To Cut or Not to Cut

to.cutHellebore buds have been pushing their way above the soil in recent weeks with their pretty promises and once again I found myself dithering over whether to cut the foliage back or not, as is often recommended. I can understand removing tatty foliage, but until recently I would not have gone along with removing all the leaves as we are often advised to do. However, having seen my H niger ‘Christmas Carol’ quite literally bloom prolifically for the first time a couple of years ago after having had its leaves removed, I am now prepared to condone the practice. Unlike more pristine beds, where naked hellebore blooms are surrounded by bare earth, in our garden their dignity is protected by other greenery and the effect is not displeasing.

There are lots of other pretty promises around too, lifting the spirits of anyone downcast by the relative greyness of recent weeks. Most witch hazels are showing a speck or more of colour now – and confusing the camera about what to focus on, so here are just two in-focus examples, ‘Orange Peel’ and ‘Jelena’:


Snowdrops are always a struggle (for me) to photograph, and here is my earliest flowering snowdrop ever, Faringdon Double (a replacement kindly given by Anna of Green Tapestry after an earlier loss and sadly very out of focus), and generous spikes of Mrs McNamara and G woronowii. Carol Klein writes in December’s Gardeners’ World magazine that the pendulous shape of snowdrops is no accident, giving protection to any insect that comes along, the slightly higher temperature inside the flower encouraging scent, nectar and pollen, and therefore increasing the likelihood of pollination. Clever stuff!

to.cut5After the prolonged flowering last winter of Lonicera fragrantissima beside the lychgate I wanted to add more of these shrubby honeysuckles, now beginning to really appreciate the value of winter fragrance in the garden. The shrub border therefore became home to L standishii ‘Budapest’ and L purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’, both of which have been producing the odd flower or two over the last few weeks. The latter are twice as big as those of the more usual L fragrantissima but the former, despite being described as having pinkish-white flowers, a little disappointingly do not.

to.cut6As a novice on growing a wide range of grasses, I am learning that some are not always hardy in UK winters so today I have lifted Pennisetum rubrum and P villosum and potted them up in the greenhouse. In retrospect, could I perhaps have left the bulk of them in situ and just taken some small divisions as a precaution do you think? P rubrum has certainly had enough for this year but I am still enjoying the fluffy tails of P villosum. I wonder if there are any other grasses that ought to be lifted…


It has been dry and more than just a tad windy today as Desmond has breezed his way across the UK, but I reckoned that my bricks were not going to budge easily so tackled my latest bricklaying project this afternoon; as always, using reclaimed bricks gives it an immediate aged appearance. The path will certainly be all the better for its increased width and for not having soil washed onto it so readily. The little pile of tiles in the foreground will be used to edge the wisteria which is what you see on the right of the picture – just a little stick 15 years ago!

IMG_6337And yes, I also made the time to cut the hellebore leaves – or at least some of them…


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24 Responses to To Cut or Not to Cut

  1. Helen Johnstone says:

    Fabulous path, I am almost inspired to have a go. I have Mrs McNamara and I am wondering if that is what is flowering in my garden this week.
    I too was wondering about whether it was time to cut the hellebore leaves. Noticed some of mine had quite advanced flower buds today but because it’s so mild it doesn’t feel right!

    • Cathy says:

      Thanks Helen. It does seem too early for hellebores, I agree, and also seems a shame to cut the leaves when they are pristine, but sometimes it is worth it. How irksome to have lost your label, particularly when you were so careful with it – like you say, someone will positively identify it for you when it is fully open!

  2. I am amazed at how early your Spring signs are, we haven’t had Winter yet. The Hellebores look great without last years scruffy leaves. And the scent, it reminds me to add more in my garden. Let’s hope the wind blows off soon.

  3. A good reminder to check the hellebores in my garden…This is the second sighting of snowdrops I’ve seen, that is a bit mystifying.

  4. Amy says:

    Fascinating about the hellebore leaves: it would go against my instincts – I only ever tidied mine… when I had one! But sometimes my instincts are altogether wrong ๐Ÿ˜‰ How exciting to have hellebores and snowdrops beginning to show…!! I have a probably disastrous idea of trying a hellebore in the shadiest spot against the patio and hoping for the best, but so far I haven’t succumbed…

    • Cathy says:

      How cool would it be in the shade do you think, Amy? I have no idea how hellebores would cope if they got too warm..

      • Amy says:

        I worry most about the drying winds on those evergreen leaves… The only reason I consider trying at all is that the one I grew in Kansas City made it through some fairly hot, dry summers unscathed. Not hot like here, but still, temps up around 39 C and drought that was knocking down other plants… I haven’t forgotten… ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. Another hellebore-ditherer here. I usually waited until I had at least three fully opened new leaves before getting rid of the old ones. In my previous garden I had the winter honeysuckle against a south wall; in a mild winter it would open the first few flowers just before New Years but in a harsher one it was more like mid-late January. Wonderful fragrance!

    • Cathy says:

      I nearly got rid of my original winter honeysuckle as it wasn’t doing a lot – but then last year it excelled itself so thank goodness I kept it!

  6. Brian Skeys says:

    Excellent piece of bricklaying Cathy. I usually cut off the old hellebore leaves, when I remember, around the end of November and then give them a handful of rose fertiliser, to feed the developing flower buds. I noticed the first flowers on the winter honeysuckle on Friday, so much scent from such a small flower.

    • Cathy says:

      Yes indeed, that scent can be so powerful. Thanks for the info on using rose fertiliser – I might give mine a little treat!

  7. I simply love your post!There are spring signs in my garden, too.

  8. What a fabulous path and wall. There is nothing nicer than brick in a garden. We used old bricks to make paths and a little patio in our first garden and I love the look and the ability to walk dry shod.

    • Cathy says:

      Thanks Linda – I tend to take our paths for granted until I read about other bloggers not being able to walk round the garden because it is so wet.

  9. Anna says:

    Oh your hellebores are looking most floriferous Cathy. I usually remove the foliage at the back end of the year but things are moving apace at the moment so I might tackle that job this week. Glad to see that ‘Faringdon Double’ is thriving. I imagine that photographing it in yesterday’s wind must have been a challenge ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Cathy says:

      The hellebores are not all in bud yet, but I shall go round and trim all the leaves sometimes this week I think. Yes, the wind didn’t help the focus, although I could have had a photograph of me gripping the stem firmly i suppose!

  10. rickii says:

    I dither over cutting back that foliage too. First, I vow to do it, then forget until it’s too late. Your hardscaping is truly impressive.

  11. Chloris says:

    I haven’ t cut the foliage of my hellebores yet, I usually do it in January, but the hellebores are ridiculously early this year. Lovely to see them though.
    I am very impressed with your brickwork, what a very useful talent.
    Lovely to see your snowdrop. When Three Ships clumps up a bit I will give you a bit. It is a reliable December bloomer.

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