There was another frost overnight, which meant another late start in the garden. The lawn remained obstinately icy until mid morning, although I managed to get on to the border before then and spent a useful hour pulling ivy out from around the mature shrubs, where the frost hadn't penetrated. Self seeded ivy is a perpetual problem: the birds eat the berries, perch and crap, as birds do, and ivy seedlings spring up under every branch. Deep under the shelter of mature shrubs they proliferate, sending long stems out across the surface of the border, and climbing up into the crowns of the shrubs themselves. Brambles perform the same trick on a lesser scale.
I had a go at the ivy up the back of the sloping border last winter, but didn't finish clearing it. Some gardening jobs feel more urgent than others, and tidying the front parts of a border that are in clear view will always trump clearing ground level weeds out of the back. The ivy does not do the shrubs any good, though, competing with them for water and nourishment, and once it starts to climb it becomes a visible nuisance as well.
When I worked at the plant centre I met one customer who needed to clear a section of woodland floor of ivy, and had been told by the owner's pet landscaper to dose it with glyphosate. I disagreed. That would be damaging to any other ground flora she wanted to keep, expensive, and not very effective because glyphosate is not good at penetrating ivy's shiny leaves. Take a firm hold of one of the spreading horizontal stems and pull steadily. If you are lucky you will be able to pull the whole shoot clear in one length. If it breaks no matter, try again with another shoot. Gradually you will be able to see where the roots are, and can use a trowel or fork (or pick axe) as required to dig them out. The whole exercise is easier to do in open woodland than when your face is buried under a flowering currant as mine was this morning, but if you persist you will make progress.
The brambles required the point of a trowel to dig out the base. This is how I know quite how dry the soil still is. They will shoot again from the roots, which I can't dig out because of all the roots of the shrubs and the hedge that I don't want to dig up. In due course I will have to repeat the process, and so it will go on. The regrowth from old bramble roots in competition with mature shrubs is miserably small and weedy compared with what a new bramble can do in fresh soil, so it isn't a big problem.
By the afternoon I'd worked my way down the slope as far as the Prunus mume, and saw that its buds were already visibly swelling, a promise of glory to come. I always think that people who describe winter as being a dead time have never gone outside and looked at it properly.
Meanwhile the Systems Administrator over the course of the past two afternoons has managed to cut all the grass, including the whole of the lower lawn so that it shouldn't be too long when the crocus come through. It is a great relief to have got that done. Even though the soil in the borders is dry, the grass always seems to be wet at this time of year. It must be the dew.