There’s still a while to go before spring officially arrives, but by this time of year I’ve just about had enough of winter. Last year’s vegetation is looking increasingly bedraggled and now after an itchy fingered wait through January, it’s time for my garden’s annual pre-spring clean.
I know many gardeners feel the need to ‘put the garden to bed’ with an autumn tidy up but I like to leave everything alone through the majority of the winter so that the remaining top growth protects the crowns of the plants from the worst of the cold and over-wintering insects can find nooks and crannies in which to shelter. There are a few lingering seed heads for the birds to pick through but new growth is already getting going, winter dormant plants are pushing their noses through the soil so it’s time to let in the light and air.
I usually cut back and pull up the messy looking stuff first, last year’s dead foliage and stems from perennials and lawn grasses that have wandered into the borders, but the ornamental grasses will be the last to go. They have stood strong and statuesque through howling winds, heavy rain and hard frosts and are still giving the garden definition and structure. I will be sorry to have to cut them back but I learned my lesson one February when I didn’t, the new leaves grew up through the old and looked a mess all year.
A good rummage through the undergrowth reveals a lot to get excited about, plants growing back in places I’d forgotten I’d put them, tiny seedlings that germinated last autumn and those treasures of late winter, the first bulbs. Hidden by drifts of decomposing leaves the tips of snowdrops suddenly appear, their green spears showing points of white first then delicate flowers hanging like dainty bells swaying in the wind. The golden chalice flowers of winter aconites run them a close race to be first out and it won’t be long before the earliest Narcissus and Crocus are in flower too.
Bulbs are among the very easiest plants to grow, some are brilliant for early pollinating insects and given the amount of colour and impact they give are incredibly good value for money. Once planted in a place that suits them they will spread, naturalise and return year after year, just in time for my annual pre-spring clean.