Our beautiful but deadly weather brings gardeners fresh challenges

THERE is a plus side to all this recent snow - every garden in the city looks equally beautiful, regardless of their content and the effort spent on them.

A smooth blanket of white covers mossy and weedy lawns, and trees take on a magical quality with a white dusting and sparkling icicles.

We do, however, have to remember to look after the plants and wildlife in our gardens during the winter months. Evergreen trees and conifers, for example, can be easily damaged or broken when snow weighs down their branches, so remove it regularly with a soft brush.

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Last year, I lost several plants in the bad winter, so will definitely make more of an effort to protect them this year. I only have one remaining Ceanothus up against a sunny wall and all my Cistus died, which is unusual but what can you expect from a plant that originates from the Canary Islands?

This year I have wrapped tender plants in fleece. My Gunnera amazingly survived last year with no protection whatsoever, but was extremely late in leafing up in the spring so I will also treat it to some straw and hessian sacking round its crown this winter.

Lifting planted containers off paving using pot feet, or even bricks, is a good idea as it lets the excess water escape. Trapped water is often the reason for pots cracking as the ice inside expands. If you don't think your pots are frost proof then wrap some hessian or bubble polythene round them.

Try not to walk on frozen lawns as this damages the leaves and you'll end up with yellow foot prints all over it in the spring.

A lesson I learnt the hard way is to empty your hose pipe and watering lance before we experience minus figures, so hopefully you have.

Also wrap your outside tap with insulating pipe or bubble polythene to save it from damage.

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The wildlife who occupy our gardens depend on us for food and water at this time of year, so keep your feeders filled. Birds require foods with high fat content, like nuts and suet balls, as well as high protein like meal worms. Fresh water is also essential, so replenish bowls regularly as they freeze quickly.

Insects need somewhere to spend the winter so adorn your garden with bee and lace wing homes for them to snuggle up in until spring. This is why I never cut back herbaceous plants as their empty hollow stems are just the place for insects to call home.

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Of course, at this time of year, most of us are probably focusing our attention on indoors instead. I love the greenery and smell of a real Christmas tree and tend to go for a Nordman as they don't drop their needles.

Indoor plants also come into their own this time of year, with not only Poinsettias available, but Phalaenopsis Orchids, Jasmine, Hyacinths and Paperwhite Narcissus.

• Carolyn Spray is director of Pentland Plants, Loanhead, www.pentlandplants.co.uk, 0131-440 0895. She is also a presenter on the BBC's Beechgrove Garden. Visit Carolyn at the nursery if you would like more advice.