Celebrating the Vernal Equinox with ‘Christmas Cheer’

So it’s official, it’s the first day of spring.  Winter is off with his tail between his legs, ‘the lark’s on his wing, the snail’s on the thorn’ and according to Shakespeare, birds are singing: ‘Hey ring a ding, ding’. The little lambs are frolicking in the field and gardeners are frolicking in their gardens and if you listen carefully they are probably singing ‘Hey ring a ding, ding’ too. This wonderful time of the year is a joyful time for everyone, but specially gardeners. The garden feels like a huge, green jewel box spilling out ever more sparkling gems.

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I am celebrating the first day of spring rather inappropriately with some ‘Christmas Cheer’.

Rhododendron ‘Christmas Cheer’

This lovely rhododendron is peculiarly named as it usually blooms in March. It is the earliest blooming one I have but I don’t have very many. My soil isn’t acid enough, (i.e. below PH7) so all my rhododendrons have to live in pots in ericaceous compost. This one is particularly suited to a pot as it is quite compact and has a nice dome shape. It is slow growing and doesn’t get more than 4ft. I often wondered why it is called ‘Christmas Cheer’ when it blooms in spring. Apparently for the rich with heated glass houses it used to be forced for Christmas flower arrangements. The buds are perfectly frost hardy but once the flowers open they have to be protected, but then magnolia flowers have the same problem. This year they have been spared so far. I love its pink frothiness. The flowers are frilly and get whiter with age but at this stage they look as if they have raspberry juice swirled into them. When I was six I longed for a party dress in this colour. These days I have no desire to wear pink frills but I still enjoy them in in my spring flowers.

Rhododendron ‘Christmas Cheer’

I hope you enjoy every minute of the new season in your lovely gardens.

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Le Vent qui Rend Fou.

In the south of France, the mistral, a wind which comes down the Rhone and blows for weeks is supposed to make men and horses go mad.  Here March is traditionally windy but this week the wind is relentless; I don’t know about the horses, but it is driving me quite mad. Spring is happening;  the willows have a green haze, the blackthorn blossom is frothing up all over the hedges, the hawthorn is coming into leaf and the ditches are full of primroses, but how can you enjoy them when you need all your strength to keep upright and walking under trees feels like Russian roulette?

So I have been lurking in my potting shed, sowing seeds and waiting.

But today I ventured out to find that my plants are braver than I am and have been racing to unfold whilst I have been cowering in the shed. The Weeping Willow has a haze of green.

Buds are plumping up everywhere, I love the red leaves and buds of Paeonia mascula ssp. mascula even if it does have a cumbersome, tautology of a name. It has gorgeous single flowers, but I love it from the time its plump noses first appear in winter.

Paeonia mascula ssp. mascula

Last week I showed you Magnolia ‘Black Tulip’ which was rashly running into bloom. Now it looks like this and I tremble for it because frost is forecast for next week.

Magnolia ‘Black Tulip’

And now Magnolia ‘Leonard Messel’ is hastening to join the party.

Magnolia ‘Leonard Messel’

The gorgeous flowers of this camellia are probably going to get zapped by the frost too. I arrived here with several camellias in pots and tried planting this one out even though I don’t have the acid soil which is supposed to be essential for its well being. To my amazement it is flourishing and has doubled in size. The ones in pots are looking a bit yellow and unhappy so I shall tip all of them out  now. The books don’t always get it right, sometimes it is fun to push the boundaries and see what you can get away with.

In a recent post I showed you all the primroses in my greenhouse and wrote that I am a bit snooty about these over -hybridised primroses and only have simple wild ones in my garden.

But then looking round I find all these fancy ones. And I must have planted them because I’m pretty sure that nobody crept into the garden in the night and put them there. But in my defense some of them are very old varieties. Anyway, they certainly shout out spring.

And whilst my back was turned the first of the cheery species tulips came into flower. I never planted these but they come back and increase each year. The extra bonus is that the squirrels seem uninterested in them unlike the delicious, expensive ones I plant in pots.

And next week it will officially be spring and just maybe the wind will stop blowing and we will be able to linger and enjoy every new shoot and bud. I have some more treasures I’d like to share with you and I shall be posting my Top Ten March blooms on the 23rd of the month and thereafter I shall try to always make it the 23rd. I hope some of you will join me and show us your spring favourites.

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In a Vase on Monday. Singing the Blues.

I wasn’t going to do a vase on Monday today because I am thoroughly discombobulated by this endless wind and didn’t want to go outside. Yesterday, I ducked and dived and had several near misses as walnut branches crashed onto the shed roof whilst I was sowing some seeds. Weeping Willow and Acer drummondii branches fell about like confetti and a huge holly heaved itself out of the ground and came tumbling down only minutes after I had passed by. I don’t regret the holly but it brought with it a specially nice honeysuckle  which looked wonderful last summer and a climbing rose that I grew from seed.

Rose grown from Seed.

The nearby gorgeous Cerdicyphyllum japonicum ‘Pendulum’ now sports a duct tape bandage and the Pianist and I spent a large part of the day  risking life and limb whilst we wrestled with the prickly corpse. It is not a job that promotes marital harmony. But after his adventures with the chainsaw the Pianist came in and cooked us the most delicious chicken dinner, so double Brownie points to him.

Anyway, I digress, what has this to do with Monday vases you might ask . Nothing at all, it just explains my reluctance to go outside.  But inspired by Cathy’s blue and white arrangement, I resisted the impulse to don my cycle helmet and bravely went out bare- headed in search of blue flowers. Everyone loves blue flowers and surprisingly March brings quite a few of them. I love the combination of blue and yellow and there is plenty of choice right now for a vase based on these colours.

The iris I used looks like Iris unguicularis, but it is in fact Iris lazica which unlike unguicularis I can spell. This iris comes from the Black Sea and is not so fussy about a sun baked position and a bone dry soil. It is smothered in an abundance of flowers from now until the end of March. Other blue flowers are grape hyacinths, Muscari ‘Jenny Robinson’ and ‘Valerie Finnis’  both in the palest baby blue. Deeper blue flowers are varieties of Pulmonaria officinalis,  daisy flowers of Anemone blanda and forgetmenot flowers of  Brunnera macrophylla.  Spiky rosemary is also in bloom now.

I have been cutting yellow forsythia to open inside for weeks and now it is coming into bloom outside so I used a couple of sprigs. The little  yellow mimosa-like balls belong to the tree Cornus mas.

And this is a chance to use some of the dainty little narcissus flowers which I love. They include little ‘Tête-à-tête’ the native Narcisuss pseudonarcissus which rapidly seeds around, orange- trumpeted ‘Jetfire’ and the double ‘Rip Van Winkle’ which looks as if modern hybridisers have been fiddling around with it but it has been around since 1884.

Last week I put daffodils into a vase with daffodils on it and violets into a vase with violets on it and this week I have gone even further and I have a vase with writing on it. I am only one perilous step away from having a vase with my name on it and fluffy dice in the car. But it is just the right colour and at least the writing is in French. I bought it the year we got married when you are allowed to be sentimental. It says nous deux.

Do pop over to see Cathy’s lovely blue and white arrangement. I was delighted to see she has  included the adorable little Narcissus ‘Snow Baby’ which is a must for people with greenhouses. I am going to check out the other Monday vases now, I am looking forward to seeing some lovely spring flowers.

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In a Vase on Monday. The Winds of March.

‘Daffodils that come before the swallow dares and take the winds of March with beauty.’  W. Shakespeare.

I hate to disagree with the Bard, but he has got it the wrong way round.  It is the winds that take the daffodils. It happens every year; the first tall daffodils are standing proudly to attention, blowing their own trumpets and then inevitably we get strong March winds and they land face down in the  mud.  So a little dirty and humbled they end up in my daffodil vase. This year it was the tail end of Freya that caused the damage.

We all have daffodils that we didn’t plant. And I seem to have rather a lot of ‘King Alfred’ which given a choice is the last one I would choose as I prefer the dainty dwarf varieties. King Alfred is welcome to take this daffodil and his burnt cakes elsewhere. But having said that, I can’t bear to see him languishing all over the garden so in a vase he goes. And actually looking at him close up I do rather like his frilly corona.

You might remember from last year that darling Beatrice painted a picture of Hector enjoying a nice bunch of daffodils. Don’t let that innocent expression fool you he is probably plotting which to eat first, the bee or the daffodils.

I also picked a tiny bunch of sweet violets today. They are rather invasive but I have wildish areas where I let them do what they like.

I love the elusive perfume of violets and the way they play tricks with your olfactory senses. You remember the lovely lines about music being the food of love in Twelfth Night?  The Swan of Avon summed it up beautifully when he talked about:

‘…the sweet sound
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour’.

That is exactly what violets do. It is a sort of magic trick. They get their scent from a chemical called ionone which stimulates the scent receptors and then temporarily shuts them down completely. After a while the scent comes back because the brain will register it as a new stimulus. So Shakespeare’s description is spot on and nobody told him about ionone.

You might have noticed that the daffodil vase has daffodils painted on it.

And the violet vase has violets on it.

I am a little embarrassed about this as it seems rather like having your name on the handkerchief. And what is that about? I am never quite sure whether the purpose is to remind you what your name is, or to stop other people stealing your handkerchief. Neither scenario seem very likely. And I do remember what daffodils and violets look like without having a specially painted vase to remind me. But never mind I think they are quite sweet.

I hope the other In a Vase on Monday enthusiasts have not had their flowers blown away in the UK, or buried under feet of snow in the States. But gardeners are a resourceful lot and I am sure there will be lots of spring delights on show today. Thank you Cathy at Ramblinginthegarden for hosting.

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Six on Saturday. 2nd March.

I am joining in this popular meme today, Six on Saturday hosted by The Propagator, although being constrained by only six items is a problem for me once I get going.

Number one, I just noticed today that Magnolia ‘Black Tulip’ is very unwisely casting off its furry overcoat. It usually blooms in April so I am a little anxious for it. It is a glorious flower, not black, but dark burgundy and goblet -shaped.

Magnolia ‘Black tulip’

Catkins have been amazing this year and I am very fond of the long jade green ones on the Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’. I don’t know who James Roof was but this is the garrya with the longest catkins.

Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’

Of course, when we talk about catkins we have to include Pussy Willow. I have three favourites. One is the pink Salix gracilistyla ‘Mount Aso’.

Salix gracilistyla ‘Mount Aso’

The second has black catkins ending in little cats’ claws and is very dramatic.

Salix gracilistyla ‘Melanostachys’

The third has very delicate little pussy Willows on an elegant shrub and is called Salix purpurea ‘Nancy Saunders’, but you have to take my word for the beauty of this one because I forgot to take a photo and now it’s getting too dark, but it seems churlish to leave it out when it is so pretty.

I don’t usually have a fruit harvest in late winter but this year my lemon tree has excelled itself and so I am going to make lemon possets for my guests tomorrow. Some of them are rather an odd shape but never mind.

This lemon tree spends  the winter in my summer house and lately I have been taking my coffee down there because it is a nice place to sit in February.


I am very grateful for this lovely pile of manure which is going to be a delicious treat for my roses. Special thanks to my lovely Pianist who  went up the road and got it for me, a labour of love indeed. The Pianist always says he believes in the dignity of labour, but not his labour. So shovelling excrement is not his favourite occupation. Thanks also to Pickle the horse who is owed an extra nice carrot.

I would like more than this really but I think I’d be pushing my luck to suggest it.

Now how many is that? I must finish with some some shots of my winter garden which is delighting me this year as it is nicely mature at last.


Winter garden

The little Japanese Apricot, Prunus mume ‘Omoi-na mama’ lights up this part of the garden. I believe it means ‘As I reflect’ in English.

Many thanks to our host, The Propagator, do go and look at the other Six on Saturdayers, it is quite a party.

Each month I write about my top ten blooms and ask you to join in and share yours too. Up to now it has been rather a movable feast depending when I could be bothered. I have decided that it is unreasonable to ask you to join in when the date depends on my whim so I am going to fix it at the 23rd of each month. I hope this will make it easier for people to join in and share their favourite seasonal blooms.


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The Greenhouse in February

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In a Vase on Monday. Floating Flowers.

If like me, you get carried away with your flower arranging for a dinner table, you end up with your guests having to duck and dive to see each other as they talk across the table. In my house at this time of the year guests may find themselves having to peer through dancing catkins and if they suffer from allergies they choke on the pollen. So I bought a pretty shallow Italian Majolica dish on eBay. Floating flowers means we can all see each other and they are so easy to do. This little dish wasn’t an extravagance, it cost £3.99 on Ebay. I love the little blue dragon fly. I used moss to keep the flowers upright and filled it with a rainbow of primroses. Job done.

I was so pleased at the ease and speed with which I did this that I decided to have some more floating flowers and the obvious choice for this time of the year is hellebores. We all know how they droop within an hour or two of picking no matter how you preprep them so they are an obvious candidate for this treatment. I found a large shallow bowl that my dear potter friend, Janet made us for a wedding present and I filled it with these beguiling little faces. What could be easier and prettier?

Oh dear, on the dining room table in full sun the colours don’t come out well on a photograph, they will have to go outside.

That’s better. Do join Cathy and the other In a Vase on Monday enthusiasts. It’s great fun.

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Ten Top Blooms for February.

I promised a look in the greenhouse for my next post but this will have to be postponed because this is not the sort of weather for lurking inside, outside wonderful things are happening. Incredible to think that last year at this time we were cowering from the Beast from the East. This year the thermal undies have been cast off and coats too and we are revelling in spring- like weather.  Yesterday, we had lunch outside and I saw my first yellow Brimstone butterfly. Even more exciting, I recently saw two mad March hares having a boxing match. I used to think this was two males fighting over the ladies, but I have checked and it is actually the lady hare, sorry doe, fighting off the over- ardent advances of the male. I wish I had had my camera handy.

But back to the garden which is alive with buzzing bees and courting birds. I hope your February garden is delighting you, but if it is not very colourful, here are some ideas to fill the winter garden with beauty. My favourite February bloom is no secret, but I think I have spoken about it enough this year, probably too much for some people,  so I will not mention the S word here, let’s take number one as read. On the other hand, perhaps I can be forgiven a very quick look at the rather odd Galanthus ‘Blewbury Tart’, and with that we will move quickly on.

Galanthus ‘Blewbury tart’

Let’s have a look at another little white charmer, Leucojum vernum, sometimes called Spring Snowflake, though not by me, as I am a stickler for using Latin so that we are all on the same page. Anyway it looks nothing like a snowflake. It looks more like a little lampshade or a pixie hat if one is a little whimsical. It is absolutely delightful and the only reason that snowdrop addicts aren’t going crazy about it is because they are all the same and it is the little variations that we all go mad for.

Leucojum vernum

But you can get one a little different where the tips of the petals are yellow instead of green. It is called Leucojum vernum var. carpathicum, sadly it has vanished from my garden, I suspect it fell victim to Narcissus fly. The female flies like to lay there eggs in the sun so these little beauties are best in the shade. They don’t spread very quickly so carpets are not easy to achieve. Leucojum vernum var. vagneri also has yellow tipped flowers and it has two flowers on each scape. It is taller than the other Leucojum vernum .

Leucojum wagneri

Actually I have just been out to look at my Leucojum vernum and I have found one clump with no coloured tips to the petals so they are not all the same.

Leucojum vernum

The Summer Snowflake, Leucojum aestivum also starts blooming now. It is not as attractive because the flowers are quite small  and not such a pretty rounded shape and they have long stalks,  but still it does seed about merrily and it is quite handy for a vase.

Leucojum aestivum

I have problems with crocuses, something eats the corms as fast as I plant them. I thought it was mice until I caught a squirrel in the act of eating the tulip bulbs I have in pots the other day. He waited until they had nice plump buds. But the mice are not without sin they ate all the crocuses in the greenhouse apart from the one I covered with a pane if glass. But I have carpets of sweet little Tommies, Crocus tommasinianus which seed everywhere and they are never touched. So I can’t complain. I am not very keen on the big fat, shiny Dutch crocuses  anyway, but the delicate species crocuses are delightful and the pests that pounce on newly planted corms ignore these carpets. They come in a range of colours  from the palest lilac to deep purple.

Crocus tommasianianus

I also have a few clumps of Crocus ”Cream Beauty’ and the bees have clearly visited these before they landed on the lilac Tommies and some of the children are beautiful.

Crocus ‘Cream Beauty’

As well as crocuses there are little pools of jewel -like colour provided by small irises. I grow some in pots in the greenhouse so that I can enjoy them even earlier. In the garden some of the Iris reticulata don’t last very well, these are usually the ones with narrow petals. The chunkier Iris histrioides hybrids keep going longer and spread too. Good spreaders in my garden are the reliable Iris ”Harmony’.

Iris reticulata ‘Harmony’

The lovely sky blue ‘Sheila Anne Germaney’ has yellow markings and clumps up well.

Iris ‘Sheila Ann Germaney’

Iris histrioides ‘Lady Beatrice Stanley’  is another favourite which just gets better each year.

Iris histrioides ‘Lady Beatrice Stanley’

When I finally take you into my February greenhouse I will show you some more of these adorable little irises.

My first daffodils appeared in early February. The very first is Narcissus ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’ which sometimes blooms as early as January.

Narcissus ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’

Another early one is Narcisssus ‘Spring Dawn’. It is delightful with a creamy white perianth surrounding a frilly yellow trumpet. You can see the bees like it as much as I do.

Narcissus ‘Spring Dawn’

I have a few early scillas blooming in jewel like colours too. The first in bloom is the periwinkle blue Scilla ‘Spring Beauty’, soon I hope there will be carpets of tit.

Scilla siberica ‘Spring Beauty’

And then there is the scilla with the ridiculously unpronouncable name. It looks just like a Puschkinia but it’s not.

Scilla mischtschenkoana ‘Tubergeniana’

There will be more lovely scillas next month.

Hellebores have been delighting me for weeks now. I am lucky that a previous owner loved them and planted them everywhere and they have seeded about so I have lots.

I have introduced some special ones too. There are ever more  gorgeous hybrids but I am still fond of a very old variety which I brought from my old garden. It has huge pure white flowers with star shaped wavy petals. It is called ‘Petsamo’.

Helleborus ‘Petsamo’

Some of the new doubles are dreamy.

I also love the anemone flowered ones.

Oh, I love them all and one of the joys of February is turning up their faces to look at them.

The winter flowering honeysuckle has been in bloom for weeks and gets better and better.

Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’

But now my rarer Lonicera elisae is in bloom at last. It gets going later but it is worth the wait.

Lonicera ‘elisae’

Close up the flowers are tinged with pink and hairy.

Lonicera elisae

I have been enjoying Witch Hazels for weeks now and the reds and oranges are over but the yellows are looking good.

My favourite yellow is ‘Arnold’s Promise’, it  is the last Witch Hazel to bloom. It makes a nice vase shaped shrub and is full of spidery flowers.

Hamamelis ‘Arnold Promise’

I will finish with my two beautiful Japanese Apricots. The first has deep pink single flowers and has been in bloom for the whole of February. It is called Prunus mume ‘Beni- chidori’ which is Japanese for ‘The Flight of the Red Plovers’. A blossom tree in February is very special.

Prunus mume ‘Beni-chidori’

The second one Prunus mume ‘Omoi-no-mama’ has semi-double white flowers and it seems rather rare. I first saw it years ago at Cambridge Botanical gardens and have searched for it since. Last year I finally tracked it down. It had an unfortunate encounter with The Pianist mowing the lawn rather over-enthusiastically, but it seems to have survived and I have widened the border so I hope it will be safe in future. You never know though, the dear Pianist seems to mow the grass with his eyes closed.

Prunus mume ‘Omoi-no-mama’

So there we have it, the glorious blooms that are lifting my spirits this February, I hope you enjoyed them. Please join in and show your favourite February blooms. And I promise the greenhouse will make an appearance very soon.


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Galanthomania- Snowdrop madness.

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In a Vase on Monday. Fanny.

Much as I love Jane Austen’s books, I find Fanny in Mansfield Park incredibly irritating. Pious, prim, passive aggressive and with no sense of humour; I would much rather have the disreputable Crawfords round my dinner table.  But lovely Galanthus ‘Fanny’ bears no resemblance to the fictitious Fanny.  No silly blushing for this cool lady, she is tall, self assured and serene.

I couldn’t bear to pick her for in a vase on Monday so I put the pot in a basket and covered it in moss. I found some lichen covered twigs by the river and finished it off with various catkins.The perfect tear drops opened up in the warmth. Finding the right spot to photograph it proved difficult.

I didn’t like the busy background of books in the dining room so I took her outside.
Still not right, so I thought I’d try her sitting amongst the winter aconites.

Finally, I decided the best backdrop is in front of my black compost hot bin.

Fanny is going back into the greenhouse now, I think it is too warm for her inside. So  I picked a bunch of plain Galanthus nivalis to enjoy on the dining room table. These Fair Maids of February  are such a joy and if you plant them somewhere they can spread they will seed about enthusiastically and you will always have plenty to pick. For the best results always buy them in the green, the dried bulbs don’t always do so well, or failing that ask someone with an old garden like mine to give you some.

My next post is going to have to be a snowdrop post because I can’t stop crooning over them. But after that I will take you into the greenhouse and show you what lovely things are happening in there.

Meanwhile do pop over to Cathy at Rambling in the Garden to find what she has been putting in her vase on this lovely February day. And why not join in and find something to put in a Vase on Monday, it is great fun and you will be one of a very enthusiastic crowd of garden bloggers.

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