February is nearly be over, but it is never too late to start tidying the garden. With every sweep of the clippers and armful of decaying leaves signs of new life are being revealed. Spring is on its way! I actually started some weeks ago, when the ground was frozen, to cut back last year’s growth. Since autumn finished most perennials have descended into a mass of sticks and a mush of brown leaves. Now they are toppling over, making way for the new stems to emerge.
Tidying up is not difficult, but I can only managed a couple of hours at a time before my back complains. I use a small Jakoti hands shears and a pair of Felco secateurs. Just one swipe with the Jakotis takes the soft old leaves of irises and flattened stems of geraniums. Thicker stems, like those of Thalictrum, need Felcos. Once I’ve removed the tops, I sweep any stray leaves up by hand and stuff them into big bags. For the final tidy I’ve used a large, fan shaped plastic rake. Because the plants are still so low the rake just bounces over the tops causing no damage. I doubt if I’ll be able to use it form much longer, the plants will be too tall.
Some plants have surprised me. I consider Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’ to be evergreen, which it is, but when I used my hands to rake between the plants leaves to remove fallen tree leaves, the leathery epimedium leaves dropped off. Not to worry, there are flower buds just showing through the soil, so it won’t be long before they unfurl.
I really like these evergreen plants, because they provided evergreen ground cover and shaped through year. Most are neat and well behaved, but some can become a bit shabby by the end of winter. These need any rough looking leaves removed. I cut them back to the thick stem where fist-like flower buds are beginning to fill out, ready to emerge later next month.
In the spring border, which is under the eves of deciduous trees, I have a good collection of Pulmonaria (Lungworts). Many are now sparsely scattering with flowers. They are not very showy yet but this is just the beginning. The flower stems will continue to rise up, the leaves fill out into neat clumps, and the buds will open well into spring.
Over the years I have assembled a small collection of hellebores. Nothing special. Some came from Ballards (now long finished as a nursery), one came from Ashwood nurseries and others from garden centres purchased if I liked the flower. Four or five plants were sent by Thompson and Morgan wholesale department as seedlings. These have been the most reliable, with frilly double flowers. Not all have been so tough, perhaps because they have resented the regular moves from garden to garden over a period of 10 years. This is the first year they have really looked as they should - magnificent! It could be because husband Ric has been pouring the contents of the ash bucket, emptied from the wood burning stove, over them. Or perhaps after 3 years they have finally settled into the damp, clay, shady soil they find themselves in. Anyway, in anticipation of further successes I have added a further 5 plants (just bought from Dingle nurseries) to create drift along the edge of the trees.
Peonies & Irises
The few tree peonies we have in the garden are beginning to break bud - pushing feathery little leaves out of the top of the woody stems. Not all of them. The Japanese types of tree peonies are the first to produce leaves and flower buds, which can cause problems in late spring if we get a hard frost, the buds can be damaged.
My irises are mainly looking uninteresting. That is with the exception of Iris foetidissima 'Variagata'. I’ve had this plant for many years, but never been able to multiply it up. Finally I think we are going to have a big enough clump of the wonderful, evergreen, green and white striped leaved plant to bulk up for sale.
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