This week, inbetween the tropical downpours, there have been moments of clear, wintery sunshine- and so I have nipped out with the camera to see what there is. The answer is, surprisingly, not a lot. Despite our roasting, dry sunshine and temperatures up to 16C in the daytime for weeks right up to the New Year, only a few paperwhite narcissi dared to make an entrance. Now we have had rain to make up for the dryness, and more normal winter temperatures are promised next week. Just as well for the skiers, who have been crossing their legs or skis for weeks as snow falls and promptly melts.
This is the first hellebore out in the garden. I have lost the name, but I love its crinkled, scalloped edges, and the pale green interior. I don’t trim off the old leaves as you’re supposed to, mainly because the new foliage comes through so quickly that it hardly seems worth it, and any fungal activity seems to fade away as the weather dries.
Hellebores are pretty invasive here, seeding madly and roaring up ready to go as tiny plants in the spring, but I let them do what they want, and then just cull when needed. They keep their bright leathery green leaves throughout the summer no matter the heat, and can look quite tropical in some settings. This double one is not invasive, but I don’t know if that’s a general rule with double ones or not.
The single hellebores are the most promiscuous in my experience. This can mean that you end up with some rather muddy pink ones, which are only marginally attractive. I haven’t become so ruthless that I have got rid of them yet, but it’s in the stars to start again one year with some fresh stock.
And here is a surprise- the almond-shaped bright red berries are still there on the Berberis ‘Helmond Pillar, or to give it it’s full name, Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea ‘Helmond Pillar’. This is such a good plant. Upright, undemanding, takes full sun, grows to about 1.5m x 1m across, and is a great vertical colourful plant with almost anything around it all year round. In the winter, the bare stems have these brilliant little berries, then the spring growth comes with leaves that turn red by early summer, small yellow-red flowers as well, and then often, beautiful autumn tints of flame-red.
In the stumpery area that is slowly growing, I transplanted a Mahonia ‘Winter Sun’ very brutally last year. Fortunately, we did the hatchet job really early in the year, and so by the time we were hit with the heat, the Mahonia had got down into the soil with some new root growth. So it survived and is doing pretty well. The scent from the bell-shaped yellow cream flowers is delicious, but you do need to get up close to it. Even so, it cuts a fine figure in the architectural sense, a bold, vase shape to about 2m high with firm branches and good, cut-leaf splayed foliage all year round. It does like some shade, but as I know, will take more dryness than you might imagine as long as it gets plenty of moisture in the winter and early spring. This variety is Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’.
There were one or two other good sights in the garden this week.
This Cornus needs some sun to bring out the colour, but, when you get the sun, it is gorgeous.
The Melianthus major is taking a risk here, but it is in a bone-dry, sunny spot.