January is the time to consider cutting back last year’s hellebore leaves to reveal the promising new shoots and flower buds unfurling beneath. In fact, when I ventured outside this afternoon, taking advantage of a rare lull between translation projects, the new flower stems were much taller than I’d expected, up to 8″ above the ground. If I’d left it any longer, it would have been tricky to distinguish between the new and old stems! I’d cut half my plants back on Sunday morning in a brief glimpse of sunshine, while waiting for my parents to arrive to go over to my son’s for an early birthday lunch, but managed to finish the job today. Very satisfying: the haircut seems to encourage the strength, which would otherwise have sustained the parasol-like leaves, into the developing flowers, allowing them to come on in leaps and bounds over the next few weeks. The dense leaf cover often conceals emerging snowdrops too, as the two go wonderfully together. Newly released from their leafy prison, they can now open up their faces to the elements, especially if the weather continues wet and mild.
Accompanying me as I worked was the heady scent of Daphne bholua Jacqueline Postill, now a huge bush in the back garden, but its delicious fragrance carries all the way to the front – an extra incentive to get outside and blow away the winter cobwebs! I hadn’t even realised it was flowering until a week ago, when a chance comment about favourite scented plants on Instagram prompted me into the back garden to check up on it – and there it was in full flower! Just shows how awful the weather has been that I hadn’t noticed… Considering I absolutely hacked this shrub back in the summer, it clearly thrives on being treated mean. It’s now about 6-7 feet tall and would be much bigger if I didn’t prune it so severely after flowering. Although the cuttings I took in 2018 all perished in the end, despite looking promising initially, last year I noticed that the plant has sent up strong suckers in about four places. I’m going to leave it until the springtime and then try and lift them – wish me luck!
Isn’t it amazing how just 30 minutes or so in the garden at this time of year makes you feel SO much better? Despite my twice-daily dog walks, there’s really no substitute for the mindfulness of just being out in the fresh air, with your hands in or near the earth, messing about with plants…. Maybe spring isn’t that far away after all?