The garden was full of sun to-day so I went to inspect my snowdrops and to my horror found that something was eating them. Not the common varieties (of course) but my SPECIAL snowdrops. Snails or wood pigeons with taste, but how infuriating. It is all very well having a wildlife friendly garden but there is a limit to my tolerance and how I wish I could select the wildlife. Still I comforted myself that the bulbs are all right below the ground and presumably the flowers will be better than ever next year……I can but hope.
Wendy’s Gold (above left) is looking good, but what has been snacking on my delicate yellow variant of the common snowdrop –Galanthus nivalis Sandersii Group (above right)?
‘Mrs Thompson’, a fine large snowdrop, is standing tall and she looked particularly freaky when she warmed up and opened her flowers later in the day. She can produce flowers with 4, 5 or even 6 outer tepals. But even ‘Mrs Thompson’ had been attacked and one flower had almost vanished.
Both ‘Trumps’ and ‘Trymposter’ , bought last year, are in flower for the first time ………and so far are intact.
The broad glaucous leaves of Galanthus ‘Marjorie Brown’, another fine large snowdrop, stand out vividly against jet black Ophiopogon planiscapus‘Nigrescens’ (Black Mondo Grass). What a great planting combination …….and it happened by chance.
I finally got round to moving the small alpine pot so now it is in full view by the front door and I can enjoy the unexpectedly successful combination of Iris reticulata ‘Gordon’, some saxifrages, Sedum spathulifolium ‘Cape Blanco’ and Sempervivum arachnoideum. I don’t think that the plants will object to being a little colder, but I hope that the pot is protected from rain in its new position under the eaves.
The pond is frozen and so was the water in the bird bath. But despite the cold, the garden has colour. Architectural yellow flower spikes of Euphorbia characias ssp wulfenii at the front of the house are withstanding the cold and Euphorbia robbiae under the hedge is almost open.
The red stems of Cornus alba Siberica stand out against the silver and green leaves of Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’. The purple flowers of Daphne mezereum are just beginning to open on the leafless stems and fat flower buds are swelling on the camellias. Coronilla valentina subsp. glauca ‘Citrina’ has been in flower since December. The lawn under the apple tree is studded with a mix of Anemone blanda (self-seeded) and Cyclamen coum (spreading slowly) and crocuses are pushing their way up through the grass promising more colour. The (almost) evergreen clematis, Clematis cirrhosa var. balearica, is still covered with nodding creamy flowers freckled inside with purple.
The first frosts have arrived and it is below freezing. I hap up warmly in my fleece, gloves, scarf and hat and set out to see what is happening in the garden. I am not supposed to walk on the frozen grass, but how else can I inspect the snowdrops? I walk on tiptoe in my boots and hope that Mr B will not notice.
A deep blue Iris reticulata with a white throat (‘Gordon’, I think ) has braved the cold and is in full flower in a shallow clay pot of alpines protected by a curved sheet of clear plastic. The clump has expanded year on year and is now quite a respectable size. But really I should move the pot from where it is safely tucked away against the side of the house to somewhere where it is more visible. Perhaps by the front door?
The snowdrops have bowed down in the freezing cold, but I know that they will bounce back when the temperature rises. ‘Mighty Atom’, one of my favourites, is just showing. I was worried because I divided the clump last year, but it seems none the worse for my efforts. The flowers on ‘Diggory’ have fattened up nicely. But I am particularly pleased that both ‘Trumps’ and ‘Trymposter’, acquired a year ago, have emerged. I am looking forward seeing to their flowers – the flared shape makes them really stand out from other snowdrops.
A handful of Winter Aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) are flowering. The shrubs Winter Sweet (Chimonanthus praecox) and Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ are in full bloom, but I could not detect their perfume to-day. Perhaps it was my nose that was too cold!
It is cold, wet and definitely not conducive to gardening outside, but perfect for planning inside, which must be why so many plant catalogues have appeared in the post in the last few days. I love leafing through the pages and dreaming of what I might grow this year. Avon bulbs have some very tempting snowdrops that are sufficiently different from what I have already to (perhaps) justify some expenditure. I can always find an unfilled niche – snowdrops do not require a lot of space. I am trying to resist the beauty and blandishments of Alan’s Treat and Big Eyes, but I might rise to Galadriel (a magical name for a snowdrop) or Hill Poe (an old Irish variety that I really ought to grow).
In addition to the irresistible draw of visits to local snowdrop gardens (where there is always the possibility of bargain buys), I have entered various winter shows into my calendar, because I have acquired a small limestone trough and hope to fill the newly created crevices with choice alpines. In February, I plan to go to the Early Spring Show in Harlow, Essex and I may also make the RHS London Early Spring Plant Fair.
Finally there is the question of the bottom lawn. I would love to replace at least some of the grass with drifts of herbaceous perennials and grasses à la Piet Oudolf. So plenty to think about in January and February.
I garden on heavy sticky Oxford clay, which was deposited around 160 million years ago. This is ground with potential – it holds nutrients- but it is a challenge to work with.
Here are my top tips for dealing with clay:
Avoid gardening altogether when the ground is wet – the clay is unworkable and compacts if you stand on it. It is equally impossible to do much in very dry weather, when the clay is rock hard and deep fissures open up. But this leaves plenty of time for cogitating on what you might do when the conditions are more favourable.
Go up not down when you are creating flower beds. I made the mistake of digging a couple of planting holes in the lawn and all that happened was they filled with water and my shrubs (even a buddleia) drowned. The trick is to create flower beds that are raised slightly above the level of the surrounding ground. I double dug my new beds, putting a layer of chopped up turves (the lawn) on the bottom of the first trench, then cow manure and then top soil (i.e. clay) from the next trench, mixed with pea grit or compost. Every so often I found bits of clay pipes as well as those marvellous large fossilised marine oyster shells- Devils Toe-nails (Gryphaea obliquata). Over the years large quantities of mulch, manure and pea grit have lightened the clay immeasurably.
Stepping stones are crucial so that when I do have to get into the middle of the flower bed (as any gardener does), I am not compacting the clay (or crushing the life out of tender plants).
January 2016 is wet and very mild indeed with a distinct tendency to blusteriness (best not to garden under large trees). My heavy clay soil is sodden and pretty much unworkable so it is time for planning not digging. I walked around the garden to-day fretting gently. It is all very well seeing snowdrops (Mrs MacNamara has been in flower for weeks), Winter Aconites, hellebores, the patterned leaves of cyclamen and the scented blue flowers of Iris stylosa, but many plants are being tricked into thinking spring has arrived. Daffodils will withstand a frost but what about the pink flowers of Anemone pavonina in the gravel garden(a plant from the warm Mediterranean), the tulips or the shoots on the clematis or the optimistic growth of herbaceous plants such as heleniums and michaelmas daisies? And should I prune the clematis now with the risk of encouraging even more growth. Decisions, decisions….
Wildlife are benefitting from the unseasonably mild weather (unfortunately that includes slugs and snails). The peanut bird-feeders are busy all day long with visits from assorted tits (blue tits, great tits, coal tits and churring groups of long-tailed tits), the great spotted woodpecker and, to our delight, a nuthatch. The hawthorn hedge is a haven for a noisy gaggle of house-sparrows who come to a feeder full of seeds, but we are not seeing so many goldfinches this year. Perhaps they can find enough food elsewhere. Blackbirds and occasional fieldfares are enjoying the apples we have left on the lawn. The great-crested newts have already made their way to the pond, where they will mate. I went out after dark with a torch and could see the bright silver lines along their tails as they waved them back and forth.