During the course of this last week, we have witnessed a change in gear and the signs are marked in a gathering number of indicators. Garlic spears in the woods pushing through leaf litter as the brilliance of the snowdrops and their February energy dims. As if it was planned for, the first of the primroses appear to cover for them, first flower alongside the waning Galanthus, the relay now begun. As you turn your eye to the hellebores, which are now hitting their stride, the first stirrings are suddenly everywhere. Tulips pushing through ground that just a week ago was apparently empty. The seedlings of the wood aster germinating quite literally in their thousands.
The pools of shadow under the trees where I’ve planted Cardamine quinquefolia (main image) were cleared as a first job in the New Year, the early risers driving the pace and the order of things. We then moved on to clear and mulch the areas where the bulbs have been worked amongst the perennials. Mulched before any signs of growth were visible, they have come to life this month and grown up and through the protective eiderdown. New spears never look better than pushing through mulch and getting the timing right is like knowing your footwork in a dance. It allows you to move with confidence and to keep your eye on the advancing spring. It also speeds the process so that you work around the habits of your plants and their timings and this makes for good feeling.
Although I leave the perennials in the garden for their winter forms and protection, we have to draw a line at the end of February, whilst there is enough dormancy to move easily across the beds. We work from boards if it has been wet and the timing allows for you not to have to worry as much about your feet as new shoots are visible but unsprung. It takes us about three weekends to clear the garden and that leaves us time to make adjustments in March prior to the final mulching.
The carefully choreographed sequencing requires forward planning, so that by the time we start the big cut back, the compost bay is clear. The compost we made from this time last year goes back into the cycle. As mulch to the soft fruit to keep in the moisture and in the garden we mulch in the centre of the beds where it is overshadowed by tall growth which inhibits germination. Though I’d love to be able to turn the compost regularly to keep the temperature up enough to kill weed seeds, we flip the heap once in the spring with a mini-digger. Last summer’s compost from is turned from the old heap onto this winter’s skeletons.
Tomorrow is our annual day of many hands and there will be nine of us, with a number of the team from the studio in London coming to help. Huw will prepare a hearty winter soup for lunch and there will be salad from the polytunnel now that it has started into growth with the shift towards spring. I will be making sure to share my knowledge in the day to help bring the process to life and to make it more than just a task of clearing a winter garden. To show it for what it is. A seizing of a moment, a chance to look at one season replacing the next and observing all the patterns of growth in the process. It is a good day to bring people together, many hands making light of the work and taking the opportunity to be part of this great cycle and awakening.
Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 25 February 2023