Today could not be more different from the rip of storms that howled through the valley a week ago. The air is barely moving, the sounds different for the echo of birdsong and the landscape shimmers in welcome sunshine. There is sun for the first time in months on the back of the house and blackbirds singing into a gloaming that is already nudging towards a longer evening.
We respond accordingly, our rhythm taking the extra hour at the beginning and end of the day to take in the changes. A time of transition that neatly moves from one season to the next. Snowdrops fade with the first of the primroses. Celandines blink in sunshine, their rosettes of flat foliage basking and ready to throw more flower and make this time their own.
Spring stirs through the remains of the winter in the garden, the old foliage now suddenly feeling at odds with the push of the new. Where the air is entirely still and the light falls quietly in the mornings, a colony of violets has taken to the set of steps that negotiate the steep slopes around the milking barn. Walk them at this moment and you move into a cloud of their particular scent. An invisible shape but a discernible one as you pass in and out of perfume.
The violets that we found close to the house when we arrived were likely vestiges of the old market garden here that utilised these slopes. A floriferous form (probably ‘Queen Charlotte’) with large flowers and tenacious behaviour when you find a place that it likes. Viola odorata will flourish as a lustrous groundcover in shade and is a welcome sub-storey to taller perennials, but give it somewhere to bask in early sunshine and you will get the best flower. It is worth considering how to harvest the perfume when planting violets as it is always better for spring sunshine and travels with the breeze so position your plants upwind if you are not to miss it.
The transition in the garden calls for change and the beginning of the great clear up. Part the epimedium foliage and you see the start of new growth and flower protected under last year’s foliage. Good practice recommends cutting away the old foliage to make way for the new and now is the perfect time to do it, but I like to do this on biannual rotation. Taking one area in the group one year and leaving another for the coppery burnish, which this year is particularly good on the Epimedium sulphureum. I have teamed them with red-flushed hellebores and one looks more interesting for the combination with the other.
I am fastidious about the hellebores, combining them in ranges of colour rather than allowing them to mingle freely. I hope in doing so that the seedlings are truer to type rather than muddied by too much mixing, so the yellows are kept low in the garden where they are backlit by sunshine and can flare. The picotee pinks are given their own place under a hawthorn, whilst the blacks are teamed with the greens which prevent their darker partners from being lost against the mulch. I leave clearing the debris of the miscanthus that provide summer shade to the whites until last so that the transition is marked, the new life pushing through old. By the time we reach this last corner in the great clear up I will be ready for a clean start. The old season behind us and the new one green and alive and stretching out ahead of us.
Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 26 February 2022