February is the month the garden comes alive for the new seasons of growth Spring right through to November and what were spindly insignificant little shoots barely above ground in January are now transformed into flowering beauties with the daffodils , crocuses and snowdrops leading the way .
Nothing beats a dry day in February in the garden , winter is still hanging around but optimism is in the air and I always remember the early months in the garden back in the late 1970’s when I had my first garden in Rosslare and the sheer joy and amazement that you had actually got something to grow , it was magic and in those days I could work all day wheel barrowing top soil and manure around and I was reminded today that forty years had passed when I had to shift three tons of gravel and spread it along the path down into the lower garden … forty years ago I thought nothing of an evening game of squash in Griffins Hotel after a days work in the garden while this evening it was crawling into a radox bath to get some feeling back into creaking back muscles , tempus fugit !!
Silver Birch Jacquemontii in the back garden brighten up a day in February
February with most plants yet to put on leaf is also a great month to enjoy those evergreen shrubs and plants that get overlooked throughout the rest of the year and my plant to enjoy today was the ordinary vinca or periwinckle , a ground cover perennial that romps away when it is happy and which flowers non stop from November to April . There are two main varieties vinca major and vinca minor and the major / minor bit refers to the size of the leaf otherwise the two are the same and there is also a gold variegated vinca which I don’t bother with as although nice it gets leggy with age and the variegation is a bit brash . Vinca does best in dryish soil and my experience is that it flowers better in semi shade , I have two areas that have been taken over by the green vinca and these have been in flower consistently for the past three months and will keep flowering until late April and a further bonus is that vinca will root like a bramble from the arching branches as they make contact with the the soil and you can propagate new plants directly into the open ground without potting up as the new plantlets have an ample root established when you lift them .
The front bed dug out and planted up throughout last year was finished off with spring flowering bulbs planted last November mainly miniature daffodils , snow drops and crocus and they have really come up well this month . Last July I wanted three santolina for the front as their silver leaf would contrast well in front of the evergreen cordyline tree but couldn’t find any for sale so opted for twelve silver senecio cinneararia also called silver dust usually grown for it’s foliage ( which you maintain by cutting out any attempts to flower ) and which is usually a tender shrub, grown as a half-hardy annual foliage plant , the young leaves are slightly lobed, a bit like oak leaves, but as the plants mature they become deeply cut, much paler in colour and are covered in a silvery grey fleece and perfect for growing at the front of a border. Normally these are short lived but I didn’t allow them to flower ( an insignificant small yellow flower ) , cut them back hard last September and they seem to have come through the winter well and have filled the area with the grey/ silver effect I originally wanted from the santolinas .
Early for euphorbias to come into flower in February yet here this one in the front of the house , a self seeder into the wall bricks , is providing a splash of yellow when we can do with a bit of colour in the garden .Euphorbia characais variety wulfeni , is and has been one of my favourite plants since I first started gardening in Rosslare Strand in 1975 , it was my favourite long before I actually had one of my own as back then they were not sold here and your only chance of one was from one of the older Anglo Irish big houses and back then I didn’t know any anglo irish ! I first saw euphorbia wulfeni in my first serious book on gardening which I still have , the Reader’s Digest Book of Gardening published in 1968 where it was photographed growing among paving slabs in front of a grand Cotswold type country house and it’s architectural shape really knocked me out for it’s impact . A few years later I bought a small euphorbia grown in a plastic drinks cup at a plants sale from a genteel old Anglo Irish lady , exciting times in those early years of getting the gardening bug !
Euphorbia does really well here as we have a lot of gravel at the back of the house and the plant self seeds enthusiastically every spring into the gravel and also into bricks from where we pot them up to transplant throughout the rest of the garden . It can be a difficult plant to keep going beyond two or three years and you have to be ruthless with euphorbia to keep it healthy as it gets lanky and very woody eventually dying out unless and this is the thing where the ruthlessness comes in as the key to long life with euphorbia is hard pruning every year by taking out the old flowering stems even though this seems to be cutting out quite healthy stems but it is the key and the young growth will come through from the base and rejuvenate the plant every two years … the classic cruel to be kind . Wear gloves when pruning euphorbia as the cut stem bleeds an acid sap which stings if it gets into a cut and which can give problems around the eyes … for years I never had a problem but this year I rubbed my eyes while pruning euphorbia without gloves and won’t be doing that again anytime soon .
It is a common saying that a country gets the politicians it deserves ( don’t get me started on Ireland’s where we have developed a patronage system enabling our parliamentarians to bypass official regulations on constituent’s behalf ) and it seems the same applies to a country’s hedges and hedgerows reflecting the national character . Luckily in Ireland we have by and large retained the old ditch system chock full of self seeding ash trees , holly , briars and wild elder bushes and rarely do you see large fields with beech or laurel hedging apart from stud farms where they go to a lot of effort and expense to maintain clipped lines of copper beech . In our garden here we were lucky to inherit lovely ancient dry boundaries planted with ash , oak and crab apple and various sections have old dry stone walls where I often take a moment to wonder who built these over one hundred years ago , what their lives were like , what pressures of life they experienced and over the years we are here we have added plantings of eleagnus , copper beech , golden willow , to boost up winter colour , we also fill the ditches with the annual croppings of our willow trees to make it more difficult for the deer to jump through and even though we have spent twenty years building the garden as it now is from seven acres of swamp and wetlands thankfully we never had to do anything with the hedgerows.
This week I rescued a very pregnant frog from the cat who had caught it near the front garden pond , just playing with it in the cruel way cats do and I dropped it back into the pond ( the frog not the cat although I was tempted ) and she immediately hid under a submerged rock … an hour later she had laid a cluster of frog spawn in exactly the same spot that has held frog spawn since a year after the pond was built in 2006 . I love the fact that the frogs return every year to our pond and continue the cycle although over the years it is a general trend both here and in the UK that frog spawn is declining .
A few nights before there had been one helluva party by the pond !