This chilly afternoon was spent clearing piles of leaves that cover hellebores, and from areas where I suppose snowdrops are planted, though I could be off by a few feet in recollecting their exact placement. I don’t know if this forgetfulness is a trait of gardeners, and hopefully not only of older ones, though in my defense it seems inevitable that the precise location of one thing or the other can easily be forgotten in a one acre garden.
The first of snowdrops is up and flowering, a benefit of planting small numbers in a range of varieties which will begin flowering as early as late December, or several weeks later in a more typical winter. Today, later flowering types barely poke above ground, and these are hidden beneath piles of leaves that must be removed, though as leaves become more matted by rain and snow most late blooms rise above the detritus.
A year ago, following an abnormally warm December, and with mild temperatures the early weeks of January, foliage of snowdrops was clearly evident by now, with scattered flowers seen for weeks by this date. A week later, thirty-two inches of snow covered the snowdrops and hellebores, which emerged intact through the melting snow only slightly weathered following a few weeks without sunlight.
Leaves are best cleared when dry, and a month ago, but the gardener is especially satisfied when chores can be put off without too much harm being done, which is the case with removing damp leaves in mid January rather than dry ones in early December. In areas without winter flowers, most leaves can be left in place to decay without any effort if the gardener is not overly concerned with neatness.
Clearing piles of leaves that collect around the evergreen hellebores is next to impossible with a leaf rake, even if the gardener is intent on physical labor, and is particularly careful, which I am not. So, the task is accomplished with a gas powered blower that converts into a vacuum. Until a few years ago, this was done with an electric model, which was quieter, but I was constantly cussing the cord that got hung up on every little thing in its path, and pulled out of the ground more than a few recently planted perennials. Leaves that are sucked up by the vacuum can be bagged, or not, and much time is saved by blowing leaves that are shredded to a fraction of their bulk back into the garden.
I would prefer that temperatures be a few degrees warmer than today to be out in the garden, but it’s back to work tomorrow, and with a warm forecast it is possible that the earliest hellebores could break into bloom by the weekend. As a separate, but less significant issue, leaves of hellebores were not cut back before flower buds became prominent late in December, so, not only do these snag more leaves from maples and tulip poplars that tower overhead, but flowers that are tucked beneath leathery leaves of the hellebores are more difficult to see.
Again, the gardener, I suspect most but certainly this one, calculates the risk/benefit of accomplishing a task later rather than sooner (or not at all). The flowers of many older hellebores nod to the ground, so removing leaves more clearly exposes the blooms. Many newer hybrids have flower stalks that stand more erect, and often above leaves that flatten out though the winter. With these, there is no need to remove foliage, though it can turn brown and ratty looking after a harsh winter, so in nearly every instance it is best to remove leaves if you can get around to it. This year, I haven’t, which is not unusual, and hardly a tragedy and barely noticed once flowers fade and new spring growth hides the weathered foliage.
In any case, the nagging chore to remove the worst of piles of leaves has finally been accomplished. If flowers of hellebores open later this week, there will be nothing to do, but enjoy.