Beginning The Cut Back

I couldn’t hold myself back any longer today. With the sun pouring in through the windows near my desk, I had to put down my pen and pick up my secateurs. It was blissfully mild and bright in the garden, and the temperature was in double figures. It felt like time to claim back my garden after its winter break.

At the start of the gardening year, I try to maintain a fine balance. I don’t want to do too much too soon. Cold temperatures may well return, and plants pruned too early will suffer. On the other hand, it’s important to get ahead of the vast mountain of jobs that need doing between now and the arrival of the warm weather.

So I have done a bit of tidying and cutting back. I left the hydrangeas alone, and will not cut their heads off until we are safely out of frost territory. I pruned and cut back the buddlejas, fennels, eryngiums, crocosmia and grasses.* Cutting down the miscanthus was an epic task. The stems were almost as thick as bamboo, and defeated my sheers. I hacked away at it with the secateurs instead. Next year, I may have to use the hedge trimmer!

(*Note that you should only cut back grasses that have turned a sandy colour over winter. Others that are still green should not be cut back, but combed through with your fingers to remove dead leaves. I hate seeing evergreen grasses that have been lopped off in their prime!)

I also tackled one long ivy-covered fence, and will try to trim the ivy on opposite fence in the next few days. It’s important to do this now, and any other hedge trimming, before the birds begin to roost. Cutting back ivy is a horrible job that always leaves me with a brief, hacking cough from inhaling all the crap that gets disturbed, but it has to be done.

The result of all this graft while wearing a tatty, old pair of gloves, has been two new blisters on my secateur hand. This is masochistically pleasing in a way, and also a sign that it has been a long time since I’ve done any proper gardening. I must remember to buy some new gloves.

One of the pleasures of working in the garden at this time of year is seeing the signs of new growth around you. Everything will be growing like crazy soon, weeds included. Little shoots and heads of herbaceous perennials are just peeping up out of the soil. Beware of treading on this new growth and damaging it. Sedum crowns and daylilies are emerging. Daffodils are up but not yet flowering. Crocuses are up and open, scattered like pretty jewels in the grass. And the polyanthus are starting to show glimpses of colour from within tightly packed buds. A few primroses, in sheltered spots, are already flowering.

My favourite sight today was the rhubarb (Timperley Early) that I planted last year, which has started unfurling its richly-coloured red and green fronds. This will be the first year that we can harvest from it, and I can’t wait to cook and eat our first home-grown rhubarb crumble. Yum!

It’s been a very satisfying day. I even dropped the lawn mower off for a service. Although there’s not much to see for my efforts, apart from an overflowing brown bin, I know I’ve begun pulling the garden into shape. I love knowing that lots more busy days in the garden lie ahead of me, now that spring is nearly here.

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