Gardeners across Northern Ireland look set for a fantastic spring, according to the experts supporting our Blooming Marvellous gardening drive.
We've made it through one of the wettest winters on record and now the burst of sunshine that has been bathing Northern Ireland for the last week has really been warming the soil up and getting the sap rising.
Rowallane Garden head gardener Averil Milligan, one of the judges who will be looking at the best of Northern Ireland's gardens this year, said: "I think it's going to be a fantastic spring considering we've had such a wet, windy start to the year.
"They always talk about St Patrick turning the stone.
"We are having a calm period of weather after the storms, and the amount of sunshine we have been getting over the last few days is really starting to warm the soil.
"That, along with the day length, is what wakes the plants up and makes the sap start to rise in trees and herbaceous plants."
She has some advice for novice gardeners: "Don't run to the garden centre and buy bedding plants yet. It's a fantastic time to think about planting trees or shrubs or even herbaceous plants – anything frost hardy."
We've also won the support of Irish garden designer Diarmuid Gavin, who commented: "I'm delighted to support the Belfast Telegraph's Blooming Marvellous campaign, which will encourage everyone to get out and enjoy a bit of gardening – with spring in the air, it's a great time to get sowing seeds and growing your own veg!"
BBC Grow Your Own Drugs presenter James Wong also urged people to pick up a trowel.
"Gardening can give you so much. It busts stress, improves mental well-being, gives you great exercise, connects you with nature and you get free strawberries! What's not to like?"
BBC Radio presenter Cherrie McIlwaine, another of our judges, said it was lovely to get involved with the Belfast Telegraph campaign.
"For our tiny corner of the world we punch well above our weight when it comes to gardening and we really hold our own with the rest of the world," she said.
"We have world-renowned breeders of daffodils and world-class rose breeders." Gardening consultant Reg Maxwell, who is preparing for the Tulip Festival at Glenarm Castle with James and Billy Wharry, said Blooming Marvellous was a fantastic initiative.
"Anything that encourages people out into their gardens certainly gets the thumbs-up from me.
"There's nothing quite like creating beautiful spaces that not only enhance our well-being, but help wildlife to thrive." Meanwhile, Robin Mercer, partner at Hillmount Garden Centre, which is sponsoring our free seed offer this weekend, said this weekend was traditionally the start of the gardening season and people were already cutting the grass.
"Officially, this is the weekend for pruning your roses and feeding them," he said.
"It's also the time to get on early seed potatoes so you have them ready for mid-July.
"You could be getting the garden tidy and getting the veg beds ready to go and you could also start sowing seeds indoors and getting some of your bedding plants under way."
Garden designer Trevor Edwards said gardening was one of Northern Ireland's most popular hobbies.
"Gardening ticks all the boxes of physical and mental health," he said. "It's a hobby and interest that can be enjoyed by all ages – from the very young to those of a senior age.
"One-third of all pensioners in a recent survey said that gardening was the hobby that gave them most pleasure in life.
"I'm hoping the Belfast Telegraph's gardening campaign will encourage new devotees to the hobby and deepen the knowledge of those who are passionate about gardening and garden visiting."
A hobby that can be afforded by everyone to some extent, it's an interesting fact that the cost of gardening has not risen more quickly than inflation.
Cultivate green shoots of recovery with our campaign
Green shoots are bursting into life across Northern Ireland as our longed-for spring arrives at last following a punishing winter that saw us blasted by relentless storms.
The Belfast Telegraph is at the vanguard of the battle to reclaim our soggy gardens, as we launch a major new gardening drive called Blooming Marvellous.
We're calling on gardeners and novices across Northern Ireland to throw open their doors and breathe new life into dismal herbaceous borders and veg patches that have been left to moulder through the dark winter months.
And this weekend we kick off our Blooming Marvellous initiative with a special green-fingered edition of our Weekend Magazine along with a massive seed giveaway in conjunction with Hillmount Garden Centre.
Later this spring we'll be launching a huge province-wide gardening competition, so those seeds will be your first foray in transforming your garden. We'll be looking for the finest gardens in four categories – Courtyard, Town, Medium and Large.
Among our illustrious judges will be Cherrie McIlwaine, presenter of BBC Radio Ulster's Gardeners Corner, and Averil Milligan, head gardener at the National Trust's Rowallane Garden. We'll also be reliving our childhoods as we challenge our readers to grow the biggest sunflowers in the country.
Meanwhile, we'll be serving up a wealth of horticultural treats in our news pages and expanding the gardening coverage in our Weekend Magazine throughout the spring and summer, so whether you're a gardening club, allotment group or you've spotted something unusual sprouting among the tulips, let us know what's happening!
Belfast Telegraph editor Mike Gilson said: "Everyone is thrilled to see a bit of fresh air and sunshine after the horrendous winter we've had, so we're challenging our readers to get out and make the most of it by breathing new life into their gardens.
"We hope you have as much fun with our Blooming Marvellous gardening drive as we are!"
Saturday, March 15
* Launch of Blooming Marvellous and free seed giveaway with Hillmount Garden Centre. Read the Belfast Telegraph and Weekend Magazine every week for a wealth of horticultural coverage.
* Mother's Day Spring Stroll and Musical Melodies at Castle Ward. National Trust.
* Get Buzzing: how to keep bees, Rowallane. National Trust.
* Compost offer with Blooming Marvellous.
* Picnic in the Park noon-2pm at Forthill, Enniskillen.
* Start of Clandeboye Garden Tours. Pre-book 028 9185 3457.
* Launch of Belfast Telegraph's Blooming Marvellous garden competition.
* Free seed giveaway for every reader.
* Launch of Blooming Marvellous sunflower competition.
* Spring Plant Fair, Rowallane Garden. National Trust.
May 3- 5
* Annual Tulip Festival, Glenarm Castle.
* Bluebell Walk, Downhill Demesne. National Trust.
* Apple Blossom Day, Ardress House. National Trust.
* Bluebell Walk (left), Castle Ward, National Trust.
* Spring Garden Walk, Mount Stewart. National Trust.
* Garden Show Ireland, Antrim Castle Gardens: www.garden showireland.com
* Herblore Evening Masterclasses, Rowallane Garden. National Trust.
* Summer Garden Fete, Mount Stewart. National Trust.
* Closing date for Blooming Marvellous garden competition entries.
* Judging of competition.
* Rose Week at Sir Thomas & Lady Dixon Park in Belfast. 50th anniversary of the Belfast International Rose Gardens.
* Summer Garden Walk, Mount Stewart. National Trust.
* Winners of Blooming Marvellous garden competition announced in special supplement.
Planters' Seminar, Mount Stewart. National Trust.