Beside my chair in the living room, at the moment, are piles of seed and plant catalogues, along with my iPad, ready for me to browse with the dog curled up at my feet. Over the past couple of evenings I’ve been relishing looking at dahlias in all their outlandish shapes and colours.

A few of my long-term favourites in the decorative group include ‘Fascination’ (vivid-pink, semi-double), ‘Arabian Night’ (dusky-red) and ‘David Howard’ (strong orange). None of these are really unusual but they’re readily available, look good in the garden and make great cut flowers. But there are literally thousands of dahlia varieties out there if you look for them, and last year I grew the waterlily dahlia ‘Christopher Taylor’ for the first time and absolutely loved it! It really pays to look beyond the usual and nurseries like Pheasant Acre, Ayletts, GilbertsHalls of Heddon and the National Dahlia Collection are just a few examples that have a wonderful array and supply them as rooted cuttings to plant in late spring to flower this year.

More summer therapy

Any gardener will tell you that the most reassuring thing you can do in the depths of winter is flick or scroll through the pages full of plants, choosing what’s going to be in the garden this summer. Images of brightly coloured flowers and delicious-looking summer crops are so tempting at this time of year and there’s so much choice out there thanks to our excellent British gardening industry.

When it comes to choosing what seeds to buy, my list always includes flowers and veg that I’ve grown before and get good results from – varieties like cosmos ‘Purity’, sweet pea ‘Matucana’, marigold ‘Naughty Marietta’, beetroot ‘Boltardy’, carrot ‘Amsterdam Forcing’ and tomato ‘Shirley’. But I also take time to check out and try a few things that are new to me – either pre-existing varieties I haven’t grown before or newly-introduced ones. That way I can not only have something different to look at or harvest, but I can also see how well they perform and whether they’ll oust one of my old favourites!

So, if you don’t mind, I think I’ll just go and look at those catalogues again. Writing this has reminded me that I’m on the look out for a good early pea variety. Any ideas? Oh, and of course, I’m still only part way through the dahlias…