Not the stuff on our lawns, upon which we will strew weed killer, fertiliser and sweat, followed by sun loungers, bowls of ice cream and hope. Since we were infected with prairie planting and Japanese influence, many of us have a stand of sedge or a sprinkling of Stipa. The deciduous grasses have all been reduced to clumps of pale straw by the winter weather. If this is left until the new growth starts, I’m going to have a hell of a job separating the good stuff from the bad. Time to get busy with the hack and slash; I use shears for the task, cutting the dead fuzz closely, leaving a neat hummock a couple of centimetres from the soil, from which fresh shoots can emerge. Miscanthus requires a gentle touch, cutting spent stems individually with a pair of cheap kitchen scissors to avoid damaging the coming year’s performance.
Hyacinth and tulips
The evergreen grasses require delicate treatment. Anemanthele lessoniana (pheasant’s tail grass) has seeded itself freely and while the clumps are still colourful, there’s a lot of scrot in there. The easiest way to conduct some on the spot housekeeping is to run your fingers through the stems as if you were tousling Johnny Depp’s hair. It’s simpler still if you put on rubber gloves since the grass adheres to them and gives up the fight more quickly. This technique doesn’t work well on most men; I find that they tend to run away screaming as soon as I pull on my protective attire. The long stemmed varieties need a general tidy of dead leaves and crispy bits. This can be done by hand but if you must cut, use sharp secateurs and do it neatly, to avoid damaging live stalks by tearing.
Pink trumpet Narcissus (daffodils)
Cortaderia (pampas grass) now looks as if it has been caught in a hurricane and then steamrollered. If you have plenty of room for a large specimen to do its own thing, then apart from removing spent flower stalks, leave it alone. If the leaves are beginning to fill the entire back garden, then action must be taken. Climb into stout trousers, a long sleeved sweater and an armoured anorak. Unless you wear stout gloves, you hands will be lacerated by razor blades and it will be difficult to inveigle any passing film star into anything illicit if you appear to have been put through a wood chipper. Many grasses edge their leaves with silica, which is the stuff we use to make glass. Natural sharp borders have evolved to discourage animals from taking a nibble; my rabbits remain undeterred but I’m having second thoughts. In the past, gardeners set fire to the old foliage and burned the bugger into submission, along with any wildlife which had taken refuge therein. Despite repeated lashings about the chops, I use shears to inflict as stern a haircut as I can manage before blood loss weakens my grip.
Sticky buds on Aesculus hippocastanum (horse chestnut) plus helpful cat
The ground is soggy and the air is cool but this is a task which gets you warm under many layers of clothing and shows results almost instantly. I’m going to start the outdoor clear up before I get bogged down by spring cleaning in the home. If I play my cards right from now on, I may stay too busy outside to ever have to pick up a duster.