Diary of a Cultural Gardener - February 2021
01 Mar 2021
February marks a scene change, a transition into a new gardening year and it brings the first true tastes of spring. It is the main month for cutting back herbaceous perennials in the garden. By removing the dry wintery skeletons of last year, we encourage the incremental light and warmth to reawaken the wonders within the soil. Such that the bulbs and perennials can emerge again to green the space afresh and shine unimpeded.
The cut back is one of the biggest annual interventions that we make within the planting, a bit intimidating at first, as you survey the amount of material to be removed and wheelbarrowed to the skip for composting off-site. It is the final vestige of the previous year’s beauty and now that it has become tatty, it is quite cathartic to take it away. Like the aftermath of a party that has gone its own wild way. You come in and pick up the wine glasses and reset the room so that you can enjoy the space again and that task becomes quite satisfying in itself once you get into it.
Your hands know the plants in a different way at this time of year. Regardless of their merits in fullness of flower, you can recognise the character of each species in its dry physicality. Some stems will break away with a simple twist and a rewardingly brittle snap, others need the secateurs or shears. Some are best trugged and some are best bundled. Some leave stray niggling leaves or unleash billowing piles of peripheral leaf litter. Some have such dense and chewy stems that you are in danger of cutting through your cold gloved fingers by mistake.
Our taller perennials, such as Echinacea pallida send a shower of tickling seeds down onto you as you cut them and when you get home all these little remains of the day fall onto the floor. Such that I often wonder what would grow if you sowed a seed-tray with a day’s winnowings collected from your hair, your ears, your outfit?
The garden’s volume has to reduce before it refills and the space is now refined to Tom Stuart-Smith’s beautiful contoured flower beds, the sinuous paths and the sculptural hedges. The process allows a chance to weed and check the crowns of the perennials and to top up the mulch, setting the planting on a strong foundation to begin its cycle again. The grasses and the Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ (syn. Salvia) hold their own for a few more weeks and so we wait to take their material away and will only do so once the new green shoots are peeping at the base.
February began static with ice and ended balmy with sunshine – hellebores, snowdrops and daphnes glowing in the light. Now that our new garden café is open, there are takeaway refreshments on hand whatever the weather and the top quality coffee and delicious cake has certainly fuelled me through the heavy work this month. Do come along if you are local for exercise as there are spring treats and café treats awaiting you.