The Michaelmas daisies have been wonderful and are still pretty good. When the sun shone, the bees really appreciated them. These American garden asters have been renamed Symphyotrichum- what a mouthful. I am afraid that I unashamedly stick to Michaelmas daisy, so much more straightforward. I have divided most of the clumps within the last couple of years and now they are flowering with renewed vigour- all except one of my favourites- the shocking pink Symphyotrichum (Aster) novae-angliae ‘Alma Potschke’. She is not doing well and needs to be moved so she is not over-shadowed by her neighbours. I have found the perfect spot and may even move her now, as the weather is mild and damp, rather than waiting until the spring. Next year I should be able to enjoy her in all her gaudy glory.
My Mum’s Nerine bowdenii have responded well to a move and summer sun. The bulbs were producing more and more lush leaves but fewer and fewer flowers. The heavy clay in the border was offering far too rich a diet and they were not getting enough sun. So we dug them out (quite a job as the bulbs had multiplied alarmingly), put some in pots, gave some away and moved others to a sunny well-drained spot. The result – lots of flowers and more to come. A most satisfactory outcome.
The amazing Willow-leaved or Missouri sunflower (Helianthus salicifolius) is as imposing as ever. The tall stems clothed in long, drooping willow-like leaves reaching up to the sky and now are topped by clusters of small bright yellow daisies. A most improbable and glorious plant, such an entertaining architectural feature in the middle of my bed.
Rooper’s red-hot poker (Kniphofia rooperi) is another hit with the most amazing egg-shaped bright orange-red flowers that fade to yellow-orange. I planted it 2 years ago and it had no flowers last year, but this year four spikes are emerging from between the strappy leaves. Eventually I hope for an eye-catching clump of 4-foot tall flowering stems.
Preparing for Spring
Mr B. cut the mini wildflower meadow on the ha-ha bank, scarified what was left and raked up the loose moss and grass. I have scattered more wildflower seeds on the bare patches and hope the Yellow rattle will do its job and continue to reduce the vigour of the grass. I have planted just a few Fritillaria michailovskyi on one side and Fritillaria acmopetala on the other. It would be lovely if they “do” but I suspect the slugs will go for them, as they have before. I live in hope.
The snow has melted and the snowdrops and narcissi are upright again. In fact many of the snowdrops are well past their best but their lush foliage still makes a statement. The narcissi on the other hand have come into their own so the garden is Easter-ready, abounding with cheerful nodding daffodils. I have more than 40 varieties, generally purchased from Avon or Broadleigh bulbs over the years. I still prefer the small ones especially the cyclamineus cultivars (Div 6) such as ‘Mite’ , a small cyclamineus that I planted in the damp bed. Narcissus nanus ‘Midget’ (Div 1) in the rock bed really is a midget, a trumpet daffodil only 10cm high.
Narcissus fernandesii var. cordubensis, Scilla siberica under the Himalayan birch
Narcissus fernandesii var. cordubensis
I am thrilled that Narcissus fernandesii var. cordubensis (Div 13) has flowered. This delicate little daffodil (25cm high) has narrow thread-like leaves and scented flowers about 3cm in diameter. I planted it under the multi-stemmed Himalayan Birch (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii) which is just mature enough to start to show some striking patches of white bark. A few of the brilliant blue flowers of Scilla siberica have also emerged. Perhaps one day I will have swathes of both beneath the silvery bark of the mature tree, but I am afraid that I may have to wait some time.
Daphnes and sweet perfume
Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’
Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’
The clusters of pink flowers on Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ in the gravel bed perfume the air by the front door, particularly in the evenings. Daphnes may be short-lived but this one is easy to grow from cuttings so I shall take some later in the year. The fragrant purplish flowers on Daphne mezereum appear before the leaves and also offer a welcome splash of winter colour along with their scent. I have just planted a D. mezereum f. alba (no more than a twig at the moment but flowering nevertheless), which has fragrant white flowers. Eventually it and an even more tiny specimen of Daphne retusa I have just planted, will fill the space which once held the Garrya elliptica. As Marina Schinz said “Gardening is an exercise in optimism. Sometimes, it is a triumph of hope over experience.”
The garden is open for the NGS charities and the British Skin Foundation on April 8th so we are keeping our fingers crossed for good weather and a good turnout of visitors. Despite the cold, I think there will be plenty to see………but there is still a lot to do.
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 under snow
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.
Snowdrops Mighty Atom in frost and some snow
Snowdrop Mighty Atom completely flattened
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.
Camellia × williamsii ‘Donation’
Camellia japonica ‘Sylvia’
Camellia japonica ‘Sylvia’ damaged by frost
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.
Some of the early snowdrops are looking a little the worse for wear but many are still putting on a grand display despite (or perhaps because of) the winter chill. The clump of ‘Cowhouse Green’ (green tips to petals) has increased in size and I have invested in new snowdrops including ‘Polar Bear’, ‘Gerard Parker’, ‘Reverend Hailstone’ and, best of all, ‘South Hayes’, so the number of snowdrops has swelled to more than 60. I have been inspired by a visit to Colesbourne Park, a magnificent snowdrop garden filled with so many temptations. The little Iris reticulata are still putting on a grand display, especially a clump of pale blue ‘Sheila Ann Germany’ in the bed alongside my drive. I have also just invested in a few Polar Ice, another very pale Iris reticulata, and Pauline, a very dark blue.
Galanthus ‘Cowhouse Green’
Galanthus ‘South Hayes’
Iris reticulata ‘Sheila Ann Germany’
Crocuses have popped up all over the garden. Crocus tommasinianus ‘Whitewell Purple’ has spread widely in the grass under the apple tree and the small group of the delicate Crocus sieberi ‘Tricolor’ has enlarged. I am also enjoying Crocus chrysanthus including ‘Cream Beauty’, ‘Herald’ and ‘Blue Pearl’. Crocus ‘Yalta’, which I planted last autumn, has come into flower. I found the silvery-blue outer petals lightening up a dull corner. However the flowers were closed so I did not see the dark purple inner petals. I must check again in the sunshine.
Crocus tommasinianus ‘Whitewell Purple’
Crocus sieberi ‘Tricolor’
Hellebores and narcissi
Winter aconites are almost over but the Lenten roses (Helleborus orientalis) are looking good although I have lost the doubles (I actually prefer the less fussy single flowers) and the clump of Helleborus × hybridus ‘Harvington Black’, a dramatic dark purple, has decreased rather than increased in size. The naturalised narcissi in the grass under the apple trees are coming into their own, a sign that spring really is just around the corner.
The choice alpines from Craigiehall Nursery lived up to expectations. They arrived in perfect condition, beautifully packed, and I had a lot of fun planting up a pot with a combination of Polygala calcarea ‘Lillet’, Salix hylematica, Veronica prostrata ‘Nana’, Saxifraga federici-augustii subsp. grisebachii , Saxifraga ‘Jaromir’, Vitaliana primuliflora ssp. praetutiana and Penstemon davidsonii menziesii ‘Microphyllus’. I have probably crammed in too many tiny plants – I may have to invest in another pot.
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.