Scrape away the muck and start planting bright-white snowdrops to give your garden new life

The bad weather over the past month hasn't yet finished making a mess. Even after the snow has retreated, you are left with a garden that looks as if a rotting plague has just passed through it. Something about the combined action of frost and wind has the effect of reducing all last year's planting to a blackened muddy mess that might well have been leaves once, but frankly, who knows.

So it's a good time to get outside for 20 minutes and scrape some of this detritus off, even when you are risking frostbite. Of course you don't have to; you can tell yourself you are producing top-class, locally sourced mulch – but the truth is probably that you are just providing a homely shelter for slugs and snails. Well, you are until the tasty green shoots of your bulbs start coming up. Then they can start to nourish the mollusc population into another whole year of munching.

So scrape as much of it off as you can, and think now about putting a date in your diary for ordering nematodes, the parasitic slug killers, which can only be applied once spring warms up a bit (look out for Nemaslug, £8.95 at marshalls-seeds.co.uk, which you can keep in the fridge for up to four weeks before you use it. )

It's a good time, too, to prune back anything that looks a little too shapely after the Christmas binge. With leaves off, it's much easier to see if a plant's shape isn't working, and it's also less guilt-inducing to be ruthless. What you promised yourself was winter pleasures. Out of season, you wonder how anyone can get so excited about such a tiny plant, but only going to be 20 minutes outside becomes 40, and before you know it the green recycling bag is full and you go back inside to find that your central heating suddenly feels like it's turned up to Amazon rainforest.

Then it's just a question of distraction tactics. Snowdrops are the simplest of just now, with blighted flowerbeds and February still ahead of us, they suddenly make sense. Their tiny, concentrated whiteness comes at a time of year when most of us really need distracting from the bigger picture. A patch where you park your car, take out your dustbins, or just visible from the kitchen sink will lift your heart on even the greyest days of the year.

Snowdrop spectaculars: Where to catch them

Waterperry Gardens just off the M40 near Oxford has snowdrop weekends today and the weekend of 13-14 February. Free guided tours at 11am and 2pm. waterperrygardens.co.uk

London's Horticultural Halls in Westminster hosts the first RHS show of the year from 16-17 February, where nurseries and gardening firms will be showing snowdrops (as well as lots of other plants) up close and personal. On Tuesday evening, the show is open till 7pm, so there's an opportunity for people with proper jobs to catch an hour. rhs.org.uk

Keeping your snowdrops going requires a bit of thought. They're not in love with the idea of growing in pots, and open soil is best of all. One of the cutest varieties, with little double flowers, is "Flore Pleno" (£4.49 from crocus.com for a pot containing four plants). After flowering, let the leaves die down naturally to build energy in the bulbs for next year

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