We are nearly at the end of January, and the thing that’s most noticeable is the extra light! One month on from the Winter Solstice we are enjoying an hour more daylight. In the curious, lopsided way that time has, sunrise has crept forward by 16 minutes since December 21st, but sunset has already whisked itself back by three quarters of an hour. What a difference that makes. When I finished working at The Manor before Christmas I was having to start packing up at 4pm – now, as I write, it is almost 4.30pm and still plenty light enough to be working outside. Of course, it depends on the weather – a clear, bright day will keep the light going well, whereas a dull or wet, cloudy afternoon sometimes still feels as though it’s over at three.
And the light is not the only sign that the year has well and truly turned. Everywhere bulbs are coming through, and some – Snowdrops, Winter Aconites, a few brave Narcissi – are already in flower. Hellebores too are beginning to show their nodding flowers, and I have been busily cutting back the leaves on many Helleborus to allow a better view as the blooms appear. H.foetidus, being more upright, doesn’t need this treatment, but its more attractive, shier cousins do.
At The Farm I have been chiefly occupied in clearing hedge-bottoms, and thinning shrub planting which has become congested and top-heavy. I have adopted a mixed approach – taking some Cornus, for example, down very hard; whilst others have been less severely cut back. On these latter plants I have taken any dead or damaged stems out, and thinned the rest by about a third – over three years it will be possible to renew the plant without subjecting it to undue stress at any point.