Monday, 6 February 2017

looking forward to the hellebores

I finally finished one gardening task on the list, cutting the old leaves off the hellebores.  It seemed a waste to let them blush unseen, when they have only one season of interest, starting now.  Not that they waste their fragrance on the desert air.  Hellebores are highly attractive to bees, but I have never detected any scent from them.

The hybrid hellebores, that used to be called Helleborus orientalis, carry their flowers on separate flowering stems.  First of all clusters of fat buds appear at ground level, then the stem gradually elongates.  Most of mine are still at the ground level bud stage, though a few flower stems have started to lengthen.  The mature stems are fairly leathery and tough, but the newly emerged buds are fragile and perilously easy to snap off, and it would have been much better to have done this whole project a month ago, but there you are.

Most of the plants are not very easy to get at.  The ones in the front garden by the oil tank live under the canopies of a large Mahonia, a Chaenomeles, and assorted dogwoods.  There is not a lot of space even for a small and nimble gardener.  I am pretty small, and flexible if not nimble, and can just about crawl and shuffle in there.  The key is to never touch the ground, not with foot nor knee nor steadying hand, without looking where you are going and making sure you are not about to step, kneel on or crush any of the emerging buds.  They are not very brightly coloured at this stage, and don't show up especially well.  The same principle applies in the back garden where those hellebores that are not nestling under the canopies of shrubs are surrounded by snowdrops, which by now are tall enough to be spoiled by treading on them.

I pulled up a lot of goose grass seedlings while I was at it.  Every year I pull up seedlings and then more seedlings and then rip at the mature goose grasses that have slipped through the net, and hope that I am beginning to make inroads into the goose grass seed bank, but every year more come up. It seems the supply of goose grass seed is inexhaustible.  I also cleared a mixture of Mahonia leaves and fallen flowers off the hellebores in the front garden, none too soon, since a few buds had started to rot under their smothering cover, not the black hellebore disease rot but the white fluffy rot of poor ventilation.  I nipped off the diseased buds and binned them along with the old leaves and the goose grass.

At least the buds have not been eaten by voles or mice this year.  A few years ago as I was walking around the back garden in late January or early February, looking to see how things were getting along, I discovered a strange litter of pink and white fragments in the ditch bed that on closer inspection turned out to be the remains of the emerging hellebore flowers.  I was annoyed, and at a loss what to do about it.  Either that year was a boom year for the vole or mouse population, or the new cats' patrols are having a salutary effect, but this winter things seem OK.

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