About cutting back and the reassuring pendulum of nature     

Fritillaria raddeana © Isabelle van Groeningen

Fritillaria raddeana

Flagge Deutschland für deutsche Übersetzung Zum deutschen Text – Every time I walk out of the door my heart fills with delight. With each tour through the garden I discover something else that is just coming back to life. Many are like old friends, plants I have not seen since last year. Particularly the bulbs, have been gone since late spring, which seems a long time ago.  I love this soothing knowledge, that whatever happens in the big wide world, nature just gets on with its usual business year after year. Walks through the garden are comforting and I know I am not the only one to find gardening work not only relaxing, but it gives the mind time to think and sort out problems. It is not for nothing that horticultural therapy is becoming increasingly recognized as an important support for people with mental health problems. Nowadays it is possible to study the subject in specialist colleges.

This week’s highlights

© Isabelle van Groeningen

After all the early small bulbs, the daffodils are now stealing the show. The slender trumpets of Narcissus ‘February Gold’ greeted me in the Foerster Garden, whilst the delightful Narcissus bulbocodium ‘Arctic Bells’ cheers up my pots on the terrace. In the borders at the Garden Academy the real showstopper right now is the first of the fritillaries: Fritillaria raddeana.

Cutting back Epimedium foliage

Epimedium rubrum © Isabelle van Groeningen

Epimedium rubrum

Right now there is a sense of urgency pressing down on me. A number of gardening jobs are calling that I have not yet completed but really need to be done soon. As I write I look at the bigger patch of rusty red Epimedium rubrum that edges one of the narrow paths in my garden, and which I still have not cut back. It is not a disaster if they don’t get cut back at all, flowers and new foliage will find a way out above the old leaves, but I enjoy watching the delicate flowers of Epimedium unfurl and I must admit I like the clean look.  (More on cutting back of Epimedium can be seen in this week’s new release of  our films with  James Der Gärtner on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_CaYyfHq56eZTCsDuf1zWw)

© Isabelle van Groeningen

Cutting back Helleborus foliage

I have also not yet cut back the old leaves of the Hellebores which I usually do at the start of the season, but they still look surprisingly fit and green. At the moment they still frame the flowers beautifully, and no doubt they help the plant to extract energy out of the precious spring sunshine that occasionally appears between blustery clouds. Many of the Helleborus species have bold, architectural foliage that stays attractive during the winter months. During a visit to the Foerster garden I spotted a very impressive specimen of the Stinking Hellebore, Helleborus foetidus. The H. orientalis hybrids in my small garden are not as dramatic, but none the less beautiful.

Helleborus foetidus © Isabelle van Groeningen© Isabelle van Groeningen

Helleborus foetidus


The dried fronds of the Regal Fern, Osmunda regalis are also still there, and will be gone by the end of the day, as by now they really are an eye sore, whereas the dried flower spikes of Rodgersia still have a decorative element and do not bother me. Even though the Regal Fern makes no contribution to the winter picture of this garden like the other plants mentioned, I love its imposing stature during the summer months, and look forward to the annual drama of its unfurling leaves that is due to happen soon.


This week the annual cutting back of the Paulownia took place, high time before the new shoots start to appear. Although they have the potential of becoming large trees with huge trusses of blue flowers appearing before the leaves in early spring, we planted this tree knowing we would never see its flowers, as we cut it back each winter. Why? I hear you ask. We cut it back for the simple reason that it produced massive new shoots (4 meters long!) with imposing large leaves which help to hide a very boring, ugly fire wall and give us the feeling of being lost in a tropical paradise.

What else should urgently be cut back?

Clematis – at least the summer flowering hybrids and C. viticella types that flower on new wood. They grow so fast, so early.  In case you have not done yours yet, it should be the very first thing you do when you go out into the garden!

Roses too of course, but rather than trying to explain why and how, I suggest that for this too you watch James in action!

Go out, clear your head of all the cobwebs and appreciate your garden and enjoy the beauty of the season!