Stay Awhile

Stay Awhile

Stay yet, my friends, a moment stay—
Stay till the good old year,
So long companion of our way,
Shakes hands, and leaves us here.
Oh stay, oh stay,
One little hour, and then away.

The year, whose hopes were high and strong,
Has now no hopes to wake;
Yet one hour more of jest and song
For his familiar sake.
Oh stay, oh stay,
One mirthful hour, and then away.

The kindly year, his liberal hands
Have lavished all his store.
And shall we turn from where he stands,
Because he gives no more?
Oh stay, oh stay,
One grateful hour, and then away.

Days brightly came and calmly went,
While yet he was our guest;
How cheerfully the week was spent!
How sweet the seventh day’s rest!
Oh stay, oh stay,
One golden hour, and then away

I think that William Cullen Bryant hit the nail on the head with those lines celebrating the turning of the year. Yet the year, it cannot be said, has quite “lavished all his store.” Waking to a few refreshing and frosty mornings exposes the very bones of nature in terms of the structure of wild and garden plants. When everything is bare you are forced to look closely and pay attention.

As I stepped out of my door into the garden I bent to look at the frost on the leaves of a Phlomis tuberosa ‘Amazone’ a plant that is at home in full sun, in dry free draining soil, as are other members of the family. In the summer tall stems emerge carrying whorls of pink or on other members, yellow, flowers. The flower stems dry to a brown in winter but stand up above basal foliage which appears matt green. The large arrow shaped leaves are covered in silvery hairs which help trap moisture in dry spells but which are picked out beautifully by the frost.

Other evergreens are worthy of more than a passing glance as well. Euphorbias largely finished doing their stuff in early or late summer though being a family of many (though not exclusively) evergreens they can stand up to scrutiny when painted with silver. E. characias ssp Wulfenii has bluish grey leaves that are positively delightful when overlaid by silver.

Euphorbia leaves

Euphorbia leaves

Another evergreen which is beginning to flower its socks off is the statuesque and native evergreen the so called ‘stinking’ hellebore, H. foetidus. This native of woodland resides in even dry shade under deciduous trees. The narrow leaves are a deep green but in the winter tall spikes of bell shaped light green flowers open. They are extremely attractive to pollinators and in their own right, delightfully understated might be a good way of putting it. They liven up the winter harden with the freshness of the flower colour amidst all of the faded brown and tawny shades. The flowers are extremely weather resistant and will emerge perfect from any winter battering. The ‘stinking’ epithet comes from the scent that can be given off when the leaves are crushed. I have never really had a problem and you are not likely to unless you go out and stamp on your plants.

If you are really looking for fireworks then you are in for a treat as it is the start of witch hazel season when papery petals in shades of yellow, red, orange and gold are unwrapping themselves from buds along bare branches. Scent is of course the other feature of these wonderful garden shrubs and whilst you are putting your nose to yours give a look out for suckers at the base and remove them promptly.

img_2715

Witch hazels

The brown stems of grasses stand out starkly when all around them has collapsed though those on the upright Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ are molten gold when backlit by the winter sun. The drooping flower heads of Miscanthus cultivars capture the ice and water drops which sparkle in the morning sunlight.

Grass flower heads

Grass flower heads

Stems provide so much interest in a bare season and the ghostly stems of Rubus cockburnianus overlaid as they are with a prominent white powdery bloom stand out wherever they are placed especially against the dark background of a hedge or other shrubs.

Golden stems

Golden stems

The new year will be arriving soon bringing whatever it will and I would like to say thank you tho those who read my ramblings for your support. Best wishes wishes for 2017. Though Bryant urges you to stay for one more hour of “jest and song” don’t tarry too long lest you meet the boys in blue!

Ross Underwood