Ok. Buckle up. We now have a new climatic phenomenon, winter drought. I am not complaining, especially as Venice has drying out canals. But just realising that there is a new experience to integrate into what and how we garden. Newly planted shrubs in the Barn Garden are crying out for water, and I did crack this morning and give a can or two even though, for the first time in more than 30 days, some rain is expected this week. But, unless it is slow and unrelenting, and continues for days and days, it will not restore the water table and we will go into the Spring with a big deficit. I would never have thought, being so close to the Pyrenees that I would need a water butt. But I do. And will be installing one very soon.
So, in the garden things are looking very sorry for themselves and not really very early Spring-like at all, whereas we already have had sunlit evenings lasting until 7pm. A spot more plant removal has been going on this week. Four clumps of hellebores that are seriously struggling with the drought and the unexpected sunshine have been lifted and are being convalesced prior to finding a spot in the Barn Garden, where at least I can guarantee some shade, if not damp. That might be enough to restore their fortunes.
About 5 years ago, I had a go at growing Helleborus sternii from seed bought from Derry Watkins‘ fantastic Special Plants. She has a seed list to die for. I grew five little plants successfully, gave one away to the Eldest Daughter, and kept four in the Barn Garden. Ironically, the one that is doing the best is actually the one almost in some winter sunlight. The others are nearby, but underplanting a Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress’. The snag is that the Mahonia, grown young in semi-shade, is a spot contorted and has provided almost too much cover for the Hellebores, which have responded by flowering almost along the ground. Never mind, some corrections to be made later on.
Helleborus sternii is not a blingy plant, it has tough, spiked, deep green leaves, and almond shaped buds that open to a soft green flower, with prominent stamens. I really love it. Two of the other plants have gone the bruised look- a strongish purply crimson colouring in the green of the leaves, and flowers that look as if they’ve been in a boxing ring- losing. But they are also very beautiful in a discreet kind of a way.
Only 5 or 6 years ago, I used to grow Cerinthe from seed in the Autumn, plant them out before Christmas and would know, for sure, that they would be bushy plants by March. This I did last year, and now I am looking at spriglet plants trying their best, but essentially only a few leaves bigger than when I planted them out. This is a bit sad. But they are flowering, and they are not just yellow but also have these inky bottoms to the flowers. I can’t remember if I bought a special variety- but on the whole I do like the yellow form although the ubiquitous blue is also good. Easy peasy, bu they do need rain.
I wouldn’t want to oversell this. I bought this Loropetalum because I have lifted all the wayward growing Eucomis bulbs, of which more another time, and replanted the big pot with this early flowering shrub. I do love the pinky crimson finger shape of the flowers and am really looking forward to this becoming a very handsome addition to the Garden. But this is it’s first winter, and probably because it flowers on old wood, all the flowers in this first year are underneath the leaves. Still, this will change. The foliage is a lovely dark purple and so looks great even in the winter. I really wanted a darker red variety, but this is a newish shrub to France and there wasn’t much choice. No big regrets so far.
Back on the kitchen table, I briefly adored the bright yellow crocus flowers with brown striations, which our lovely bio lady at the market had sweetly potted up with her own moss. Gone now, but they were fabulous as a precursor to the bulbs in containers outside. This is the frustrating part of early Spring when waiting for plants to get going seems to slow down. Let’s pray for rain.