Weeding in the garden today, listening to a big fat bee buzzing around the Salvia ‘Phyllis Fancy’, and feeling the sun on my back you could be forgiven for thinking it was Spring. This assumption was reinforced by the flowering of snowdrops, hellebores and primulas with even the Daphne putting in a show. However it is mid December with the shortest day just two days away. This winter has been incredibly mild so much so that it is hard to believe we will be recovering from the over indulgences of Christmas in just 5 days.
After weekend after weekend of rain it was with pure delight that I was out cutting back hellebore leaves first thing this morning, making the most of the blue skies in case they were going to be short-lived but I needn’t have worried as the fine weather lasted longer than my energy levels or my back muscles.
I don’t ascribe to the ‘slow gardening’ approach at this time of year which advocates leaving all the tidying up until the spring. I think it is fine if you have a garden that is grasses and late summer perennials but with a garden like mine that I like to look as good as possible all year and which is planted in the layer style it is important to keep on top of things. I’m not talking about putting the garden to bed for the winter – what a waste of a quarter of the year and so many delights. Instead I love to potter and tidy and consider. With the amount of rain we have had this month I am glad I take this approach as lifting the sodden thick layers of sycamore leaves revealed the hellebore flower buds above which were struggling to push their way through just as some of the bulbs were, you can see how little light has got to them.
Back on the 5th December I shared my surprise at discovering a snowdrop about to open. Finally this weekend I have had the privilege of seeing the flowers fully open and this has helped me confirm that its identify is Galanthus elwesii ‘Mrs Macnamara’, a very elegant flower with long outer petals and a nice nodding head.
The main borders have been tidied and cleared of leaves and decaying stems cut back. I still have the very back borders to do and I have a scheme around the compost bins that I am hoping I might get a chance to carry out before I return to work on the 4th January, which does seem a very long way away being next year! Though no doubt having seen the forecast I will spend more time day dreaming over seed catalogues and making plans for gardens to visit this year.
I hate to say I have had a good gardening weekend when so many people are coping with floods or howling gales, but I have. At this time of year I think we are grateful for any time we can steal to get outside and work in the garden so I was thrilled to steal about 3 hours over the two days this weekend.
I have spent most of the time picking up leaves, weeding, and cutting back perennial flowers. I’m not a great one for leaving lots of winter debris as I believe this provides homes for slugs and snails and I think when you garden a space extensively you need to try to maintain good garden practice. I tend to start the Autumn/Winter tidy up with those areas that are heavily planted with spring bulbs so that I don’t damage emerging shoots. I’m a little behind due to the recent wet weekends so was really pleased to tidy areas such as the Asiatic Fern border, which I look at when I wash up. There aren’t many bulbs here as it is constantly moist throughout the year but as the ferns are wintergreen and this is their real season of interest I want them to look their best. I spent quite a bit of time removing the ever invasive Soleirolia soleirolii (Mind Your Own Business) which normally carpets this border and wondering what possessed me to plant it in the first place.
There are more ferns on the slope. Different ferns which like a bit of better drainage. This border is also full of spring bulbs so it was delightful to clear away the debris of the fallen leaves and spot shoots pushing through the soil. As you can see, if you look carefully, there are some random self-sown plants appearing. I think the grey leaves at the top of the border is some form of thistle and I am inclined to leave it to see what it does. I have also found a Geranium palmatum seedling which is good as I love that geranium but I am wondering what the border will look like in the summer with its mad big pink flowers everywhere – I can always move it if need be though.
Tidying up revealed that the Crocus speciosus had been flowering but for some reason not well. Some of the plants have long lax stems, some of the flowers haven’t formed properly barely covering the stamens and some flowers have been eaten. I can understand the cause of the latter but I don’t understand the first two problems. The crocus are meant to flower in late September/October, roughly when I planted the corms. I wonder if the mild wet weather have confused the crocus causing the lengthening and weakening of the stems. Whilst some were covered in leaves which might add to the problem, there are just as many growing in this way where the leaves were removed a while ago. Hopefully next Autumn they will flower better and create the lilac haze I was hoping for alongside the top steps.
Clearing the leaves also allows you to discover all sorts of delights. As I posted last time I discovered the first snowdrop of the year yesterday, I suspect it might be Mrs McNamara. Today I spotted another one with the first signs of a flower forming, this time I know it is Galanthus plicatus ‘Colossus’ as the label is still there. It appears that this snowdrop often flowers around Christmas so I think it is on track to do that.
Also found where the fat buds of Hellaborus niger; an extra flower stem this year so I think it is safe to say that this plant is well and truly established now although it has taken many years to achieve this. I also spotted that some of the other hellebores were already budding up to the point that I removed the leaves from Hellebore Anna’s Red and one other. I am waiting for the buds on the other hellebores to be a little bigger before I remove the leaves. And then there are the Epimediums to think about – I need to work out which I should remove the leaves on and which not, oh dear….