-beaten after winter. New buds are also breaking at the base of Artemisia `Powis Castle'. This is the sign you should wait for before cutting the stems hard back. In the north, this might not be until April. If you leave this artemisia without cutting it back, it gets very leggy.

Last year I sowed the magnificent climber, cobaea, on the 25 March and made a note subsequently that sowing could have been a week earlier. So, for me, that is today's job. Set the seeds on edge, pushing each one into a small pot of compost. Wrapping each individual pot in cling-film until the seeds emerge keeps the compost damp without further watering. Germination can take up to a month. Cobaea, which has stiff fleshy bell flowers of purple, flourishes in long, late autumns such as the one we have just had.

Cottage gardens

The Cottage Garden Society was started in the early Eighties by a group of enthusiasts who had an interest in old-fashioned flowers and the ways they were used in traditional cottage gardens. They also aim to show how the cottage garden style can be

adapted to suit a modern garden. Members get a quarterly newsletter, an annual seed list with seeds at nominal cost and the opportunity to benefit from plant sales and garden visits. Subscription costs only £5. Contact Clive Lane, Hurstfield House (CGS), 244 Edleston Rd, Crewe, Cheshire CW2 7EJ (01270 250776).

NT holidays

If your work is office-bound then a break spent gardening for the National Trust may well represent heaven. The Trust's new Working Holidays brochure suggests 25 projects which will appeal to any gardener who is enthusiastic. And fit. One project involves restoring the old kitchen garden at Arlington Court in Devon. Another is built round the restoration of Capability Brown's lakes at Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire. Holidays cost from £37 for a week, £15 for a shorter break. For a copy of the brochure, send an A4 s.a.e. (two 2nd-class stamps) to National Trust Working Holidays, PO Box 538, Melksham, Wiltshire SN12 8U (01225 790290).