There was some real warmth in the sun, and I spent a useful few hours tidying by the oil tank and cutting the leaves off the hellebores. It should have been done weeks ago, but better late than never. The flowers show up better without last year's old leaves, and removing them annually is supposed to help prevent leaf diseases getting hold. I duly bagged them up to take to the dump at some point, instead of putting them on the compost heap. They are not very smart hellebores, mostly seedlings from a few original plantings from the Lady series, which has since been overtaken by more exciting selections, and they flower in subdued shades of middling pink and white that very critical or demanding gardeners could deem boring. But they are good natured about surviving, flowering and seeding in a fairly dry, mere spot, in light soil and in competition with shrubs, and I am fond of them. Their leaves, in this unpropitious site, are actually remarkably healthy.
One of the shrubs is a Mahonia, which does a splendid job of hiding the oil tank, and produces yellow flowers in November that are a big hit with me and the bees. Unfortunately, tidying around it you encounter its less pleasant habit, which is that it sheds cascades of old leaves that are prickly, slow to rot down, and stick to your gloves when you try to gather them up. Also less than appetising were the piles of feathers and one dismembered wing left by the cats, since that border is one of their favourite places for dismantling pigeons. Looking on the bright side, they don't seem to use it as a loo.
The two rambling roses planted behind the tank a couple of years ago to go up the trees at the side of the wood had both made an immense amount of growth since I last clambered back there to look. They didn't seem very keen on climbing their supports, instead sending most of their new, long, whippy branches out over the ground and the long suffering Sarcococca confusa. I twiddled the stems upwards in the direction I wanted them to go, and hoped that they'd get the idea. The Sarcococca did not seem to mind having been partially submerged in roses.
One is 'Albertine', a present from a friend and growing on its own roots. It spent rather a long time doing nothing in its pot, because when she gave it to me I could not immediately think where to put it. In the two years it has been in the ground it must have made six to eight feet of extension growth, after doing almost nothing in the previous couple of years. It is an old variety, first introduced in 1921, and should be capable of growing to fifteen feet according to Peter Beales. Looking at how much it has done already my hunch is it will comfortably exceed that. The flowers are double, highly scented, in a shade described by Peter Beales as lobster pink, although most sources stick to salmon-pink or coppery. I have pointed it up a large holly and expect the result to be exciting, so long as the holly doesn't collapse. It has Clematis montana 'Broughton Star' on its other side, but it is a big tree.
The other rose is 'Blushing Lucy', bought from the excellent Trevor White. She has semi-double flowers in pale pink, and I am hoping she will not quarrel with 'Albertine', but I shall try to steer them in different directions. 'Blushing Lucy' is supposed to flower late in the season, and might keep the show going after 'Albertine' has finished. Fragrant and attractive to bees, I am hoping she will produce hips, although the catalogue doesn't mention them. Picking up her wandering stems from the ground I discovered that one had already started to root, and after a moment's consideration dibbled the roots back into the soil and weighted it down with a brick. I do not myself need a second 'Blushing Lucy', but the plant stall at one of my garden clubs might.