Spring officially arrived last week, which is a bit of a joke if you look about the garden: Spring has been quietly raging for weeks. The hellebores are in full flight, the rhubarb has begun to sprout and the early daffodils are hoofing it off the stage.
Spring doesnt so much start as gather momentum. Plants are primed to react to a strengthening sun, warming soil and longer days, phenomena that came early after winter had cut and run.
A gardening friend said a month ago: Springs here. Hey, enjoy it. What else can you do?
Well, you could wish it would bide its time so you could get ready for it. I filled 15 large trash bags the other day, the result of a weekend spent cleaning up for the new growing season. One pays for not heeding the earliness.
It is deflating to cut back an ornamental grass to find a clump of gorgeous indigo bulbous irises in clear decline.
Still, it is satisfying to clean up all of last years detritus before the great vernal push signaled by the cherry blossoms. The work is rewarded with the look of a garden that is agreeably blank before the party really gets going.
Grasses. Grasses should be cut close to the ground; the new stems are stirring from the crown beneath.
The more feeble grasses such as pennisetum, flame grass and hakone grass yield swiftly to hedging shears.
Roses. Rosebushes have all erupted into growth, but theres still time to give them their annual pruning. Remove thin and sickly canes and cut the keepers back to about 18 inches.
Perennials. The trimmer – some folks know it as a weed whacker – is useful for making quick work of the old stems and seedheads of perennials such as coneflowers, rudbeckias and liatris, which I leave through the winter to feed the birds and catch the snow (which never came).
Trees and shrubs. What else got the chop? I discovered you can remove some of the low, wayward limbs of the Japanese cedar, using a lot of care with branch selection and a pruning saw. This reclaims real estate at the base of this big, lovely conifer without making the cedar look as if its raising its skirt.
By the way, the key to making all this work swift and bearable is to have an assistant to gather and bag the fast-accumulating brush.
So Im now ready for the spring that is already here. I love the spring, especially that frisson of blossoming trees and shrubs while the air is still cool and damp.