GINA PARKINSON finally gets outside for a proper spell in the garden.

IT HAS been hard to spend much time in the garden since last November and it was bliss last weekend to finally get out for a couple of decent sessions. It is that time when there is plenty going on, but it is all in miniature and we need to get on to hands and knees to spot it.

Saturday was cold and icy first thing, so the less interesting chores such as shopping and cleaning were done. By late morning the sun had warmed things up a little and I was outside at the bottom of the garden, clipping back the blackberry.

Blackberry plants are hard to keep in check even if they are regularly cut back, so it is a necessary job to be done before the stems start growing again.

By late winter some will already be developing fat buds, a sign that it is now or never for the pruning.

Over the past couple of years, I have managed to get the plant into some kind of order by tying the long stems on to wires stretched between two posts. About half a dozen stems give us plenty of fruit and each year I remove one or two of the oldest and catch fresh replacements from ones that popped up at the end of the previous summer.

Even so, the tastiest-looking berries are always the ones just out of reach and provide a feast for the birds.

Sunday was milder and saw me outside once again, this time clearing the alley down the side of the house. It’s a bit of a wind tunnel and dumping ground in winter, so by the time February arrives it looks shambolic.

I’m ashamed to say the poor Christmas tree still languished there, its skeletal frame resting on a bed of needles. As these were swept away I caught a ghostly trace of their evocative scent and felt fleeting regret for another Christmas gone.

Then into the flowerbeds, cutting back old stems from herbaceous perennials and pulling out the weeds that seem to be able to grow with abandon whatever the weather. Lawn edges have been tidied and bare patches of soil turned over with a trowel. It is wise to avoid using a spade in densely planted areas – so much is just below the surface and new shoots are easily damaged.

It is amazing how a forlorn winter garden can suddenly become a fresh early spring one in a day’s work. Primroses and pulmonaria, snowdrops and hellebores are all coming to life and will soon fill the garden with their cheerful flowers and new spring foliage.

Weekend catch-up

LENTEN roses are in bloom in our garden but the first flowers had gone unnoticed. They had been battling through a mass of foliage I had decided not to cut back and although they can usually be seen quite well from the house, the flowers had been overwhelmed.

I have recently read conflicting advice on the subject of cutting back the leaves on this plant and had wavered in favour of not doing it in January, as is my usual habit.

However, the plants had begun to look messy with dull and tatty foliage hiding the buds beneath. So all the leaves have gone and rising from the centre of the clumps are a mass of new flower stems, topped with buds and a few opened flowers. Ours are all white, heavily splashed and freckled with maroon with pale central stamens.

Once established, Lenten roses or Helleborus x hybridus are tough and reliable early flowering perennials. Given a reasonably fertile, moist soil in partial or light shade they can be left for years undisturbed.

It won’t be long before seedlings begin to gather around the feet of the parent plant and can be potted up and grown on. It can take a few years to get a plant to flowering size but it will be exciting to see the colour of the new blooms.

Hellebores dislike being dug up and divided and can take a long time to recover so old plants are best replaced by new ones from a nursery or grown from self-sown seedlings. A word of warning; all parts of the plants are poisonous.

Gardening TV and radio

8am, BBC Radio Humberside, The Great Outdoors. With Blair Jacobs and Doug Stewart.

9am, BBC Radio York, Mark Forrest. With gardening advice from Martin Fish, Nigel Harrison and Lizzie Tulip.

9am, BBC Radio Leeds, Tim Crowther and Joe Maiden.

2pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. Pippa Greenwood, Anne Swithinbank, Matthew Wilson and chairman Eric Robson help gardeners from Kirton-in-Lindsey, Lincolnshire.

8.30pm, C4, Wild Things. Sally Eaton, Chris Myers and Trevor Dines visit Snowdonia to find out how plants adapt to the harsh terrain.

3pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. Bob Flowerdew, Bunny Guinness, Christine Walkden and chairman Eric Robson offer advice at The Seedy Sunday event in Brighton.

9pm, BBC2, Monty Don’s French Gardens. In the last of the series Monty Don looks at how France’s artistic tradition has influenced their gardens. Along the way he pays a visit to Monet’s garden in Giverny and Cezanne’s simple garden in Aix-en-Provence as well as other more contemporary plots.