BRIAN KIDD: Love the scent, but what's the shrub?

Chinese witch hazel.
Chinese witch hazel.
HNMZS Achilles, a veteran of the battle of the River Plate. After the war she was sold to India and was finally broken up in 1978 when 55 years old.

NOSTALGIA: Twenty-nine dead in Portsmouth Dockyard explosion

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Our gardening expert answers your queries and finds work for you to do in the coming week. 

Q: My friend has a bush which is in flower now  there are no leaves but the flowers are like pieces of hay and the perfume is lovely. Can you tell me the name please? GS, Fareham.

Plants in a butler sink.

Plants in a butler sink.

A: Thanks for your excellent description and sample in dry newspaper. It's Chinese witch hazel, Hamamellis mollis, one of the best winter-flowering shrubs. It looks even better when under-planted with erica vivilii.

Q: I read your article about alpines in old sinks and have found one. You didn’t mention in your advice that it's a good idea to stand the sink on four bricks, one at each corner. SP, Emsworth.

A:Glad you made this point, I should have given this advice. I have sent you a packet of Cosmea seeds as a thank you.

Q: I saw Chinese lantern plants in pots last autumn at our garden centre. The lanterns lasted more than two months. Will they come up again? EPT, Horndean.

A: I saw this display and had never seen them grown as a pot display. They are hardy and will survive the winter if the compost is not too wet. They can be grown in a sunny spot in the open garden.

Q: My dad used to grow huge potted plants of a flower called Poor Man's Orchids. Do you know these plants and what is the name. I have never seen the seeds at a garden centre and want to grow some. CP, Hayling Island.

A: Have a look for seeds called shizanthus. You may have to send to a seed company or go to a garden centre where they sell the whole range of Thompson and Morgan or Mr Fothergill seeds.

JOBS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD

•Set up seed potato tubers in trays somewhere light and frost-free. The tubers need to be able to shoot. Egg trays inside seed trays are ideal to use because the tubers don’t keep falling over. You should see tiny buds so set the tubers so these are uppermost. Look at the tubers occasionally just in case some are upside down. Remember, the shoots need to be in the light because if planted with strong shoots, the crop will be much better.

•Try to concentrate on producing as much garden compost as possible so this can be used as a top dressing when earthing up potatoes in summer.

•See if you can find some stables where there may be some manure available. If you are short of space, leave it in bags so it can rot down. Mixed with compost from the compost heap, this is another excellent material to use to earth up potatoes next summer and can also reduce the problem of potato scab which causes marks on new potatoes.

•If you usually order flower and vegetables as plugs , this is the best time to place your order because orders are set up in date order . By ordering early you can be assured of receiving what you want rather than being offered a substitute.

•We are now enjoying two extra minutes of light each evening. It may seen cold but there is more strength in the sunshine and this is reflected in the garden.

•Ease the soil around bulbs and spring bedding. This will help new foliage emerge with ease. A hand-held garden fork is ideal for this job.

•Take dead leaves off the base of Christmas roses (helleborus) and scatter sharp sand around the plant to prevent blooms being splashed with mud.

•Make sure birds have clean water every day. Have you bought wild bird seed? If you did, then you are enjoying these delightful visitors who look

forward to visiting your garden.

Got a question for Brian? Click here and fire away.