In Vase on Monday. Ancient Aristocrats.

In my opinion magnolias are the aristocrats of the tree world and they are the ones with the most ancient lineage. Fossil remains have been found dating back to the Cretaceous period; that is 145-146 million years ago. Get your head round that Creationists! There is a huge variety of  spring-flowering Asiatic species and cultivars available.  I adore them and I have nine varieties but I would like to add to that one day when I am allowed out again. If you have early and later blooming ones then you can enjoy them over several weeks.  These are my early bloomers.

The flowers are born on bare branches and they don’t last long. Unfortunately the earliest flowering can get spoilt by frost. Yesterday, we had hail and even snow for a short time but there are still unscathed buds to open. The starry flowers of Magnolia stellata are looking a bit tatty but its relation the pink Magnolia ‘Leonard Messel’ less so. My most magnificent Magnolia ‘Star Wars’ seems quite unconcerned by the frost and hail and the blooms still look wonderful.

Magnolia ‘Star Wars’

This tree is now ten years old and  is a good size and is full of  huge blooms thanks to the ‘campbelli’ in its breeding. Lucky Cornish people can see these amazing Magnolia campbelli in their gardens but here it is too tender. Besides like the ubiquitous Magnolia soulangeana you have to wait years to get blooms. All the magnolias I have here bloomed when still young.

Magnolias don’t last long in water so I have a short- lived vase on my dining table. I have used a glass Mary Gregory jug for this as I didn’t want any colours to detract from the simple beauty of the magnolias. I used three big flowers of Magnolia ‘Star Wars’, one dark ‘Black Tulip’ and two fluttery flowers of ‘Leonard Messel’ so these are all my favourites.

M.‘Black Tulip’ left, M. Leonard Messel’ centre and M.’Star Wars’ right

As these are such ancient trees I have illustrated this with some fossils.

Magnolias are pollinated by wingless beetles as these existed long before the appearance of butterflies and moths. The flowers have tepals rather than petals which remain closed for several days enabling the beetles to crawl around inside the bloom and get covered in pollen.

Thanks to Cathy at Rambling in the Garden who is bringing a bit of stability into our lives by inviting us to stroll round our gardens and find choice blooms to put in a Vase on Monday. Without this it would be difficult to keep track of the days when each day feels like groundhog day.

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Top Ten March Blooms.

Well spring has definitely sprung even if many people are too sunk in apocalypse gloom to notice much. But as gardeners we do notice and being outside in our own little kingdoms is a wonderful way to escape from the stress of it all and reconnect with nature. I saw my first yellow brimstone butterfly yesterday, necklaces of black toadspawn decorate the pond, bees are buzzing and the birds are rejoicing. And the sun is shining. So come with me and see my top ten March blooms. There is so much to chose from, but I want to select blooms from the whole month and not just now.

Early each March I rave about Azara microphylla. It has glossy, green leaves and the flowers are tiny and insignificant. But it is the most fragrant plant in the garden and the delicious vanilla scent travels several metres. I would like to have this tree dotted about all over the garden so that the scent would be everywhere. It comes from Chile and a hard winter can damage it, so mine is in a sheltered spot and it has always recovered from any frost blackening. It is incredible that such tiny flowers pack such an olfactory punch.

Azara microphylla

Edgeworthia chrysantha is another slightly tender shrub, its beautiful, custard -yellow flowers actually smell a bit like custard  if you get up close and sniff them. They can get damaged by frost. Last year I covered mine up with fleece but I didn’t bother this year. The flowers emerge from silky white buttons and they have a hairy appearance.  This shrub is native to China and Japan where its flaky bark is used to make expensive paper.

Edgeworthia chrysantha

Scented flowers always come top of the list and the vigorous Clematis armandii is very sweetly scented. You can get it in pink or white. The star-shaped flowers are borne in great abundance.

Clematis armandii ‘Snowdrift’

Still on the scented theme I have Osmanthus burkwoodii. It has small evergreen leaves, not unlike those of Azara microphylla. The clusters of  jasmine- like white flowers are very strongly scented .

Osmanthus burkwoodii

March is the month for Flowering Currant and in terms of scent we are going from deliciously scented, to a flower which a lot of people say says  smells of cat pee . But I quite like it because it smells of spring and childhood to me; when I was small every garden used to have one.  I have dug up loads of the pink Ribes sanguineum from all over the garden but I have left one bush as it is so lovely for early vases and if you pick it in bud the flowers turn out white. And as you see the bees love it.

Ribes sanguineum

The true white one,  Ribes sanguineum ‘White Icicles’ is much more sophisticated and blooms earlier at the beginning of March.

Ribes sanguineum ‘White Icicles’

Even more sophisticated is Ribes laurifolium ‘Amy Doncaster’ with large clusters of chartreuse-green flowers.  It comes from China. This plant sprawls about rather and is better if you train it up something, it doesn’t grow much taller than 1 metre.  There are other varieties available but none of them has such large clusters of flowers as Amy.

Ribes laurifolium ‘Amy Doncaster”

Ribes speciosum is a weird kind of gooseberry with lovely shiny leaves and dangly ear ring-like flowers which look like fuchshias. I grow it against a south facing wall as it is not reliably hardy . But it does scream against the red bricks, I would prefer a white background. It comes come California.

Ribes speciosum

And now the cherry blossom is starting and will come in waves throughout April. My March ones start with the neat Prunus ‘Kursar’  which blooms right at the beginning of the month. This has lovely dark blossom and a good leaf colour in autumn. It is one of Cherry Ingram’s hybrids and if I had a small garden and could only have one cherry, this would be it.

Prunus ‘Kursar’

To the left of the tree above is the grassy path which I have been waiting all winter to make into a proper path. At last the sog has dried up a bit and it will shortly be transformed. I haven’t got the brick laying skills of Cathy at Rambling in the Garden who knocks up brick walls and paths all the time with the greatest of ease. So mine will be a much simpler affair.

The slow growing shrub Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’ is pretty in winter with its tangle of criss-cross branches and now it is a joy with its palest pink blooms. ‘Ko-jo-no mai’ means ‘flight of the butterflies’ which is appropriate if you think of the flowers as really small butterflies. All Prunus incisa varieties are known as Mount Fuji cherries because this is where they grow wild.

Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’

In the front garden I have weeping white cherry which someone else planted years before we came here. I like it because  I find white blossom irresistible. I think it is the weeping Fuji cherry.

Prunus incisa ‘Pendula’

I have some more ornamental cherries in my maids -in-waiting area.

Maids in Waiting

I shall plant them in the huge area reclaimed from the encroaching hedgerow last autumn. I have waited all winter for the area to dry out and now because of the plague I can’t get hold of a man with a rotavator. So I am going to have to get out there with my spade. I dare say it will do me good -or possibly kill me; it is about 30 metres long.

Stachyurus praecox is a delight in March. It has pendant strings of primrose -yellow beads hanging from its naked branches. Actually, ‘beads’ is not the right word, if you look at them closely they are like little bells. It is supposed to like slightly acidic soil but it does very well for me. It comes from Japan where it grows along forest edges. I don’t know why more people don’t grow it as it is a beautiful shrub.

Stachyurus praecox

So far I have featured trees and shrubs, but the flower beds right now look like Botticelli’s ‘Primavera’, except without the orange trees and the nymphs of course.  Having said that, the famous picture does feature Chloris, although nobody who meets me could confuse me with a swan-necked nymph. Or any kind of nymph.

Spring flowers are a special joy and there is an abundance of them now. Seeding everywhere if you start with just a few, are the dear  little Corydalis in shades of pink, blue and purple.   I saw it growing wild last year in the Gargano region of Italy. The name is Greek and it means ‘crested larks’ which is pretty if a little fanciful. I have not got to grips with the difference between Corydalis solida and Corydalis cava; ok, I know the first has solid roots and the second, hollow, but I am not going to dig them up to look at their roots. I have bought several named ones over the years but they seed around merrily in a range of colours. The pink Corydalis solida ‘Beth Evans’ has many pink children but the red ‘George Baker’ seems to disappear. As for the glorious blue ones, they don’t last and they don’t seed around, at least not in my garden.

Corydalis solida ‘Beth Evans’

March is also the time for a pretty, compact, little pea which is perennial and grows into ever bigger clumps. It is called Lathyrus vernus. It is native to forests in parts of Europe and Siberia but mine grows happily  in full sun. The pink form Lathyrus vernus ‘Alboroseus’ comes into bloom first.

Lathyrus vernus ‘Alboroseus’

And now the purple form is flowering too and I notice it has had a baby.

Lathyrus vernus

I am a little frightened to grow too many euphorbia since my daughter had to go to A&E a couple of years ago after rubbing her eyes after handling it, even though she had washed her hands. She was lucky that there was no permanent damage. The white, sticky sap of these plants is awful stuff; if you get it on your skin and go into the sun you will get terrible blisters. We gardeners grow many poisonous plants but this one is to be respected. But still they are a lovely sight in spring and I can’t be without the glowing buttercup yellow bracts of Euphorbia polychroma which grows from neat rosettes.

Euphorbia polychroma

I couldn’t be without the shade loving Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae or ‘Mrs. Robb’s Bonnet’ even if I wanted to, as it romps away wherever it wants to. It is a useful plant for the shade though and the panicles of yellow flowers are a lovely sight. Mine will have the blue flowers of camassias growing through it soon. I expect you have heard the story of Mrs Robb, a Victorian lady, bringing this plant back from Turkey in her hat box. Hence the common name. I wouldn’t fancy putting this in my hat box, if I had such a thing.

Euphorbia amygdaloides var robbiae

I have had to miss out so many beauties; lovely blue spring flowers would fill a post of its own so maybe I will devote one to just blue flowers soon. But for now I will finish with my favourites because amongst my many plant obsessions fritillaries come up there with snowdrops and roses. So here goes. I will start with the peerless native Fritillaria meleagris, or the snake’s head fritillary. This will spread in meadows to make a pleasing Priamvera effect, as long as pheasants don’t bite all their heads off as they often do in my garden.

Fritillaria meleagris

I love the little bells of Fritillaria michailovskyi from Turkey. This used to be rare and difficult to get hold of but Dutch nurseries have been busy propagating it so now you find it everywhere.

Fritillaria michailovskyi

The flowers of the fox- smelly Crown Imperial are opening up now, I have it in yellow and orange. This is the tallest fritillary.  The bell shaped flowers are  topped by green tufts. They are beautiful inside too. My yellow ones come into bloom first.

Fritillaria imperialis

And then the orange.

Fritillaria imperialis

These lovely fritillaries have been grown in our gardens for centuries. If your clumps stop blooming, dig them up when they are dormant and replant them with some fertiliser and good compost.
The lovely plum- coloured Fritillaria persica needs a sheltered spot because it comes into growth early in the year and the emerging stems can be damaged by frost.

Fritillaria persica

My favourite is the buff coloured Fritillaria verticillata which grows on tall stems with curling tendrils on the top. The bell shaped flowers are tessellated with brown pencilling inside. I have been told that this is actually Fritillaria thunbergii rather than Fritillaria verticillata. But I have studied pictures of the two and I can’t see the difference. Whatever its name this clumps up nicely over the years and is very pretty.

Fritillaria vericillata

So here are some of the flowers which are giving me joy at the moment no matter what is happening in the world outside. Please share with us some of your favourite March blooms. It least there is no danger in getting up close and personal with your plants. As long as it is not euphorbia.

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In a Vase on Monday. Daffies

It’s that time of year again at last. Cheery daffodils mean spring, although most of us aren’t feeling the usual seasonal euphoria and perhaps Hector’s expression sums up the 2020, spring vibe.  But still, don’t you feel sorry for non-gardeners at the moment?  We are the lucky ones with our own personal paradise and sanctuary where we don’t have to jump out of our skin if anyone coughs. Here in my garden there is just bird song; the sparrows are chattering away in the hedge, the Great Tits have started their rather monotonous song and the robin seems to be singing just for me as I dig. And I have daffodils.

These are the assorted ones which somebody else planted years ago in the orchard and although I have redesigned much of the orchard I still have plenty of daffodils left at the bottom of the garden. They are all different, if I had planted them I would have put drifts of one colour, but still they are lovely. It is funny that the doubled, primped fussy daffodils that we sneer at and would never dream of planting look rather pretty in a vase. I particularly like the ones with frilly coronas; oh no, I just realised I used the ‘c’ word so let’s forget the correct word for now and call it the trumpet.

Elsewhere I planted masses of white ones called Narcissus ‘Mount Hood’. White is perhaps not so spring-like but I do love them. They also have frilly er- trumpets.

Narcissus ‘Mount Hood’

My favourites are the dainty miniatures. In this vase I have a selection of them in bloom now and there are plenty more are still to come.

I love them all but my favourite is the creamy white Narcissus ‘Elka’ on the right.

The one with the orange trumpet is ‘Jetfire’ and the dainty one with reflexed petals is  Narcissus cyclamineus.

Thank you to lovely Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for hosting the meme In a Vase on Monday and helping to take our minds off plagues and Armageddon.

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The Winter Garden.

Four years ago I created a winter garden here and since then I have gradually enlarged it and now I think it is looking really good. And it needs to look good to cheer the spirits on a day like this after weeks of unremitting gloom, storms and rain. Of course the photos would look better with sun sparkling on the garden, but it’s no good waiting for that to happen. At least it’s stopped raining for a bit. So I wrapped up warm and took a few shots to show you the winter garden whilst it is still winter. Of course spring bulbs make it look even better.






We are lucky in the UK to have a climate where we can grow so many plants which look wonderful in February. But this year, I do long for a sliding roof over the whole garden so that I can get out there and enjoy it even when storms with unpronounceable names are raging.

I haven’t labelled anything in this post so if you want to know what anything is please ask.

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In a Vase on Monday. Black Clouds

Last week I featured a pink Pussy Willow in my vase. The garden was full of blooms and looked springlike and I was keen to celebrate it. Today, the garden is still wearing its spring party dress but it’s forgotten its coat and so it’s shivering under constant downpours and howling winds. My plants and I are under a black cloud.  I have projects to get on with which can’t be done in sludge. Daffodils have collapsed, nose first into the mud.  A golden stemmed bamboo has heaved itself out of the ground and looks as if it is about to sprint off in search of a balmier climate.  I don’t blame it.

So it was the my black pussy willow which I was seeking out today. It is called Salix gracilistyla ‘Melanostachys’ and it comes from Japan.

Instead of adorable fluffy pink pussy willow, today my vase looks a bit sinister. I read somewhere that that the catkins of this shrub look like dancing black bears. They remind me of cat’s claws and I don’t mean adorable fluffy kittens. They have vicious-looking claws. These are the bud scales which drop off eventually.
I arranged them in my Victorian mourning vase to match their austere and slightly sinister mood.

I know this black pussy willow isn’t to everyone’s taste but I think it looks dramatic in a vase and if we can’t have sunshine and woolly baa lambs frolicking amongst the daisies yet, then why not a bit of drama.?

As the catkins mature they discard the claws and  the anthers become reddish in colour.

The final stage is when the stamens become covered in yellow pollen and then they will have to go outside. In the meantime the stems will probably root and I can have a forest of them if I like. But one is enough. It grows to about 6 to 10 ft but every couple of years I cut it right back when the catkins finish. It is not very interesting for the rest of the year but I wouldn’t be without it because now and then a bit of drama in your vase is good. I resisted my usual urge to cram lots of other flowers into the vase, this is a stand alone plant.

Willows need a damp position in the sun They are all dioecious which is a word with too many vowels which I can never remember how to spell or pronounce. It means the masculine and feminine flowers appear on separate plants.

Cathy at Rambling in the Garden has found some sunshine to lighten the gloom of her black clouds today. Do go and see.

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Top Ten February Blooms.

I just love February blooms but this year it has been difficult to find a chance to get out and enjoy them with constant winds and Biblical  downpours of rain.  I am a year- round gardener and wouldn’t dream of hanging up my spade for winter, but this year I have had to duck and dive and admit defeat on countless occasions. But never mind, you can have a look at some of my favourite February blooms from the comfort of your chair and that is the best place to be today.

The most eye catching plant in my February garden is the wonderful Japanese Apricot, Prunus mume. It actually comes from China, but it is highly prized in Japan where many varieties are available. I don’t know why it isn’t seen more often here because it is hardy and blooms for weeks starting as early as January. The flowers of ‘Beni-chi-dori’ which means ‘Flights of Red Plovers’ are the deepest pink and have a sweet almondy smell.  The tree grows to about 8 ft, mine hasn’t quite reached this yet, but after 8 years it is a good size.

Prunus mume ‘Beni-chi-dori’

Prunus mume ‘Beni -chi-dori-

I searched for the beautiful white form for several years after falling in love with it in Cambridge Botanical Garden.  I found one a couple of years ago and it is now a wonderful sight in February. It is quite compact and smothered in white, sweetly scented blooms. It is called ‘Omi-No-Mama’ which means ‘Memories of Mother’.  Well, I think it does, Graham Stuart Thomas wrote in his book. ‘Colour in the Winter Garden’ that it means ‘To have its own Way’ and this is because it sometimes throws up a rosy pink flower. I would love to have a little copse of these fabulous trees in my woodland garden but they are expensive to buy. The white one seems to be quite rare. Other blossom trees are coming into bloom now but these are very early as they start flowering in January and they get better and better as February goes by.

Prunus mume ‘Omoi-na mama’

The Cornelian Cherry tree, Cornus mas bears clusters of starry yellow flowers in February. It can grow to about 12 feet, in fact I had a huge one in my previous garden which was a wonderful sight against a blue winter sky. It used to bear fruit in abundance and I regret that I did not then know that the fruit is edible. When ripe they taste a bit like cherries. Quite often seedlings used to appear. This one  is one of those seedlings, it is about 5 ft high now and it has taken a few years to bloom well.

Cornus mas

Cornus mas

I have an early flowering camellia in the garden. I wish I could remember its name but this is one that I had in a pot for years and then planted out even though I don’t have an acid soil which it prefers. To my surprise it is flourishing  with healthy green leaves even after several years in the ground. Plants don’t always obey the rules. The flowers are double and a delicate shade of pink.

Camellia japonica

In a pot in the greenhouse I have a little Camellia x vernalis ‘Yuletide’. I  bought this because I had seen it on  PBM garden blog. Susie’s  ‘Yuletide’ always seems to bloom for Christmas as its name suggests and as she is the most amazing flower arranger it always looks wonderful in her vases.  I have had to wait until February for a few blooms on mine. I think it needs a very sheltered spot here so I don’t think I will risk it outside.

Camellia x vernalis ‘Yuletide’

Another calcifuge, ( acid-loving plant) is the rhododendron. I told a neighbour that she can’t possibly grow rhododendrons in her garden here. She confounded me by saying that she can and does.  Anyway, I am not going to risk my pretty Rhododendron ‘Christmas Cheer’ in the ground and it looks lovely in a pot.  Rhododendrons have compact root balls so you could probably get away with planting them in masses of ericaceous compost for a year or two, but I don’ think it would work long term. Despite its name this never blooms at Christmas.

Rhododendron ‘Christmas Cheer’

As Shakespeare said ‘Daffodils take the winds of March with beauty‘ but this year they are very early and the winds of February are flattening the taller ones. A pretty one which is always early is ‘Spring Dawn’ . It is not too tall and so copes quite well with the wind. I love it for its twisted petals and frilly yellow coronas.

Narcissus ‘Spring Dawn’

The ever-popular dwarf Narcissus ‘Tête-a Tête’ is not bothered by the wind at all. It is lovely in pots but if you plant it out it will make nice big clumps.

Narcissus ‘Tete -Tete”

One of my favourite daffodils is the native one Narcissus pseudonarcissus, this is the one which inspired Wordsworth’s poem. It seeds around happily and looks lovely with primroses.

Narcissus pseudonarcissus

Safe from the storms in the greenhouse I have a few pots of delightful little daffodils. Narcissus ‘Snow Baby’ is a darling miniature with perfectly formed white flowers.

Narcissus ‘Baby Snow’

Another white one is the hoop daffodil which is aptly named ‘Narcissus bulbodicum ‘White Petticoat’

Narcissus bulbodicum ‘White Daffodil’

I have a new Narcisssus bulbodicum this year and I love it. It is a hybrid bred in Holland. It is called Narcissus bulbodicum subsp. obesus ‘Diamond Ring’. It is the prettiest little daffodil and deliciously fragrant.

Narcissus bulbodicum subsp. obesus ‘Diamond Ring’

I love the early species crocuses; the little tommies, Crocus tommasianus which seed all over the garden are getting over now but they are a February delight, specially when the sun makes a rare appearance. If I plant new crocuses the squirrels watch me and dig them up but they don’t seem to notice the ones that are all ready there seeding about. I have given up planting them, I would like some different varieties but nature is doing a great job of spreading these little beauties around so I will content myself with them. They are a lovely shade of lilac and some of them are darker.

Crocus tommasianus

Now and then yellow ones crop up.

I have a few clumps of white ones.


Here and there I have some of the big, fat, shiny Dutch ones but I don’t love them as much.

Crocus ‘Striped Beauty’

Of course there are still plenty of snowdrops to enjoy. My addiction to snowdrops is even more out of control than my addiction to jugs so I will just select a random few today.

Spring Snowflakes, Leucojum vernum slowly make large clumps but they don’t spread as quickly as snowdrops. They have round flowers with six petals of even size so they look like little lamp shades. They grow on short stems unlike the confusingly named Summer Snowflake, Leucojum aestivum. The pointed  tips of the petals are green.

Leucojum vernum

You can get a variety which has two flowers per stem. This is called Leucojum vernum var. Vagneri. The green mark is much more pronounced on this one.

Leucojum vernum ‘ var. Vagneri

There is a yellow-tipped one called  Leucojum  vernum ‘Carpathicum’.

Leucojum vernum ‘Carpathicum’

I have my own variety which appeared in my  garden which is pure white with no markings on the tips.

Leucojum vernum

All over the garden I have groups of Leucojum aestivum but I have never planted it, they just appear themselves. The flowers are no bigger than those of Leucojum vernum and they aren’t the same pretty lamp shade shape. As they have such long stalks they are rather insignificant. Still they are quite pretty in a vase.

Leucojum astivum

Little irises make colourful displays in February. Iris reticulata ‘Pauline’ is one of the reliable ones which comes back each year. This one has poked up through the encroaching heather.

The Algerian Iris, Iris unguicularis  has been blooming for weeks but now it is joined by the Turkish Iris lazica which is very similar but with shiny leaves and even more blooms.

Iris lazica

My last post was devoted to hellebores and you might think that I have nothing further to say about the subject. But this morning torrential rain kept me out of the garden and when I went to the local farm shop to buy some eggs I found another Rodney Davy hellebore just as I had been saying I would like a few more of these beauties. It just jumped into my basket when I wasn’t looking.  The lovely thing about these hellebores is the beautiful marbled leaves. All my other hellebores have their leaves cut off in January as this displays the flowers better and the old leaves are liable to spread black Leaf Spot. But these beautiful leaves are part of the charm. So here is my latest beauty,  Helleborus ‘Dorothy’s Dawn’.

Helleborus ‘Dorothy’s Dawn’

Do join me with some of your February blooms. Spring is just round the corner and flowers are springing up everywhere.


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Hellebore Bore.

I have to admit that I am a hellebore bore. I am crazy about winter blooming flowers. I spend hours crooning over snowdrops and  then we get the hellebores which start in January and then get better and better throughout February and into March.  Hellebores should head my list of Top Ten February blooms which I will post on Sunday but I think  they deserve a post of their own. So many plants when they are over -hybridised are made ugly and ungainly with short stems and much bigger faces than nature intended, but new hellebore hybrids get ever more stunning.  I am entranced by some of the newest cultivars, many of them with girls’ names. Some of them, bred by Rodney Davey after years of painstaking work are fabulous. They have marbled leaves and large, outward -facing flowers. This one was named ‘Anna”s Red’ as a compliment to Anna Pavord. Behind it you can see the new part of my winter garden which I have not finished planting yet. There will be a path right through it lined with box balls. I am not a great fan of topiary but if we do get snow it is fun to have snowballs in the winter garden.

Helleborus x hybridus ‘Anna’s Red’

Other Rodney Davey hybrids include Helleborus x hybridus ‘Penny’s Pink’.

Helleborus x hybridus ”Penny’s Pink’

Helleborus  x hybridus ‘Molly’s White’

Helleborus x hybridus ‘Molly’s White’

Helleborus x hybridus ‘Cheryl’s Shine’

Helleborus ‘ x hybridus Cheryl’s Shine’

I am keeping an eye out for more lovely Rodney Davey hybrids such as ‘Sally’s Shell’, ‘Glenda’s Gloss’, ‘Pippa’s Purple’ and ”Dana’s Dulcet’.

A few years ago I got very excited by some lovely ‘ericsmithii’ hybrids which had masses of flowers and marbled leaves. I bought two or three and put them in the sunny spot they are supposed to enjoy. I have lost all of them. Here is lovely Helleborus x ericsmithii’ ‘Shooting Stars’ in 2017. There is no sign of it now, I hope the Rodney Davis hybrids prove to be more long lasting.

Helleborus x ericsmithii ‘Shooting Star’

Although they are still expensive, comparatively speaking, hellebores are not as dear as they used to be. I first got hooked more than 20 years ago when I visited Elizabeth Strangman’s wonderful nursery in Kent. She was a pioneer in hellebore breeding and sold them in a range of amazing colours ranging from primrose to apricot,  all through shades of pink to red and from slate to black. I had never seen these wonderful hellebore colours before.  She was one of the first to breed doubles. I still have this one which I bought all those years ago.

Of course we are used to seeing doubles now and very pretty they are too in their party dresses. Many of the new hybrids with girls’ names are very vigorous and as they are micro -propagated they are much cheaper than they used to be.

Helleborus x hybridus ‘ Phoebe’

Helleborus x hybridus ‘Cinderella’

Helleborus x hybridus ‘Double Ellen’

Another hellebore which I bought from Elizabeth Strangman was a lovely picotee one. This is white delicately veined and  edged with dark pink.

Picotee Hellebore

Another special one which I brought from my previous garden is an old variety which may have originated there when it was an nursery. It is called ‘Petsamo’ and has large pure white flowers with pointed petals.

Helleborus x hybridus ‘Petsamo’

It doesn’t have many seedlings, this one has inherited the large pointed flowers but has pink spots which rather spoil it.

I particularly love anemone-flowered hellebores where the ovaries look like an Elizabethan ruff inside the flower.

I have often read and heard it said that it is not worth saving hellebore seedlings because they will end up with washed out colours but this is absolute nonsense. If you want solid blocks of one colour then I suppose you have to stick to one variety but how boring. And anyway it would be prohibitively expensive to have carpets of special named varieties. Mine seed about in abundance, both the ones I brought with me and the ones that were already here. I have huge carpets of them in a tapestry of colours and I love every one.

These all used to be known as Helleborus orientalis but as there are so many crosses they are now known as Helleborus x hybridus. Sometimes you get an unusual seedling like this one which has small green striped flower which look as if there could have been with a cross with the native Helleborus foetidus which abounds in the garden.

As I have hundreds of hellebores it always seems extravagant to buy expensive new ones. Nevertheless, every year I treat myself to a couple of new ones. My pride and joy this year is a new German hybrid called ‘Helleborus x ballardiae ‘Cinnamon Snow’. Along with Elizabeth Strangman, Helen Ballard was one of the earliest hellebore hybridisers. It appears that one of her hellebores was a parent of this beautiful plant. It has cinnamon coloured flowers which area perfect match for the shiny bark of Prunus serrula.

Helleborus x ballardiae ‘Cinnamon Snow’

So there we have it, I could go on and on, as I said I am a hellebore bore but I will stop now in case you are all falling asleep.

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In a Vase on Monday. In the Pink

I am a mug for a jug. I don’t know why but I can’t resist them. If I am feeling a bit under-the-weather or endless storms keep me out of the garden I trawl through jugs on eBay and add to my collection. When yet another package arrives the Pianist always asks me if I really need yet another jug. As Lear would say, ‘Oh reason not the need’. I am not extravagant though, it has to be extra special for me to spend over £10 although I do have some special ones inherited from my mother. When I die, it won’t make a priceless inheritance for my children. I can imagine them sighing and saying ‘What on earth shall we do with all these jugs?‘ Perhaps I should be buried with them like Queen Nefertiti. They could make me a little pyramid, nothing too ambitious, a modest one will do.

For this week I have selected a little pink lustre jug made in Germany in the 19th century. It says rather surprisingly ‘A Present from Bootle’ which is an unlikely place to be brought a present from. The expansion of the railways in the 19th century opened up the country to people who had probably never travelled very far from where they were born. They could visit relatives or the developing seaside resorts. The tourist industry was given a huge boost by the Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in 1851. Of course an increase in tourists created a demand for cheap souvenirs. And a nice shiny bit of china in gaudy colours was just what people wanted. Most of these souvenirs were made in porcelain factories in Germany and Czechoslovakia. The name of the factory was never stamped on them. It is possible that they were made by prestigious porcelain factories who saw a gap in the market but as these pieces were rather down- market they wouldn’t want their name associated with them. I don’t know how they chose the place names to write on them as many of them are not tourist destinations. Perhaps they randomly chose English place names. Anyway I rather like my gaudy little present from Bootle as it suits my pink mood very well.

I used some rather gaudy pink pussy willow called Salix gracilistyla ‘Mount Aso’. It said ‘Red Cats’ on the label, it’s not actually red, but it is decidedly pink.

Salix gracilistyla ‘Mount Aso’

I used sprigs from two of my desert island plants, Daphne bhloua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ and the Japanese Apricot, Prunus mume ‘Beni -chidori’, I wouldn’t be without either of these plants.

They  are both fragrant although Beni-chidori’ is very delicate. The pink hyacinth and Viburnum bodnantense are both fragrant too but of course nothing smells as wonderful as darling ‘Jacqueline’.

I have a couple of hellebore in the vase too.

I love pink leaves, these are from the shrub, Lophomyrtus x ralphii ‘Red Dragon’. This lovely shrub comes from New Zealand and it looks good all year round so it is great for the winter garden. Like the salix it is not red at all but lovely and pink.

Lophomyrtus ralphii ‘Red Dragon’

So there we have it, we’ve had noisy storms and it is cold outside, but spring is coming so I am in the pink.

Cathy at Rambling in the Garden hosts this meme of ‘In a Vase on Monday’ and what a lovely start it is to the week to prowl round the windswept garden and find pink February flowers. Cathy is ever inventive, do pop along and see what she and other vase filling enthusiasts have been up to.

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In a Vase on Monday. The Magic of Mimosa.

In the UK we are all still cringing after the impact of a very frisky  Storm Ciara. When we arrived here there were nine mature birch trees at the bottom of the garden. In 2015 there were seven.

April 2015

Most  years we lose one and after yesterday we are down to just four. It is a good thing I have a man with a chainsaw.  This is a rare sighting of the Pianist in the garden.

It is still windy and uncomfortable outside so a much nicer place to be is in my far greenhouse with the lovely fragrance of mimosa.

But I can’t lurk in the greenhouse all day so I picked some to bring indoors. It doesn’t last long in a vase but for a day or two it fills the room with a delicious fragrance which always reminds me of the mimosa forests of the south of France which is where the seed for this plant came from.

I know that in America mimosa is the name for the pink fluffy balls of Albizzia julibrissen but here we use it for Acacia. This one is Acacia dealbata.

Its common name is also ‘Wattle’ but I think that sounds more like an unsightly appendage to the neck. It is not reliably hardy in the UK so I grow it in a large pot in the unheated greenhouse. It needs a slightly acid compost.

As Acacia dealbata  comes from Australia I have used some Australian Eucalyptus gunni to go with it in the vase.

To match the leaves of the eucalyptus I used some celadon-green tassels of Garrya elliptica which are dancing in the wind right now. If you want extra long silky tassels you should seek out the variety called ‘James Roof’.

Garrya elliptica

It is windy and cold outside but a vase of little golden balls of mimosa brings some February magic into the house and the sweet, warm, powdery scent is intoxicating.

If you pop over to see Cathy at Rambling in the Garden you will see her vase has a Japanese feel with flights of red plovers.

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In a Vase on Monday. Snowdrops!

‘Chaste snowdrop, venturous harbinger of spring,

And pensive monitor of fleeting years!’  To a Snowdrop. William Wordsworth.

I’m not surprised that Lakeland Willy wrote odes to these little beauties. I almost feel one coming on myself, except in this day and age I don’t think you could get away with something like ‘Chaste snowdrop, venturous harbinger of spring’. Anyway, they are not really chaste at all, their promiscuity has given rise to many exciting new ones which  strain the purses of enthusiasts like me.

In January and February I pick handful of snowdrops  and have a succession of snowy white blooms on my dining room table.  I am lucky to have an ancient garden with drifts of the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis spreading everywhere. This is so common that many people think it is native. It actually comes from southern Europe but it has been growing so long in this country that it has spread from cottage gardens and churchyards and romps away on verges and woodlands in many parts of the country. I have two different strains, in some areas they are still in tight bud.

Galanthus nivalis

It has nothing to do with where they are growing, these next ones are in full sunlight.

Galanthus nivalis

But these next ones are in full bloom. I tried planting some of these early bloomers in the same place as the late bloomers but it made no difference to their time of flowering so they must be a different strain.

Galanthus nivalis

I suppose this clump needs dividing but it looks so pretty.

I noticed the ones in the churchyard are all in bloom too, so perhaps mine came from here years ago.

As they grow in such generous abundance there are always plenty for a vase. Here they are looking pretty in my glass snowflake vase.

But I wanted some fragrant ones too so I picked a few ‘Ginn’s Imperati’ as these are sweet scented; some people say they smell of almonds but I can’t detect that. They are large snowdrops and until Saturday when I saw ‘Ginn’s Imperati’ at Plant Heritage I thought this clump was the large, strong growing and fragrant ‘S. Arnott’.  But apparently I had my labels confused. I am pretty sure now it is ‘Ginn’s Imperati, and very pretty it is too.

Galanthus ‘Ginn’s Imperati’

This snowdrop was found growing near Rome by a garden writer, Robert Calthorne-Hardy and grown on by Ron Ginns in the 1950s. A few in a vase scent the room. I put them in one of my old inkwells with a couple of leaves from Arum italicum.

Galanthus ‘Ginn’s Imperati’

If you see them side by side with Galanthus nivalis you can see how much bigger they are.

Whilst we are talking snowdrops, at least I am, your attention has perhaps wandered off if you are not a fanatic, but I am going to slip in just a couple more.

Galanthus ‘Trymlet’

I do hope this is not just too much snowdrop for you, I don’t want to leave you feeling like this.

Galanthus ‘Grumpy’

Thank you to Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for hosting In a Vase on Monday. Cathy too has the snowdrop bug and there is no cure for it. Do go and see and what Cathy and all the Monday vase fillers are doing today.


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