It’s functional fitness time in the garden. The sun is getting warmer, the air is cool, the combination is perfect for pleasant chores that can last all day. Pruning, cutting back, making trips to the compost pile, light cultivation, activity that juices up the joints and clears the head.
There is still a lot of brown in the landscape, but that makes crocus, with their purple punch, even more dramatic. Hazel shrubs dangle their earring like catkins in a flirtatious way, and lilac buds are bulking up in the warm sun.
At every turn the miracles of botany are on display. Remember the pots you didn’t quite put away? Maybe you just turned them upside down, and forgot about them for the winter. I was turning over just such pots and marveling at creeping thyme already growing and green, and new shoots of chives pale and frail, but gladly giving off their oniony perfume. I just tucked them back into their pots, moved them into the light, and wait for them to get big enough to snip.
One big container, usually home to summer annuals, was just sitting there, stuffed with soil and waiting for something to happen. So I sprinkled in seeds of mustard greens and peas, both cool weather crops. If I can harvest a few pea shoots, and some spicy mustard greens (before the groundhogs), I’ll be smugly happy.
At the bottom of our hillside garden, is a thicket of shrub roses, ‘Complicata’ and ‘Dart’s Dash’. I cut both of them back ruthlessly. It looks better. When the roses get too tall, they block the view of the rest of the garden, and make you feel oddly claustrophobic.
There’s nothing wrong with shaving back ground covers too. I cut back pachysandra, ivy and vinca. After sulking for a bit, they will send up a lot of new, thick growth, like they’ve been to the Hair Doctor.
Some shrubs like butterfly bush and caryopteris can be cut right back to the ground. Wait too long and the leaves will start to unfurl along the woody stems, and it will be hard to do the drastic pruning.
And what about lavender? The pruning of this plant can be as confusing as cutting back clematis.
In her book Lavender: the grower’s guide (Timber Press), author Virginia McNaughton takes a hard line. “if they (lavender) have reached three years of age and have never been pruned, then pruning at this stage may not achieve anything and it may be better to replace the bush.”
There are over 30 different species of lavender. English lavender called angustifolia, native to southern France is often used in cold climate gardens.
For the record, McNaugton recommends pruning this one twice a year, once after flowering and the first time in spring. In spring she suggests pruning only the sides to allow for top flowering. If the lavender has been well pruned the previous year, spring pruning may not be necessary. Lavender can be cut back by one third, to one half. Do not cut too far back into the woody stems, or risk killing the plant.
Once you have pruned the lavender, strew the clippings on your paths. As you walk you’ll be in aromatherapy heaven, and you’ll forget to fret about whether you have killed it or not.