Snow, Garden Birds and Spring Plants

So much for spring!

A combination of the “Beast from the East” (icy blasts from Siberia) with Storm Emma caused havoc on the first day of spring. It is bitterly cold and the garden is covered in a blanket of snow, but we are lucky in Oxford as it is much worse in other parts of the country- up to 50cm (20in) of snow in some places and numerous roads are impassable. Schools are closed and our grandchildren have been out building snowmen and tobogganing. Definitely not gardening weather.

 

Garden Birds

Birds are feasting on the food we have put out and appreciate the water in the Giant’s causeway rock for both bathing and drinking. Fieldfares and blackbirds fight over apples on the lawn, robins tuck into mealworms, while siskins, assorted tits, a nuthatch and great spotted woodpeckers hang acrobatically from feeders with nuts, fat and seeds. Woodpigeons, chaffinches and dunnocks hoover up the debris on the ground.

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Water in the Giant’s causeway birdbath has to be thawed with boiling water

Spring Bulbs

The  snowdrops are flattened (but will stand up when the temperature rises), early narcissi that I photographed last week are barely visible and crocuses are buried.

Camellias

Camellias come into their own at this time of year. Unfortunately many of the lovely red blooms on Camellia japonica ‘Sylvia’ are an unsightly brown. Frost-damage is a problem as the plant faces east and catches the early morning sun. I really ought to move the rather weighty tub but where to (and how)? The slightly later flowering Camellia × williamsii ‘Donation’ is sheltered from the early sun, so the fat pink buds which are starting to open will soon provide a fine show. I have knocked the snow off both shrubs. The camellias belonged to my father and he cherished them with such care that I felt I had to bring them here when my parents’ house was sold. I can still envisage him watering them with the rain water he had collected, doing a little careful pruning, feeding them and happing up the tubs for the winter. These plants are almost 40 years old, but camellias are extraordinarily long-lived and may survive well over 200 years. Perhaps the children or even the grandchildren will take over their care one day.

 

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Winter Bulbs and Scent

 

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 .

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Narcissus ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’

Winter Scent

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.

Leaf mould

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.

Snow, path-making and winter flowers

Winter arrived with a dump of wet snow. House and garden looked very picturesque.

We knocked the heavy snow off the branches of shrubs and trees and most have come through unscathed, but Buddleja davidii ‘Royal Red’ did take a hit. However buddlejas are tough, so it will be right as rain after a little judicious pruning.

Prior to the snow, I managed to persuade Mr B. that we could remove a narrow strip of lawn between two flower-beds. Chris, our very knowledgeable gardener, has made me a short path with a thick layer of bark chippings laid on a water-permeable and weed suppressing membrane. It looks great, giving a woodland feel to that part of the garden, where I already grow a number of ferns as well as the Pheasant’s tail grass, Anemanthele lessoniana. I shall mulch the adjacent beds thickly with my precious leaf mold and hope to have more success with woodland plants such as our native wood anemone, Anemone nemorosa, which do not thrive on the heavy clay.

The lovely blue flowers and fat flower buds of my mother’s Iris unguicularis (previously known as I. stylosa) are a welcome winter surprise, hiding amongst the long untidy leaves. I think the variety is probably ‘Walter Butt’. The flower buds are frost-resistant, but the flowers themselves are not. This iris continues to flower sporadically for several months and my mother used to take great pleasure in picking a few of the sweetly scented blossoms for the table. The iris flourishes in the most unpromising of conditions, at the base of the cottage wall where the ground is both dry and without much nutrient. Anemone pavonina in the gravel bed is also in flower and seems to have survived despite the snow and frost. These treats make a garden stroll worthwhile despite the weather.