Small pleasures and the dangers of big plans…

Double nearly black Helleborus orientalis, Tostat, January 2020

January gardening is a time for small joyful discoveries, such as the first flowering Hellebore, and also for the making of dangerous big plans- usually involving purchases. The danger lies in the ‘itchy finger’ situation- feeling some sunny days, seeing some new growth and then getting carried away with Big Ideas- that are not very well thought through, but carry the reward of feeling as though something is happening! Wanting to rush into Spring long before nature is ready for it is a real risk for me, and what happens is that nature pays you back with a prolonged frost that puts you right back where you started.

So let’s stick with the joyful small discoveries. I bought these Hellebores about 5 years ago as tiny plants from the very good ebay grower, Stephen Roff. They are really good plants, especially as they don’t have the easiest ride in Tostat. They have some shade and protection from the big pine tree, and do really well as later in the year, the palmate leaves follow the flowers just as the pine tree starts sucking up most of the available moisture.

Personally, I am not a fan of the ‘tidy up your Hellebore leaves’ brigade. Yes, you do get some dark mottling on the old leaves by the Spring, but honestly, in a matter of six weeks or so, the fresh new growth will come powering through and will hide the old leaves anyhow.

Ruffled and freckled cream Helleborus orientalis, Tostat, January 2020

The flowers need help being seen for the first few weeks. Then, later into February, the longer days seem to fire them up and all of a sudden, the flowers are standing tall and opening up. The freckles are adorable.

Double green tinted white Helleborus orientalis, Tostat, January 2020

Euphorbia amygdaloides purpurea was one of the first plants I bought when we moved in. Now, sixteen years later, it weaves through the shrubs lining the edge of the ruisseau or canal at the bottom of the garden. It’s moment is now. New golden-pink growth catches the sunlight and will be followed soon by chartreuse flowerheads- but for me, it’s the new growth that is so pretty.

Euphorbia amygdaloides purpurea, Tostat, January 2020

Another plant that looks great just now, but has never quite hit it’s stride in the garden is Acanthus mollis ‘Hollard’s Gold’. I have moved it for this year to another spot, to give it a second chance. Golden- yellow leaves really shine out in low sunlight, and so I am hoping it won’t just fizzle as it has done for the past seven years or so. Mind you, it has taken me this long to do something about it.

Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’, Tostat, January 2020

Another plant that I had almost given up on, has come back from the brink and is looking, well, not bad. Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’ is, admittedly, being a bit pushed to the limit in the Stumpery, it likes semi-shade but would probably prefer a tad more moisture. It has languished with what seemed like the same three leaves for the past four years, and I got fed up two years ago and planted an insurance-policy Aucuba japonica Crotonifolia too close to it ( you can just see in the photo). So, now, I will need to choose between what stays and what goes- guess the Aucuba will lose out. But as I have developed rather a fondness for the old spotted laurel, especially if the spots are good and strong, it won’t be long before it’s in a new home.

Grevillea juniperina ‘Canberra Gem’, Tostat, January 2020

Serious battle with the usual spring invader, the bramble, has been waged to allow Grevillea juniperina ‘Canberra Gem’ to begin flowering without being strangled. This is such a great plant, it probably flowers for almost ten out of twelve months in a hot, dry spot, and is now a grande dame of 3m across and 2m high after eleven years. I wish I could find some of the glorious yellow flowering grevilleas I came across in Australia in 2018- they seem to be slow to be introduced here and in the UK, but with climate warming, they are a trusty friend in the garden.

Grevillea alpina x rosmarinifolius ‘Goldrush’, Julie’s garden in Canberra Australia, October 2018

The Australian fires have been, and will be horrific for weeks to come. It was really sad to read about the fires attacking the Eucalypts in the Snowy Mountains just around New Year. The last two photographs were taken be me in snowy conditions only 14 months ago. I am never going to moan about the weather here in Tostat again.

Eucalypts, Snowy Mountains near Jindabyne, Australia, October 2018
Eucalypts, Snowy Mountains near Jindabyne, Australia, October 2018

From the tiny to the golden…more great workhorses

Today, Easter Sunday, we have had a beautiful afternoon, just a little breeze, and good sunshine that brought out all the sometimes-hidden corners of the garden.  And it seemed a good idea to showcase a trio of workhorse plants that I enjoy especially at this time of year.

Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum' April 15
Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’ April 15

The flowers on Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum' grow on delicate sprays Apr 15
The flowers on Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’ grow on delicate sprays Apr 15

Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’  is at the very tiny end of the workhorse spectrum. The heart-shaped leaves slowly make a pleasing mass in dry shade or woodland edge, and the sprays of flowers wiggle their way through the leaves in order to be seen.  Close-up they are incredibly delicate, cream with yellow, and they really do look like the tiny flower jewels that Faberge made for the Russian nobility last century.  Easily missed, so some people like to trim the leaves back a bit, but I prefer just to be observant and find them.  ‘Sulphureum’ flowers first for me in the Spring, I also have Epimedium. x purralchium ‘Frohnleiten’ and x. Warleyense, but these come a little later. The excellent Carolyn of Carolyn’s Shade Gardens in Pennsylvania has a great post on epimedium with some gorgeous varieties.

New shoot of Euphorbia amygdaloides 'Purpurea' April 15
New shoot of Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’ April 15

Euphorbia amygloides Purpurea 2 Apr 15

Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’ is such a great plant. I think I bought a plant about 8 years ago, and now it wanders about in my woodland, shady, and in summer quite dry, area turning up in a bright and colourful way all over the place. It’s no bother, wear a pair of gloves as the milky sap is a skin irritant, and just pull it out wherever you don’t want it.  I used to grow the big characias Euphorbia, but that has driven me crazy with self-seeding in our stony soil, so this wood spurge is the perfect pal. Andy Byfield in the ‘Guardian’ does a good run-down on other varieties.  Val Bourne is quoted on the Crocus page, see the link, as loving it for bringing’ warmth and zing’, I agree.

Acanthus mollis 'Hollard's Gold' April 15
Acanthus mollis ‘Hollard’s Gold’ April 15

Acanthus mollis ‘Hollard’s Gold’ is just like the photo- a glorious golden yellow and is spectacular in the Spring. But, for me, maybe not for you, all Acanthus take more than a few years to get going. I first bought a couple of small Acanthus Mollis in the first year of gardening here, and it is only in the last couple of years that they have really begun to deliver in big clumps. ‘Hollard’s Gold’ has been in the semi-shady bit for about 5 years, and entirely disappeared from view for at least 3 of those years. So, I had it down as a weedy thing that had been messed with by breeding. I was a bit harsh! It is now clumping up nicely, and whilst it has taken some patience to wait for it, I love the colour at this time of year and so am forgiving and generous to it. John Hoyland, a very good plantsman, has a good piece on Acanthus, but has closed his Pioneer Plants nursery, in Hertfordshire where I once bought some Cirsium. He has a great website, with the title ‘Mad with Joy’, and it is going on to my list of sites and blogs to stay in touch with.  He used to garden at the other end of the Pyrenees. I love that.