Darkest winter in 100 years…

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Single white Hellebore, with lovely collar, Tostat, January 2018

It is, apparently, the darkest winter since 1887 in the Northern Hemisphere.  I really feel that.  Despite being a month in to the slow return of light to the day, I am still unable to wake in the morning without an alarm, and we have only had two, maybe three, days when the sky has not been grey and almost black with rain. Plants brought into the house lean ever more desperately towards the window seeking the light, never mind sun.  Goodness me.  I almost wore sunglasses to watch Monty Don’s ‘Paradise Gardens’ programme the other night. I jest but only a little.

But…plants out there are trying their best against the elements.  I bought 3 small hellebores last spring from an ebay seller, Stephen Roff, who I would highly recommend.  They arrived, well packaged, small as advertised and in great condition, and have been settling in nicely in their new home, in the semi-shade near the big pine tree.  Hellebores like Tostat, and these have doubled in size and have just begun flowering.  I love the pristine clarity of the creamy colouring on the white one, and the complicated frilly collar surrounding the stamens- the leaves look very happy as well and although these are only in their infancy, I am looking forward to bigger and better.  This year, I also bought 3 more in the autumn, so they are really infants, waiting and seeing is what is needed.

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Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’, Tostat, January 2018

My unphased Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ started out life as a 6″ weakling and now, 10 years later, has majestically taken over an entire corner near the back door.  She has been looking a little yellowy in the odd leaf, but I am not panicking, the flowers are massed and doing their best despite the endless rain.  Today, they brought to mind a job lot of Victorian bridal posies, the way they present themselves in little bunches.  There is not a lot of scent in the rain, so hoping for that when the rain stops.

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Helleborus niger ‘Christmas Carol’, Tostat, January 2018

This little Hellebore, Helleborus niger ‘Christmas Carol’, has spent too much time indoors, being a rush purchase just before Christmas, but the leaves are good, a dull emerald green with rounded ends, so quite different from the normal.  And I think it will have settled in by next winter.

Acanthus ‘Whitewater’ is a very fickle friend.  Acanthus should love the garden, and they do, but only after some considerable passage of time- like 7-8 years.  The ordinary Acanthus mollis is now a touch on the aggressive side, but did absolutely nothing for years.  It all hinges on the growth rate of the tuber.  And ‘Whitewater’, now 4-5 years old, is only strong enough to be seen in winter/spring conditions- it gives up and retreats underground when it gets too hot or dry- and no champagne-pink flowers yet either.   You have to be super-patient sometimes.

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Acanthus ‘Whitewater’, Tostat, January 2018

But look!  The expensive bulbules of Anemone x fulgens Multipetala that I bought last Spring are back and producing leaves- and I am thrilled, they are doing their best to imitate a hardy geranium at the moment, but that’s ok by me.

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Anemone x fulgens Multipetala, Tostat, January 2018

Because the gorgeous hot red fringed flowers are way out of the ordinary and something else in early Spring, and not to be missed.  I adore them.

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Anemone x fulgens Multipetala, Tostat, March 2017

Ok, sublime to the ridiculous.  The spotted laurel.  Which I always thought of as rather sinister as a plant, the sort of thing that would have enveloped the scary house in ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’.  But, in the right place, and especially if you can find one with a really zany splodge, my vote goes to Aucuba japonica crotonifolia– and I hope it will settle in quicker than the Acanthus.

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Aucuba japonica Crotonifolia, Tostat, January 2018

Now here is a survivor.  I bought 3 small plants of Libertia ixoides ‘Goldfinger’ and promptly planted them somewhere far too dry and hot for them.  Other things enveloped them, and to be truthful, I had completely forgotten that they were there.  Cut to last winter, when poking around, I found them again, now gently multiplied to about 10 small plants, but still going, if looking a bit thirsty.  I now have them planted as a weaving theme through the new perennial area I planted out 3 years ago, and they are doing really well, as winter colour especially in the low sun (when we get any) and as a bit of a small scale structural element when waiting for herbaceous stuff to come up.

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Libertia ixoides ‘Goldfinger’, Tostat, January 2018

And another survivor, Malvastrum lateritum in the driest, hottest spot, flowering albeit with teeny tiny flowers, but flowering now all the same.  I have to say that the flowers are normally much bigger, they get small when the plant is struggling a bit with heat or wet.  You have to be patient with the rambling nature of this plant, it lollops across other plants and pretty much follows it’s nose, so if you like it, you have to let it wander.

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Malvastrum lateritum, Tostat, January 2018

And here is a supreme survivor, Salvia spathacea. Rare now in the wild in California, I managed to grow one from seed a few years back and in 2016, it actually flowered for me with an immense 1.5m flowerspike, with tiered coral/magenta flowers- then it died that year.  So last year, I had another go at the seed, and this time managed to produce 3 tiny plants.  I decided to trust the dry shade reference, as I was sure that I had contributed to the demise of the original plant.  It really prefers shade, and forest type conditions, so I planted them out, with fingers crossed, in the Stumpery, with the ferns and the few other shade-tolerant plants that I have.  Eh voila!  They seem to be doing fine, despite the rain and cold…let’s see.

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Salvia spathacea, Tostat, January 2018
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Salvia spathacea, Tostat, June 2016
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Salvia spathacea and bee, Tostat, July 2016

 

And green is the colour…

Now that we are in a surprise period of large dollops of rain, kindly delivered towards the back end of the day, and continuing for the rest of the week, the colour green is returning to the garden. Not to the grass, still crisp and burnt, and also a large purple clematis which has been completely brule-d. Not to mention one or two other things which probably are not mortally wounded. But there are other things…

Here are two plants that I would probably never be able to grow other than in a pot with daily attention. I wouldn’t normally want to be bothered with daily attention, but there are some things that are just so beguiling that I fall for them. I grew both of these from seed from Derry Watkins at Special Plants about 3 years ago. Not one of my more successful plantings as I only got one good seedling from both sowings, but they are both really worth it.

Astilboides tabularis, Tostat,  June 2015
Astilboides tabularis, Tostat, June 2015

The colour of the new leaves on Astilboides tabularis is mouth-wateringly green, but the hairy leaves are outstanding in bright sunlight, and although it is a slow grower, I am devoted to it.  It grows steadfastly, stubbornly carrying on even if the odd slug gets in there, and when fully mature, the leaves should be much bigger, up to 1m apparently. Don’t believe the RHS.. there is nothing common about this plant. But it does need very consistent moisture, good soil and semi-shade, so hence the pot in my case. So I will just keep it, and pot on as they say.

Peltoboykinia watanabei, Tostat, June 2015
Peltoboykinia watanabei, Tostat, June 2015

This is a complete mouthful of a name- with more syllables than you can quite believe- Peltoboykinia watanabei.  The new leaves are an almost luminous green, and, like the Astilboides, it is totally hardy so I leave both plants out in their pots in the winter.  Again, it needs consistent moisture, good soil and semi-shade and will eventually make 0.75m in height and a bit wider probably. I love the palmate shape of the leaves and its doggedness. It just keeps slowly going.

Caryopteris x clandonensis 'Hint of Gold', Tostat, June 2015
Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’, Tostat, June 2015

This is quite the best caryopteris I have seen. I also grow ‘Worcester Gold’ which is anaemic in comparison. I bought these Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’ as small plants in the early Spring, and though they have taken their time to get settled, and it is a bit too early for flowering, they have paid their way already. The foliage is an exhilarating lime-yellow-green, not a bit sickly, and it is a tough little plant, on its way to making a nice rounded boule-shape about 1m x 1m. So, I can’t wait for the flowers.  I am growing it in 2 places, one hotter than the other, and one with a lot less moisture, but actually, the plants are level-pegging, though the one in the sunnier spot has marginally better colour, so I am very hopeful that it will be a Great Success.

Acanthus 'Whitewater', Tostat, June 2015
Acanthus ‘Whitewater’, Tostat, June 2015

Now, ok, this is slightly slipping from the green theme, but it is so extraordinary that I had to put it in. Have you ever seen a plant that so closely fakes being a pool of spilt, creamy milk?  This is Acanthus ‘Whitewater’.  Now, I love Acanthus, but they really do take their time with me, and this small plant is, believe it or not, 3 years old. But it is in a harsh spot, and so I believe that it will get to the point where the rhizome is big enough for it to be out there all year, not just now and then. Eventually, it will also have candy-pink flower spikes, up to 1,5m- but that’s a way off. So I am used to the fact that it comes and goes, depending on the weather and the moisture, but it does always come back. So I hope I won’t be in a bathchair by the time it gets to flowering.

And lastly…

Begonia grandis ssp.evansiana, Tostat, June 2015
Begonia grandis ssp.evansiana, Tostat, June 2015

a begonia! I am not a begonia fan, but I love this one. Sites say that this is a hardy begonia. I think that’s a dodgy recommendation and I always overwinter it dry in its pot, just out of the weather.  Begonia grandis ssp.evansiana is like an opera coquette..all flashy red underskirts and posing, and gorgeous when backlit. Also, once it likes you, it will give you tons of tiny bulbules, which will sprout all over the place, so it has a generous nature. Mine is maybe 4 years old, and when at full height is a stunning metre and a bit.  Lovely.