THE bitter cold left us towards the end of last weekend and it became possible to go outside for more than a few minutes before toes and fingers began painfully to complain of their plight.

This time last year, bulbs had already begun to make a move in the soil and poke sharp points of green through the dark earth. This year, things are delayed, certainly in our garden, and there is no sign even of those early risers, snowdrops. It feels strange not to spot these first signals but the ground has been frozen, even in a softy garden near the city centre, so it isn’t surprising that they are taking their time to awaken.

Some of the tall grasses, so beautiful this autumn and winter, are still managing to stand proudly above their fallen neighbours. The strong winds at the beginning of the week have buffeted them, but the long blond stems remain intact.

Despite this, it is a good time to start cutting back these ornamental grasses before new shoots begin to appear at the base of the plant, making pruning a tricky job. In fact, the dried stems are likely to be hiding the first of the new shoots already.

Our curly mound of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’ has been sturdy against the weather and beautiful when crusted with frost.

In summer, this is an elegant plant with long narrow leaves above which hang sprays of flowers and then seeds. Growing to 120cm or so, the clump is slow growing and compact, and flowers best in a sunny, sheltered spot.

This is the same for the appropriately named ‘Zebrinus’ whose horizontally striped leaves can grow 1.5m or higher and stand out in a bed. Both grasses have new leaves at their feet so, with a little regret, the old leaves have been cut away.

In another bed grows the elegant grass, Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Overdam’, with long, thin leaves and stems in summer, topped with clouds of tiny flowers. The plant fades to bleached straw in late autumn, the delicate stems stronger than they look as they survive most of what the winter weather can throw their way.

Some stems at the edge of a clump will get broken but they can be removed when tidying the bed with little damage to the look of the plant.

Like the miscanthus varieties, ‘Overdam is starting to show signs of spring and the rest of the plant can be cut back around the new leaves that are developing. Care needs to be taken not to damage this tender foliage but since it is fairly scant, it is an easy task to do.

The Yellow Book

THE Open Garden season is almost upon us and visitors to gardens listed in The Yellow Book 2008 may be interested to know that they helped to raise more than £3 million for charity.

Beneficiaries include Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie Cancer Care, Crossroads – Caring for Carers and Help the Hospices. The 2009 Yellow Book boasts more than 650 new gardens throughout the country, so there will be plenty of inspiration for new and more experienced gardeners. The book costs £8.99 and is available from most bookstores and also on line at

Highlights include gardens designed with children in mind, new ideas for growing vegetables and national plant collections. Admission to most gardens is £3 for adults with accompanied children usually charged a reduced rate or often free.

Gardening talk

ASKHAM Bryan College (ABC) Gardening Club will host an illustrated presentation by Brunswick Organic Nursery on Tuesday entitled The Walled Garden At Bishopthorpe Palace. Starting at 7.30pm, the talk will be held in the Conference Hall at Askham Bryan College. Tickets are free at the door for ABC Gardening Club members and £5 for non-members.

Gardening TV and radio


8am, BBC Radio Humberside, Gardening Phone-in. Presented by Blair Jacobs and Doug Stewart, telephone number 01482 225 959.

9am, BBC Radio Leeds, Gardening. With Tim Crowther and Joe Maiden.

2pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. Pippa Greenwood, Bob Flowerdew, Matthew Biggs and chairman Peter Gibbs help gardeners in Hertfordshire with their horticultural problems. The gardening weather forecast is at 2.25pm. (Repeated from Friday).


3pm, R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. Bunny Guineas, Matthew Biggs, Bob Flowerdew and chairman Peter Gibbs answer questions from gardeners in Norfolk.