This January was far colder and drier than any of the past few years. Although we’ve had no snow here, we have enjoyed several stretches of cold, bright days and frosty nights.
The practice of leaving perennials uncut through the winter has a number of benefits – and we follow it in Horatio’s Garden, Salisbury. Cleve West’s design includes a good number of tall perennials – Aruncus dioicus ‘Horatio’, Acanthus mollis ‘Rue Ledan’, Eryngium giganteum ‘Silver Ghost’, Aster umbellatus and others, as well as the tall grass Stipa gigantea. None of these are cut-back until the early spring, when bulbs start to push through, and dead foliage begins to turn to unappealing brown mush. The benefits are several, and chief among them is that these plants provide food and shelter for all manner of beneficial creatures. From the House Sparrows dangling precariously to catch the last seeds from Stipa heads, to the myriad insects and mini-beasts which live in and around the dead stems – and in turn feed the resident robins and dunnocks – the rewards are significant.
However, the other benefit is aesthetic. Every January the gardening press is full of delicious images of frosted seedheads twinkling in the low winter sunlight. And most winters, the damp, dull reality in our gardens falls miserably short of the ideal. But not this year. I’ve lost count of the mornings that I’ve arrived at work and gone straight outside with my camera to capture the frost and rime-coated plants. It seems hard to take a bad picture when everything is sugar coated in white and so beautifully lit.
And the beginning of February has been wet and windy, flattening a lot of the taller stems and turning foliage to mush.
This was our cue to begin cutting-back in earnest, clearing and tidying, and in the process allowing the emerging bulbs to have light and air.