So, today there is no chilly wind and I thought I would do a Spring round-up with mainly photographs. This lovely Anemone x fulgens ‘Multipetala’ has been blooming for more than 6 weeks and these are the best flowers so far.
The quince blossom is much more fragile than the cherry or the apple- it waits tentatively in a closed state until the sun warms it up- and is so easily destroyed by wind and rain. So far, so good.
I have two Westringia rosmariniformis in the garden. Both have been a little stretched by the cold weather in the last week or so, and have browned a bit at the tips, but whilst not yet big flowerers, they have started.
These white Muscari botryoides ‘Album’ are new to the Stumpery this Spring, and I rather like the semi-ghostly presence that they bring, even in the sunlight.
Further down in the Stumpery, these Muscari ‘Mount Hood’ are in their third year, and mot minding, it would seem, the semi-shade. I love the little white hats.
Wisteria can be a plague on all your houses here, as it thugs its way to global domination. But, right now, on the wonky pergola, it looks and smells gorgeous.
Funny how you can discover a new view even after nearly 16 years…pots awaiting planting on the bench when tendons recover…
I am over-dramatising just a tad. Storm Gareth which has bashed Britain this week has only meant stormy interludes of rain and wind here- the rain part being very very welcome. Inbetween, although we are back to winter temperatures, there have been passing sunny periods, with intense blue sky. Not wet enough yet to start spreading the mulch I have been saving, but nearly- I may just spread it anyway at the weekend.
The poor old garden doesn’t know whether it’s coming or going as we plunge back to frosty nights and cold winds- but for most plants, they are now committed to beginning spring growth whatever happens. I have been nursing a shoulder injury since before Christmas, hoping that time will do the trick. Turns out to be a tendon injury in two arm muscles- good job Alison- so I am grounded from gardening whilst the anti-inflammatories have a chance to work on those pesky tendons. So, gently swinging the camera in the other hand, I am just looking at the moment.
Boldly appearing in February, so far only 3 flowerheads on this beautiful wild anemone, Anemone fulgens x Multipetala have opened, and been a little rain-dashed for their trouble. But, this great plant is such a joy, bringing postbox red to spring, and gently spreading beyond the three expensive bulbs that I planted 3 years ago.
I have tried so hard to source the fantastic red bergenia, Bergenia ‘Irish Crimson’, that I saw in Dan Pearson’s gardens near Kings Cross two years ago. No luck in France, and I am not such a prolific plant smuggler as I used to be. But this could get pretty close. I am trying out Bergenia ‘Eden’s Dark Margin’ and also Bergenia ‘Wintermärchen’ in a couple of places on the moister side in the garden. So far, ‘Wintermärchen’ is more upright, with narrower, more pointed leaves and has already lost the redder tinge to the leaves that it had in January. Whereas, the dumpier ‘Eden’s Dark Margin’ is still glowing crimson.
Also starring Sophora ‘Sun King’ in full bloom on the left, the unveiled new path curves sinuously round the side of the hot, dry border taking you on a full circuit of the house if you wish. I love it. I wasn’t sure before we did it, but keeping the angle of the curve and making it frame the dry border was a brilliant move- thank you Jim. Molly the dog has other ideas and uses her own track as you can see- more direct and less messing! By the way, if you are willing to wait, Sophora ‘Sun King’ bought in a 9cm pot and planted in a sunny, free draining spot, will only take 4-5 years to be a decent-sized shrub, and after that, it can gallop.
The above is an experiment, which I think will work. I have planted spring flowering white Muscari, Muscari botryoides ‘Album’, in some rubbish soil at the edge of the Stumpery. We will see. I am hopeful.
I am really hopeless at remembering bulb names. Mainly I suspect because I have a tendency to think of them as an after-thought to the main show. Daft. Because right now they are the main show. So I can’t tell you what this very baroque variety is. But here is a mutant variation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The other day, on a beautiful sunny afternoon, walking near Tostat, this plant stopped me in my tracks. A friend took a photograph which we analysed when we got home, all having decided that the leaves were anemone-like. Which they are, as it is a rare cottage garden favourite from Southern France, Anemone fulgens x Multipetala. I had never seen it before, and there it was, flowering in some longish couchgrass outside a gate, and yes, it really is this colour. Postbox red, with these fantastic fringed flowers, almost like a Japanese chrysanthemum, it sat there humbly at a modest 30ms or so high.
Searching through obscure internet references, it seems as if this fabulous plant was once a cottage garden favourite in the Southern half of France, although some sites mention that it is a bulb that enjoys winter damp, which is not what you might imagine. There are very few nurseries that appear to stock it, and of course, now is not the time to buy it, as it is in full flower. It’s dormancy period will be July onwards before the bulb starts to gear up for flowering in March and April.
So, the hunt is on. Starting with going back to where I saw it, and enquiring if I can collect some seed later on. It may well be that the house owners have no idea of what is sitting just outside their garden gate. The great Bob Brown, of Cotswold Garden Flowers fame, does give it a mention in his plant encyclopedia, and he seems pretty taken with it, too. Reliably super-hardy and early to flower, with such an arresting colour, it’s a treat not to be missed.