Saturday, 18 March 2017

a tricky piece of weeding

It got quite windy during the night, and when I looked out at the garden this morning I saw that the pile of empty Strulch bags I'd left on the patio, weighted down under a bag of weeds, had supplemented my mulching efforts by scattering themselves over the borders.  Fortunately when I went to retrieve them I found that nothing was broken.  It is always dispiriting to find new shoots and flower stems snapped off before they can come to anything, and I was not best pleased yesterday when I dropped a fair size branch on a tree peony and broke off several emerging stems.

Plants and weeds are both growing apace, and now that I've tucked Strulch around the unfolding clumps of Brunnera in the back garden, suddenly the most urgent mulching task seemed to be to do the bed of coloured stems and hellebores by the oil tank.  The previous layer of Strulch had largely broken down, not helped by the piles of earth thrown up by the tremendous amount of mole activity in that bed or the tendency of the kittens when they were first let out to regard it as a handy loo, not too far from the safety of the cat flap.

It is easier to get into the bed since chopping the coloured stems down fairly hard, but still a fiddle, trying to fold yourself in among the Cornus and under the canopy of the Mahonia x media and the white flowered Chaenomeles without kneeling on any of the hellebores or digging into them with your toes without even being aware of what you are doing.  There are times in the garden when it would be a distinct advantage to be taller, but weeding by the oil tank reminds me that some jobs are easier when you are small.  For the first half hour I seemed to be making no progress at all, but then I managed to finish clearing as much of a patch as I could reach without moving and after that things moved along visibly.  The principle weed is hedge garlic, which has come up in places as thick as the punnets of cress you used to be able to buy in greengrocers, and perhaps can still get in supermarkets.  Then there are a few seedlings of goose grass, some of a coarse perennial grass that's seeded in from the rough grass by the chicken run, and a few dandelions, but it's mainly hedge garlic.  I quite like the white flowers of hedge garlic while they are out, but they don't last long and the old plants and dead flower spikes are hopelessly messy, so if I were going to grow it the right place would be in some wild part of the meadow and not in the most inaccessible and impossible to weed border in the garden.  Of course it does not want to grow in the meadow, it particularly wants to grow by the oil tank.

The hellebore flower stems that were so horribly brittle when they started to emerge are quite tough now, while the new leaves have barely started to appear.  That's one reason to get the Strulch down soon, before the new crop of leaves gets in the way.  I was careful not to kneel on any of them or rest my kneeling feet on them, but as I moved among them I notice that first one and then another began to droop.  It was quite extroardinary.  Hybrid hellebores will appear to collapse in cold weather, which I have been told is actually a mechanism to protect themselves against frost: they droop because they have reduced the amount of water in their cells, thus leaving room for expansion should the cells freeze, so the cell walls do not rupture.  I can't immediately find a scientific article to confirm this theory, but it sounds plausible.  So did the plants use the same mechanism to response to the mechanical stress of me moving among them, so reducing the chance that I would snap and break their stems?  Or did I do some damage I wasn't aware of?  If tomorrow or over the next few days they collapse entirely I'll know I damaged them somehow, but if by morning they are once more firm and upright then this afternoon's wilting was a temporary phenomenon.  In that case what triggered it and how and why did the plants do it?

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