We had a brief spell of chilly weather in November with the odd frost which I hope destroyed some of the molluscs. The misty mornings were a bonus.
Mahonias are flowering and the green flowers of Helleborus foetidus, our native stinking hellebore, always look rather lovely at this time of year.
The gravel bed has shape and colour throughout the year.
Rain in December
Now it is just wet, very wet. It feels as if December has offered nothing but weeks of rain. The ground is sodden. Not a good time to walk on this heavy clay- stepping stones are essential in flower beds to prevent compaction. The sun has appeared briefly but this was soon followed by yet more rain or gloomy cloud. Despite the rain I have filled my leaf bin with a fine mix of mainly oak (collected from our village churchyard), and beech (collected from several nearby villages). Job done so I have removed my collecting equipment (large sack, 2 small boards and a bamboo rake) from the back of my car.
The pond is also full and ready for the return of the newts in the spring.
Colour and Scent
The garden has colour and scent despite the prevailing gloom. One just has to wrap up (hap up as we say in Northern Ireland) and get out there to enjoy it. I was delighted to see an early crocus (Crocus laevigatus ‘Fontenayi’)- which sadly was all too soon eaten by a marauding slug or perhaps the local pheasant. There are still a few flowers on the climbing rose (Schoolgirl) and Iris unguicularis‘Walter Butt‘ (previously known as Iris stylosa) has started to flower. This iris produced no flowers last year but this year it seems to be happy.
Shrubs such as Pittosporum ‘Tom Thumb’ and Viburnum tinus also offer welcome colour-shiny black leaves in the case of the pittosporum and white umbels on the viburnum.
And then there are the snowdrops! Much to look forward too.
The first snowdrops have been in flower for a couple of weeks (and I still think look a little strange at this time of year). Galanthus reginae-olgae has 19 flowers- what a contrast to previous years when I have been lucky to find one or two flowers. Something about this summer must have reminded them of their home in Sicily and the west and north-west Balkans. It is rather lovely to remember that the name honours Queen Olga of Greece (grandmother of the Duke of Edinburgh). The little snowdrops are overshadowed by the adjacent Nerine ‘Zeal Giant’ which has also done exceptionally well this year. The lovely pink Nerine bowdenii are also still in full flower.
Nerine Zeal’s Giant
I am fortunate to have one flower (a slug got the second one) on Galanthus peshmenii, a relative of G. elwesii, which I was given last year by my good friend and alpine expert, Barry Hennessey. Apparently G. peshmenii was originally thought to be a Turkish form of G. reginae-olgae. It grows in coastal Turkey and nearby islands, but it is now acknowledged to be a species in its own right. The little flower is dwarfed by the spectacular star-burst seedheads of Allium schubertii.
Autumn foliage and fruit
Autumn colours are reaching their peak. The light green leaves of Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Seiryu’ have turned a spectacular crimson, lighting up the patio but the show will soon be over and the leaves will start to fall.
I am already collecting up leaves for leaf mold. It will take about 2 years for them to rot down to a fine dark brown tilth but it is worth waiting. I have just applied some 2-year old mold to my snowdrops- a most luxurious mulch. The addition of a touch of bone-meal should ensure a great display.
Colour in the garden is also supplied by the lovely rose-pink and orange fruits of the spindle, Euonymus europaeus ‘Red Cascade’ .
Shape in the garden
The topiary and cloud pruning are taking shape and are already giving the garden year-round structure.
I have just bought a book on Japanese gardens and pruning techniques which is full of inspiration- more things to try out in 2020!
Galanthus elwesii var. monostichus ‘Marjorie Brown’
Shoots of Iris reticuloides
Bulbs- snowdrops, irises and even a daffodil
Some snowdrops are in flower, including the fine tall Mrs MacNamara, and many more are nosing their way above ground, but will those I divided last year flower well or sulk? I was delighted to see the little pointed buds of the dwarf iris, Iris reticulata ‘Sheila Ann Germany’ , just showing and the clump seems to have fattened up. By January, I hope a number of these little irises will be in flower providing bright splashes of colour in the gravel garden, rock bed, drive bed and pots.
To my delight I found one trumpet daffodil flowering – Narcissus ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’, an award-winning hybrid dating from the 1940s. It is certainly early. I planted a few bulbs in 2016 because it provides winter colour and even stands up to snowfalls. The others in my small clump are probably only a week or so behind and I have more than last year, so eventually I hope to have a good sized clump .
Winter honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima, was one of the first plants my mother gave me and the shrub has been flowering since the beginning of December. I am going to cut some twigs for the house so we can enjoy the fragrance of the dainty white 2-lipped blossoms indoors as well as out. I know it would flower better if I grew it in a sunnier spot, but then I would not have the benefit of scent by the back door.
Wintersweet, Chimonanthus praecox, is also in flower. The small scented waxy yellow blooms have almost no stem and look as if they have been stuck directly onto the bare twigs. I pruned it hard last spring and now it has flowers that I can reach. It was probably a mistake to plant it so close to the honeysuckle- I should have spread scent around the garden. The pink flower-buds of Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’are also almost open. The perfume will fill the gravel bed and reach the front door where I have another tiny Daphne, Daphne cneorum var. pygmaea, in the small alpine trough. It has highly scented flowers in May. Both my troughs now have smart new covers provided by Mr B – what wonderful Christmas presents.
The leaf mould bin which looked so full is now half full (or half empty depending on your attitude). The snow compressed the leaves so I am going to have to do some more collecting. Something to do when the weather improves.