I have struggled to have a ‘song in my heart’ this week, and I will continue to struggle for another whole week. The westerlies have arrived, big, brassy, dark-skied storms fresh from the Bay of Biscay, which bring swirling dollops of rain, hail, snow if you are higher up than us, and filthy, grey skies from dawn till dusk. The garden is sodden. This is good for the general water table for sure. We have had hardly any rain from the end of April last year till now, and the river Adour has been struggling to get past its own rocks. But it is hard on the psyche. We lived in Scotland before moving here, and we have obviously gone soft as a week of rain, or more, just brings the grumbles on.
However, plants that venture out this early are toughies, and carry on regardless. Though as the hellebores start to flower, I do notice a real difference between my home-grown Helleborus orientalis– based plants, and those more fancy creatures that I have paid money for. The former have broader, more jungly-looking hands of leaves and the flowers are generally tall and held securely above the foliage with fat stems. The leaves are fantastic and last all year with us even in the hottest spot. They really work hard for their living. They produce masses of baby plants within a few weeks, it seems, of flowering being over, and many have to be yanked out or they would be the only plant left in the garden. The flowers can become a muddy pink with cross-polinating, but actually I don’t mind- though some do. These plants are only in bud now, whereas the more exotic ones are in flower already.
The more exotic-flowered hellebores that I have bought are rather different. Their growth rate is much slower. They are much shorter, with smaller, brighter green hands of leaves, and the flowers remain tightly attached to the leaves almost, so they have to be lifted by hand to see the flowers. I love doing this, but with the added rain factor, their natural droopiness has become very pronounced. I am guessing that selection for flower power doesn’t necessarily mean that the strong, good leaves of the old ‘orientalis’ make the cut. No matter.
I love the contrast with the creamy white varieties, especially those that are freckled. This is only a small patch of plants under the protection of the big pine tree, and although they are not fast growers- they are slowly colonising a 2m patch. And they really are to be looked forward to- very cheering.
Otherwise, in the garden, flowering is in short supply. Lonicera fragrantissima is worth its leggy, twiggy, tumbling growth for the strength of perfume from the tiny flowers that absolutely cover the branches. Winter brings out the best in this plant- and today, the damp and wind obscured the fragrance, but on a still day, you can smell it from 5 m away.
A more sightly, but also tangled and twisted, scented shrub which is only just opening up right now is Daphne odora Aureomarginata. This year must be its 12th, I think, and buds are sprouting everywhere on it- no scent yet, but it will be gorgeous for the next 2-3 months. This may be a slow grower but it is really worth it. We have it close to the back door, and on a sunny March morning, it is sublime.
It’s smaller cousin is also worth growing, though again, not a fast grower. Daphne x transatlantica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ flowers all year round for me- with a few pauses in the winter, but it pretty much keeps going. Small bunches of flowers, white or pink, smell fabulous and it likes sun, and once it has roots down, it is pretty drought-tolerant. I think it will make a neat 1m mound, whereas the bigger cousin is more of a jumbled bush at 1.5m and not at all neat. The buds are pink in this photograph but the flowers do come out white in the end.
Nipped out for 20 minutes to take these photographs and now back inside, and guess what, it’s belting down with rain.