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

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