Once I had dethorned my thumb and failed to get a tiny, tiny prickle out of my finger I returned to the pruning, and pollarded the orange twigged lime, following which I felt like a tree murderer. The trunk was studded with adventitious shoots and there were visible little dormant buds at the point on the trunk which I have arbitrarily decided is going to be the top of the pollard (it is not really arbitrary but driven by the height I feel comfortable working at from the step ladder. If I were taller it might have been six or eight inches higher). I left a few side branches to lessen the shock and give it some leaves for this spring to be going on with, and I am intellectually fairly confident that it will throw out lots of lovely new orange twigs, and that I will end up with a nice ball of bright green foliage for the summer and vivid twigs for the winter, that doesn't cast too much shade over the rest of the bed. I have read Monty Don's account of the joy of pleaching orange stemmed limes after admiring the warm colour of the twigs all winter. I know that as the old branches fade to a nondescript shade of greyish green and the brightest colour is on the young twigs that my trained shrub lime will be more colourful than if it were allowed to grow on into a full sized tree. It is just that I really hate taking the top out of a fast growing, healthy young tree. Now the fell deed is done maybe it will feel better next year, just as I don't mind cutting the topiary yews and box.
Then I found a lot more dead material to come out of the shrub roses, really a surprising amount more given that I thought I was getting to the end of it yesterday. In the course of removing the latest bits of 'Paul's Himalayan Musk' to have spread across the wooden steps to the bottom lawn I put my feet right through one of the treads. It is fortunate that the Systems Administrator, having been rather resistant to the idea of having to rebuild the steps, suddenly agreed this lunchtime and even had a plan about what sort of wood to use and where to source it (scaffolding boards, available from Wickes in a small lorry and with a time specific delivery slot).
Finally I decided I'd chopped through enough branches for one day and spent a happy hour tidying up the auriculas and the pots of violets, picking off the dead leaves and shrivelled viola stems. The auriculas have come through the winter with a one hundred per cent survival rate, eleven out of eleven pots. I lost one last summer but that was due to soaking it until it was too wet after it had got too dry in a too small pot. Now they are in classic five inch terracotta long tom pots, slightly bigger than you would see used for showing, but easier to manage for general garden use. The vintage pots I bought unseen and second hand turned out to be critically too small. The auriculas have wintered standing against the back wall of the conservatory facing the wall of the house, so in rain shadow from two directions, open to the sky overhead but out of the direct sun, tucked out of the line of the westerly gales but with plenty of air circulation. The situation seems to suit them, and now I've found a supply of pots I might add to the collection in due course. Exhibitors growing for show would divide the plants to reduce them to one rosette each, but I am not going to bother, since I'm not growing for exhibition and don't have time and anyway am quite happy with the idea of a bigger plant with presumably more flowers.
The violas did not fare so well, especially Viola cornuta where only one plant out of four looked entirely healthy, the other three looking very dubiously alive if not fairly certainly dead. Six out of seven of the miniature pansy like violas were green and healthy but the brown remains of the seventh lifted clean away from the compost with no signs of life beneath. The violas were in the same passage way as the auriculas, though the pansy types were against the house wall and so got more sun, and potentially more rain. I cut them all hard down last autumn as the growers' websites advise, and don't yet have a theory on why some died.
As everything was in active growth, the auricula pushing out fat little new leaves and the violas making new shoots below the chopped down remains of last year's foliage, it seemed like time to apply a dose of Vitax Q4. I opened my newly purchased tub, and as I darkly suspected it would be it was formed into little pellets, looking though not smelling just like rabbit food. My searches on the internet seemed to suggest that Vitax Q4 as sold to the retail market was now pelleted and hence Dust Free. Original Formula Vitax Q4 was available, but only in bags of twenty kilos or more, presumably aimed at professionals. I thought that it would take me rather a long time to get through twenty kilos of Vitax Q4, even using it in the conservatory as well as the auricula pots, so opted for the pellets while wondering why I had to be protected from dust when it was apparently fine if only I bought five times as much of it.
I tried scattering a few pellets of rabbit food around a viola and it did not look right, the great lumps of plant food out of proportion to the size of the pot so that I had no idea how many to use, and I certainly wasn't applying them to the auriculas. Instead using the pestle and mortar out of the kitchen I reduced the wretched lumps to the sort of granules I'd wanted in the first place and scattered them carefully around my plants with a teaspoon. I don't suppose that's what the bright spark who decided I couldn't be trusted with powder and must have huge great pellets intended, but that's tough.