WITH the landscape looking bleak and the flower beds stark, a garden visit may be the last thing on your mind. But this time of year is far from dull.
Despite the name, many colourful spring specimens, such as snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils, start poking out as early as January, and shrubs such as witch hazel, fragrant honeysuckle and daphnes are also beginning to bloom.
And there are many gardens across Devon that are preparing to open to the public as part of the National Gardens Scheme. From sprawling woods to romantic cottage gardens, a visit can be the perfect way to gain inspiration for your own garden or to simply while away an afternoon.
And each visit helps to raise much-needed funds for a number of charities.
The NGS is Macmillan Cancer Support's biggest single donor, raising more than £13m and funding 130 Macmillan services. Similarly, it is the biggest single donor to Marie Curie Cancer Care – having given more than £5m in 15 years.
Other charities supported include: the Carers Trust; Help the Hospices; The Queen's Nursing Institute: the Perennial – Gardeners' Royal Benevolent Society; and The National Trust.
Last year the Devon NGS contributed £110,000 to the national total of more than £3m – and the organisers say this is down to everyone who opened their gardens or who visited.
"It was not the easiest of years for us since attendance is very weather dependant – and what a shocking summer we had," said Edward and Miranda Allhusen, county organisers for the Devon NGS.
"However we still managed to raise £110,000, which is thanks to the hard work of everyone who opened their garden for us.
"Thank you so much for your help. It really does make a difference to people's lives. This year we have 149 Devon gardens participating, and from the earliest snowdrops to the late autumn colour, there are many hundreds of open days during the year.
"Last year was a dreadful gardening year with the weather. Surely 2013 has to be better?"
Next month Mr and Mrs Allhusen will be holding the annual meeting of the Devon NGS in the village hall in Longdown.
It is a chance for participating gardeners to hear all about the charity and to have lunch.
"We will also be giving details of the 2012 results," they added. "Inevitably the weather took its toll on many opening days but everyone's sterling efforts meant that we fared better than many."
There will also be a plant stall to help pay for the hire of the hall.
Tom Sharples, senior horticultural manager of Sutton Seeds will be speaking on 'new developments in plant breeding for the home gardener'. There will also be a presentation by a representative from Parkinson's UK, the NGS 2013 guest beneficiary charity. It all takes place today (February 24).
But earlier this month the first garden had opened its doors to visitors.
Cherubeer Gardens, near Dolton in North Devon, will open on February 3 and 15, from 2pm to 5pm, with a special winter display of cyclamen, hellebores and snowdrops in three separate gardens. Admission is £4 for all three gardens and refreshments are available.
And on February 10, 11, 15 and 16, visitors can enjoy the winter delights of the garden at Feebers Cottage, Westwood, near Broadclyst, from noon to 3pm. This is a mature but evolving cottage garden of one acre, with a maze of pathways, alpine area, herbaceous, trees, shrubs and vegetable garden. Admission is £3 and refreshments will be available.
For more details on the NGS and all the gardens opening this year visit www.ngs.org.uk