February garden

Was gardening all day yesterday. Yes, it was cold and damp, but as we're going back to York tomorrow it was a job that couldn't be put off. The dead stalks of last year's perennials had to be cut down and removed as the new shoots were already pushing their way through. I always leave this job till February, I argue for protection in the worst weather but also because I never get round to doing it before.

It's a fairly strenuous task and takes forever, well, not actually the chopping down but the clearing up afterwards, as the garden is large and rambling and it's always a long way to either bonfire or compost heap.  However, I couldn't really complain as Philip was doing an altogether more taxing job.  We have a hedge which has grown into a mini-forest and he was hoping to reinstate the hedge, which involved chopping down many trees - oak, sycamore, beech, rowan (very wary of this one as there's an ominous tradition around here that you've got to ask permission first or rowans have a habit of getting their own back).

It turned out though that we both had a good day and managed to achieve most of what we set out to do without major or even minor injury.  I had my camera in pocket and made a note of the flowers in bloom as I went along. Before I started I looked out of the window and thought how sad everything was looking, but once I got in the swing, uncovering plants that hadn't seen the light of day this year, they all perked up enormously, the hellebores especially when relieved of last year's leaves. So here's the roll call of the plants in the spotlight this week. Starting with the hellebores as they're just spectacular right now.
Hellebore niger
Hellebore niger
Hellebore clump
Corsican hellebore
Lovely white/green hellebore hybrid
Lots of big fat buds waiting to open
As you can see there are lots of hellebores in the garden, especially close to the house as they have such a long flowering season - you can count on the flowers still being there at the beginning of May. Cyclamen coum is another favourite, the tiny flowers come out even before the snowdrops, so I make sure we have plenty in the front garden - they're so welcoming throughout the winter. The leaves are also very decorative, potential inspiration for a sweater pattern in fact, sort of paisley design.
Cyclamen coum
Note the fancy leaves
The snowdrops are coming out all over the place now - I uncovered many clumps around the garden which were completely hidden by last years fallen leaves.  I love the way they huddle together against the cold - always cheers me up to see them tucked in under a hedge or snug on a mossy bank.

Two shrubs that add interest in their own special ways, one for its colourful bark and the other for it's long and lustrous catkins. 

Red and green wands of dogwood
Garrya eliptica with its long silky catkins, which are actually flowers
Next some common or garden plants that you wouldn't look twice at in the summer, but in the middle of February they seem quite exotic.
Elephant's ears trying hard to be beautiful before they become raggedy
Wood spurge with its unassuming little yellow flowers
Mahonia in full bloom with heavenly scent
And finally two favourites - the humble daffodil, still not open in our garden, which is 600 feet above sea level, but in full bloom a couple of miles down the road.  I'm not over fond of the big yellow ones, but despite many attempts to rid the garden of them, they always return so I've now given up. My favourites are the very pretty little white ones called Thalia. Because of the relatively mild winter we've had so far, the ornamental quince was covered in buds and a few were beginning to open.
Daffodils in bud
Ornamental quince
Off to soak the aching limbs in a hot bath now. Candles burning, glass of wine - I'll be dreaming of the summer when we'll be reaping the benefits of today's labour. Hard to believe there's only another couple of months before the garden starts feeling like a great place to hang out again.

When we got here last week there was a lovely card waiting for us in the post.  It was from a friend and master gardener and I was really taken by one of the things she said.  I don't think she would mind me saying that she has been an octogenarian for quite some time, but still tends her garden, including vegetables, every day herself. She said I have my garden which sends me weary to bed and gets me up thinking of the jobs to be done. When I'm tired and aching I tell myself that maybe this is the key to a long and active life?


  1. Golly you got lots done and what beautiful flowers already. I envy anyone who can name plants, I am hopeless and can never remember any names apart from the obvious ones. Hope you are keeping warm x


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