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!
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 garden is wintery and the pond has frozen again. The weather has not been conducive to gardening to-day as the rain lashed down most of the day.
G. Natalie Garton
G. Mighty Atom
However I have had days in the garden as things are definitely moving out there. My snowdrops are really coming into their own, hellebores are in flower, winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) are just appearing, my Mum’s Iris unguicularis (stylosa) is still producing numerous flowers and I am thrilled that the Hamamelis intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ that I planted last year in the damp bed is flowering.
Helleborus multifidus ssp. bocconei
Iris unguicularis ‘Walter Butt’
Poor Garrya elliptica was given the heave-ho. I had given it due warning – if it did not perform with a good display of green tassels this year, it would be out as most of the time the dark evergreen leaves do not brighten my day and the tassels gradually start to go brown and just look sorry for themselves. So on Wednesday we removed it leaving me with space in a small North-facing bed that is now replete with fresh compost, top soil and manure. I am going to put in Daphne blagayana at the front. I will enjoy the fragrant, creamy-white terminal clusters of flowers each spring. There will still be space for another small choice shrub and I may also add the odd bulb or even an alpine.
In fact I have ordered a number of alpines from a small Scottish nursery (Craigiehall Nursery) that I found on-line when I was sitting in bed feeling sorry for myself with a streaming cold over the New Year. Nothing like plants to cheer one up. I am looking forward to their arrival.
I tackled the Michaelmas daisies after looking at the photographs I took last autumn. I have moved them around to provide a better mix of colours and I also split some of the older clumps to rejuvenate the plants. Inevitably there was the odd crunch as the fork hit some of the very large clumps of Nerine bowdenii bulbs, most of which do not flower now because the soil is really too heavy and over the years the bulbs have got covered far too deeply when the bed has been mulched. Nerine lilies do best in a well-drained site with full sun and would love to be at the base of a sunny, south-facing wall if I had one. I have replanted many of them more superficially and moved some to the bed at the base of the cottage wall (south-east facing) – we will see what happens.