New Plants for New Places.

Here we are at last in our new home with a new garden which certainly isn’t blooming. It is weird to have to buy flowers as there was never a single moment in the blooming garden when there was nothing to pick. And here there is nothing at all, not even a bit of nice foliage.

I have a relatively small space here so I have had to think long and hard about which trees and shrubs I simply have to squeeze in somehow. Obviously in a small garden you must have only the choicest and the best. The front garden is compacted gravel at the moment with room to park eight cars. I don’t know why anyone would need parking for eight cars, but I am going to hire a mini digger to loosen it all and then get some top soil delivered. This will be my winter garden. I like the idea of having a winter garden at the front which is overlooked by the conservatory. The conservatory is an exciting bonus of this house and I will show it to you in another post.

I have already bought a few essential trees and shrubs for the winter garden. The first one I bought is the very fragrant Daphne bhloua ‘Jaqueline Postill’. This is my desert island plant, the one I can’t do without. Here it is in my previous garden.

Almost just as important for me is the Japanese Apricot, Prunus mume ‘Beni-chi-dori’. The dark pink blossom comes out in February. The one in the photo sadly died in last summer’s drought.

Prunus mume ‘Beni -chi-dori-

Beautiful bark is just as important as flowers in winter so I have bought a multi-stemmed Prunus serrula which will have shiny mahogany bark which peels off in tatters. I hope I can find a Muehlenbeckia astonii to put in front of it as I did before.

The slow -growing Acer griseum has cinnamon- coloured, peeling bark and is also a must-have. I have a small one waiting to be planted. It will take a while to look as good as this one.

I have to have a birch and I particularly wanted to buy Betula albosinensis ‘Pink Champagne’ which is a small to medium-size birch with beautiful pinkish peeling bark. But I couldn’t find it at any of the nurseries I visited, so I bought a multi -stemmed, chalk white Betula jacquemontii which was reduced to £15 and I can’t resist a bargain. I haven’t bought any plants for over a year as I knew I was going to move and I can’t believe how expensive they are now. I know Betula jacquemontii will grow too tall but I will worry about that later. The photograph shows Betula ‘Pink Champagne’ with Abies koreana behind it.

I have also bought a corkscrew hazel which looks wonderful in winter, specially coated in snow, although I don’t like it so much in summer. I just looked up why this is known as Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick. It was named after a Scottish entertainer who was popular in the early years of last century. His trademark was a crooked walking stick. People were easily amused in those days.

So these are my maids- in -waiting for the winter garden. I shall also buy one or two dwarf conifers and my queen of all firs, Abies koreana which is so elegant, compact and slow-growing and has candle-like cones. Abies koreana ‘Silberloche’ has silvery curving needles.

I hope I have room for one or two witch hazels, a chimonanthus, a winter flowering honeysuckle, plenty of cornus for coloured stems and a skimmia. I had better stop now and move into the back garden as I have a horrible feeling that I don’t have the room for all the plants I consider indispensable for a winter garden.

The back garden has benefitted from the attention of the tree surgeon.

At great expense I have got rid of three huge conifers, several dead trunks and a variety of dismal trees, a tree house, a rabbit hutch and run, a plastic slide and a huge clump of running bamboo; a phyllostachys variety. The bamboo has had its roots grubbed out with a stump grinder but I am sure it is just biding its time to make a come-back.

There is a little pond and I have planted a little weeping larch, Larix kaempferi at its side. I have one or two acers in pots to sit round it and by the bench down here I have planted one of my essential trees, the fabulous Cercis canadensis ‘ Forest Pansy’. It has velvety deep reddish-purple leaves which turn golden and purple in autumn. In the photo it is shown growing by the pond in my old garden with the wonderful Cornus alternifolia with silvery-white, variegated leaves. The blue poppies didn’t last, of course. If you buy blue poppies in Suffolk you have to treat them as an annual.

There are a few trees in the garden here which have been spared by the wood chopper. One is a huge magnolia which I think will turn out to be Magnolia soulangeana and there is a good specimen of Magnolia stellata. I am crazy about magnolias so I have also bought ‘Leonard Messel’ which tends not to be so susceptible to frost and I love its tattered flowers so I had to have one, and I managed to find one that was a decent size and didn’t break the bank.

There is an upright Irish yew which I have spared and a large ancient apple which has been disfigured by brutal pruning at some time, but I shall grow a Paul’s Himalayan Musk rose up it.

There is a pear which has also suffered from some cruel pruning but I am saving it to use as a climbing frame for a clematis. The only other tree I spared is a conifer, I think it is a cryptomeria which lent itself to being pruned into a lollipop shape.

It is hard not to have room for lots of blossom trees but I have bought Prunus ‘Kursar’ which is quite compact and I love it for its dark pink flowers which appear in March just as we are feeling that we have had enough of winter. It has good autumn colour too. The one in the picture is only a few years old so mine should soon look like that.

Every garden can find room for a little Fuji cherry. I love Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’ for its delicate pale pink flowers in spring. It looks good in winter with its zig zag branches and it has red and copper leaves in autumn, so it is a good all year-rounder. It is very slow growing.

If I feel that I can’t manage without any frothy pink blossom I will try to find Prunus ‘Little Pink Perfection’. ‘Pink Perfection’ is one of the showiest cherries with long-lasting rose-pink blossom flowering into early May. It has a good autumn colour too. I haven’t got room for ‘Pink Perfection’ but ‘Little Pink Perfection’ is a naturally dwarf form and grows to about half its size and would grow in a tub.

I feel sad that I can’t grow lots of crab apple trees because I love them. I have bought one little tree because it had lost its label and was very cheap. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn out to be a large one. There are a couple of smaller growing varieties and I hope I have room for one of them. One is Malus ‘Coralburst’ which is a naturally dwarf variety with coral pink buds opening to deep rose pink flowers followed by bronze fruit. The other is a very small variety with a lovely habit and white flowers followed by cherry- like fruit. It is called Malus ‘Tina’.

In May, my last must-have magnolia comes into bloom. It has cream, fragrant flowers bursting from brown suede-like buds and evergreen leaves. It is Magnolia ‘Gail’s Favourite’ and it is mine too and I must find room for it.

For summer, I have to have a small philadelphus for wonderful fragrance. I love P.’Snowbelle’ with gleaming white double flowers but I don’t find it as strongly fragrant as some others. This is the one in the picture below. I think I might go for ‘Belle Etoile’ this time. It has fragrant flowers stained with wine red at the centres.

I love white flowers so I must have a white-flowered cornus which should look good against the black shed. I think the best white flowered one is Cornus ‘Eddie’s White Wonder’. Another cornus which I hope I have room for is Cornus alternifolia which was much admired in my previous garden where I grew it by the pond. It has small variegated leaves and and a layered habit a bit like its big sister Cornus contraversa, the Wedding Cake tree. I hope the Cornus ‘Eddie’s White Wonder’ in the picture is still alive, it is yet another shrub which suffered from last year’s drought.

For summer, I shall grow a mallow, Abutilon vitifolium as I love its large single violet flowers. The one in my last garden died in the very cold spell in early winter. The variety I like is ‘Veronica Tennant’ but you can get a white one too. My plant never produced seedlings but I have a friend who has plenty of babies so I can grow one on. They are quick growing.

Another plant which was much admired in my previous garden is the lovely Indigofera pendula. This has dainty pinnate leaves and racemes of violet pink flowers. The weeping form is difficult to find so I hope I can track one down.

I have to grow something for autumn colour and I particularly love liquidamber. I know it grows big but there is an upright form. It is called Liquidamber styraciflua ‘Slender Silhouette’ and as it has a fastigate habit it will be fine at the bottom of the garden and nearby I will plant another autumn must- have which is the Katsura tree which has beautiful coloured autumn foliage which smells of toffee apples. Cercidiphyllum japonicum grows very big and is fast growing, but there is a smaller weeping form which I used to grow and I hope I can find it again. It is Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Pendulum’.

I haven’t mentioned roses and of course I must have lots as they are my passion. Fortunately I have lots of walls and fences and I have bought some arches. I have bought quite a few bare-root roses which are just heeled in at the moment and I will talk about them another day. I am still reeling at how much I spent on them.

I have no idea whether I have room for all these shrubs and trees that seem so essential to my happiness. And I am sure as I think some more and the season goes on, I will come up with others that I can’t live without. Obviously this is going to be a problem. I’d be interested to hear about other people’s must have trees and shrubs.

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And Now For Something Completely Different.

Big changes are taking place here in the blooming garden and difficult decisions have had to be made. I haven’t blogged for a long time as I haven’t had the heart to write about the garden knowing that we will be leaving it and as each new bloom opened I knew I was seeing it for the last time. So I found it painful to write about it.

Readers of my blog will remember my son, Bertie’s jetty garden at Pin Mill. Bertie and his lovely Beatrice moved to a beautiful part of south west France two years ago. We visited them and fell in love with the place too. So we have bought an ancient medieval house there – well, to be accurate, we have bought a medieval ruin which has caused family and friends to think we are mad. Perhaps we are. We are Francophiles and have always dreamed of having a home in France and now having our loved ones there is the time to do it. Throwing myself into this project distracted me from the implications for the garden here. After three weeks away during a drought this summer it looked terrible, so leaving it for weeks or more at a time is unthinkable. So I have had to do all the mental and emotional gymnastics required to bring myself to the place where I can leave our lovely home and garden. I never thought this would happen. But the new owners are enthusiastic about the garden so it will continue to be well loved.

Looking for somewhere new in the UK, was disheartening. Throughout the summer here, house prices spiralled and there was a bidding war for any desirable properties. The whole buying and selling process has been long drawn- out and stressful as these things tend to be. But eventually, we were lucky enough to find and secure a house that we think will suit us very well. The garden is quite small and it needs a lot of work to get it as I want it; but that’s OK, I love a project. The front garden will be my winter garden; at the moment it is just gravel. The back garden has just a big, misshapen magnolia, a few ugly conifers and a big clump of Phyllostachys, the invasive sort of bamboo which worries me rather. I love bamboo, but only the nice, well-behaved, clump-forming ones. And there is a Leylandii hedge. And there is a large expanse of decking. So all in all, pretty awful. I will show you photos when we move and all suggestions will be welcome.

So in January we will be leaving here. I shall eventually carry on with my blog. Although the garden we have bought in France and the one we are buying here are not blooming at all, of course, in time they will. It will be different because I have an acre at the moment and I grow loads from seeds and cuttings and I buy whatever takes my fancy, as I have plenty of space. Readers of my blog will know that the garden here is crammed full of plants so that I have gorgeous blooms all year round. I haven’t bought any plants for nearly a year so I have withdrawal symptoms. Prowling round nurseries is my favourite occupation, so I am looking forward to choosing plants for my new garden. I may have to ask for advice, as I have never gardened in a small space before. I suppose you have to be very disciplined and only grow the choicest and the best. Anyway, I shall show you both my new gardens when the time comes, or the spaces where my gardens will be, and will welcome suggestions. I might even give you a peep into my new houses.

In the meantime I am busy as there is so much to see to and endless sorting out and throwing away. I got held up for some weeks because I broke my ankle by cycling too fast down a narrow lane and ending up in a ditch. So instead of packing I have been reclining on a sofa asking the Pianist to peel me grapes. It took him a week to clear out the loft in between grape peeling. Tackling the shed crammed full of a mountain of plant pots was a nightmare, I wrote about the shed here. I have no idea why I thought I might ever need thousands and thousands of plant pots. We had to get a skip for them and all the other mountains of rubbish we seem to have accumulated. And the garage was a horror story too. But getting rid of all your junk is very liberating, I have thrown away clothes that I haven’t worn for twenty years and I am baffled as to why I kept them so long. Piles of greeting cards from loved ones have been ruthlessly discarded. Theatre programmes from long forgotten performances, gardening magazines going back thirty years; it’s endless the stuff I have hoarded. Getting rid of so much ballast is good for the soul, but it takes ages. Packing now takes up all our time and Christmas here is going to be spent walled in by boxes and boxes. We are having endless discussions about each other’s ridiculous hoarding habits. I question his suitcases full of cables and CDs that he cannot play because he has nothing to play them on. He wants to know why I have nearly 400 gardening books and four big boxes of jugs. Between you and me I am a bit puzzled about all those jugs myself. And then I have a serious succulent addiction; the house is disappearing under seas of succulents as it is too cold for them outside. And then I have nightmares about all the plants in the greenhouse; I have no idea how I am going to move all these plants.

Anyway, I will see you all on the other side in my new gardens. Have a wonderful Christmas and a joyful New Year and I am looking forward to catching up with you all once the move has happened.

In the meantime, here are just a few of the wonderful plants that I am very sad to say goodbye to.

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Six on Saturday. Here Comes the Sun…

Wonderful warm sunshine has opened the furry buds of Magnolia stellata astonishingly quickly. It is always a worry when the snow white, starry flowers open in March as the first night of frost will turn them brown. But right now they are beautiful, and as with all fleeting blooms I’m relishing them in their brief moment of perfection. This little shrub is slow-growing but unlike many magnolias it starts blooming when young. It comes from just one mountain area in north -east Japan. I think it looks lovely underplanted with sky-blue Anemone blanda, but mine have yet to make a carpet.

Magnolia stellata

Even more beautiful in my eyes is Magnolia loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’ which has Magnolia stellata ‘Rosea’ as one of its parents. You can see this in the strappy petals.

Magnolia loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’

Whereas Magnolia stellata has made a modest-sized shrub in my garden, after ten years, ‘Leonard Messel’ is a good-sized tree. The buds seem to open astonishingly quickly and yesterday, the delicate pink flowers looked magical against the blue sky. ‘Leonard Messel’ is supposed to be more tolerant of lime in the soil than many magnolias, although having said that, I grow more than ten different magnolias and they all do very well despite not having an acid soil.

Magnolia loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’

The wine-red flowers of the chocolate vine, Akebia quinata are yet to open, but I think Akebia quinata ‘White Form’ is even prettier and it blooms earlier and looks lovely right now. The creamy-white flowers have striking purple centres and they are deliciously scented. Akebia quinata is a climber which needs quite a lot of space as it grows quickly.

Akebia quinata ‘White Form’
Akebia quinata ‘White Form’

I have mixed feelings about the ubiquitous pink flowering currant. I do not object to it on the grounds of its smell as some people do, in fact it is one of those smells which gives me Proustian moments and takes me straight back to my childhood garden. But pink flowering currant is a bit of a horticultural cliché. The white form called Ribes sanguineum ‘White Icicle’ is somehow much more refined. It starts blooming earlier too and has been going strong for ages now. Whilst it is still looking good I think it deserves to feature in my Six on Saturday. Next to it is the pink pussy willow, Salix gracilistyla ‘Mount Aso’. The bright pink catkins have now turned to grey.

Ribes sanguineum ‘White Icicle’

Another March favourite is Stachyurus praecox. This shrub doesn’t grow very quickly in my garden. I think it would prefer a more acid soil than I can provide. But still it is healthy enough and delights me each year with the strings of yellow beads hanging from the bare branches. This is a photo from last year as the one I took yesterday is out of focus. I could take another but the sun is calling me and I can’t keep out of the garden one more minute.

Stachyurus praecox

At ground level, there are more and more spring treasures opening every day. My first Pasque flower, Pulsatilla vulgaris is blooming now. This is a pretty pink one with large flowers called ‘Rosen Glochen’ which means pink bells. In the wild, Pasque flowers like limestone meadows; the nearest native ones here are in Cambridgeshire, but it is very obliging and does well for me. I have it in several colours and soon I will have the lovely fringed form ‘Papageno’ in bloom. This pink one is always the first to open in my garden.

Pulsatilla vulgaris ‘Rosen Glochen’

Lathyrus vernus. ‘Alba- roseus’ is a small, compact, bushy, vetch-like plant with sweet pea -type flowers in two-tone candy-floss pink. It seeds about gently and looks lovely with primroses and pulmonarias. The purple Lathyrus vernus seeds about more prolifically but it blooms later and is still just in bud.

Lathyrus vernus ‘Alboroseus’

I really haven’t a minute more to spare for this post as the sun is calling most tantalisingly and the garden awaits. So without more ado, I will thank our host, the Propagator and remind you to visit him and his ever-growing team of Six on Saturday enthusiasts. And I will leave you with a gallery of just a few of the flowers that didn’t make Six on Saturday this week but are very beautiful.

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Six on Saturday. Spring at Last.

We’ve had some terrible storms lately but at last spring is really here and the garden is spangled with flowers. I got a little disheartened when we were buffeted by Eunice, or it could have been Franklin or Dudley, they came in such quick succession and fences and trees came crashing down. A huge leylandii fell right across the winter garden which is my pride and joy. There should be a special place in hell reserved for people who plant Cupressus x leylandii. But it is gone now and the tree surgeons deserve badges for the delicate way they disposed of it without doing too much damage. And it all looks lovely, especially as the spring bulbs are coming out.

What to choose for my six is difficult amongst so much abundance, so I shall start with some fragrance. In the green house my mimosa, Acacia dealbata has been blooming for some time and it still looks and smells wonderful with its fluffy yellow balls. I know this is an invasive weed in some countries but there is no risk of that here. The slightly musty sweetness takes me straight to Provence.

Acacia dealbata

Out in the garden the tiny flowers of Azara microphylla are like miniature mimosa flowers. But even though the flowers are small and insignificant, the fragrance is incredibly powerful. I usually don’t even notice that it is in bloom until I walk down the garden and get strong whiffs of pure vanilla as if someone is making custard. The shiny, little leaves are evergreen. This tree comes from Chile and a really bad winter may blacken some of the leaves but it always recovers.

Azara microphylla

My number three is also yellow and fragrant but it is a shrub rather than a tree. The scent doesn’t carry on the air as it does with the first two, you have to get up close and intimate with it. But it is very sweet; I believe it is related to the Daphne. It is Edgeworthia chrysantha. The clusters of tubular blooms appear on leafless stems and they emerge from hairy buds.

Edgeworthia chrysantha

My favourite cherry blossom, Prunus ‘Kursar’ always comes into bloom in March. It is a small tree that would fit into any garden. I love it for its dark pink, delicate blooms. It makes quite a statement and in the autumn you get another show with brightly coloured leaves.

Prunus ‘Kursar’

The ground is spangled with a Botticelli carpet of blooms and it is difficult to single out just two favourites. I will have to choose Corydalis solida as my number five because as it disappears entirely after blooming you are always surprised at this time of the year to see it coming up in sweety-coloured carpets. It has pretty feathery foliage. I started off with named varieties like Corydalis solida ‘George Baker’ in red, ‘Beth Evans’ in pink, ‘Blackberry Wine’ in purple and ‘White Swallow in white and now I have them in rainbow colours.

Corydalis solida
Corydalis solida
Corydalis solida

I have a pretty corydalis which pops up uninvited in my garden, but I don’t mind, it is not too invasive and it looks rather like a fern. It is Corydalis cheilanthifolia.

Corydalis cheilanthifolia

Now we come to number six and this is a bit tricky to choose. Daffodils are popping up everywhere as they should do in March. I don’t like the big flowered ones so much, although they are useful for vases Anyway, I think I will write about dainty little narcissi another time, as the hellebores which started in January are now making their grand finale and are looking fabulous. They do very well in my garden and seed themselves around in drifts. I love the frilly party dresses of the doubles, but I also love the anemone -flowered ones and the picotees and the spotty ones and- well, all of them really. There is no such thing as an ugly hellebore. I’ll just show you a few.

So there are my six for March. And now I am going to catch up with all my blogging friends as I haven’t been around for a bit to see what everyone else has been doing. Thanks as usual to our host The Propagator and his faithful band of Six on Saturday enthusiasts.

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In a Vase on Monday. Snowdrops.

I suppose I should have a vase of red roses to celebrate Valentine’s Day, but I can’t manage those in February. But what I do have in abundance are snowdrops. And as they are my passion , then a posy of these is much more to my taste to grace the table for our Valentine’s dinner tonight. I put them in my little snowflake Mdina glass vase which I believe comes from Malta. I used simple Galanthus nivalis and the double form Galanthus nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’ as I have carpets of these. For a lovely honey fragrance I put in a few stems of Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’ and Galanthus ‘Ginn’s Imperatii ‘as these are the ones which smell the strongest when brought into the house.

And as I picked so many I had enough to put into the lovely snowdrop mug my daughter gave me for Christmas. So I have enough to enjoy in the living room too.

I do have carpets of these beauties as I suppose they have been self-seeding for many years. But I have nothing quite on the scale of the woodland garden I visited yesterday. Over a period of ten years these have been carefully divided and replanted every year and now it looks as if the ground is covered in snow as far as the eye can see.

In a Vase on Monday is, of course hosted by the lovely Cathy at Rambling in the Garden. She has been busy this weekend with an NGS Open Day, but nevertheless she has found time to share a vase with us.

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Six on Sunday. Harbingers of Spring.

I was busy yesterday so I missed Six on Saturday, so I’m afraid today it has to be Six on Sunday. It is such a joy to walk down the garden on a sunny February day as it was on Friday and to hear the blackbird in full voice, the woodpecker industriously drilling into trees and to find a sea of silky, lilac Crocus tommasinianus has magically opened up. These little Tommies need the sum to open but when they do, early bees appear and spring seems to be showing a tentative face at last. They are the first crocuses to bloom and I love them more than their big, fat, shiny Dutch cousins.

Crocus tommasinianus
Crocus tommasinianus

And amongst the lilac I have the odd one which is yellow tinged with lilac.

The lovely little lampshades of Leucojum vernum have come out all of a sudden and surprised me too, I hadn’t noticed that they were in bud.

Leucojum vernum

And of course, I can’t let February go past without showing a couple more snowdrops . They are wonderful this year and despite the lack of severe frosts, they have not been eaten by slugs as they sometimes are when it is mild. Galanthus ‘Anglesey Abbey’ is distinctive because it has shiny, apple green leaves and dainty flowers with either no green markings, or just the merest spots sometimes as these have this year.

Galanthus ‘Anglesey Abbey’

I am very fond of Galanthus ‘Augustus’ which was named after E. A.Bowles. It is a plicatus snowdrop and has broad leaves with a pale stripe down the middle and nice, chunky, dimpled flowers. It spreads well in my garden.

I have three snowdrops with yellow ovaries and marks on the petals; ‘Madelaine’, Spindlestone Surprise’ and ‘Wendy’s Gold’ and they all make nice clumps. This is ‘Wendy’s Gold’.

Galanthus ‘Wendy’s Gold’

It’s funny how many yellow flowers are called gold. It is the same with foliage; yellow foliage is usually described as gold, which I suppose sounds more impressive than yellow. I once had a large garden where I could indulge all my horticultural whims. So in a sheltered corner, I made a little ‘gold’ garden with ‘gold’ foliage and ‘gold’ flowers. It was enclosed by hedges and had a round pond in the middle with a little fountain. One day when I was sitting smugly contemplating it, it suddenly dawned on me that what I had was a yellow garden, it wasn’t gold at all. It was all very yellow, every leaf and petal of it was yellow. It all turned to custard in my eyes and I couldn’t love it as much after this revelation. Anyway, this little iris is a hybrid of ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ and it is called ‘Katharine’s Gold’. And as you see it is yellow.

Iris ‘Katharine’s Gold’

And this is Iris unguicularis which has been blooming all winter. It looks far too fragile for the coldest days. It is wonderful for vases if you pick it in bud.

Iris unguicularis

I don’t really have the soil for camellias and the ones I have planted in the garden look quite miserable apart from this one which grows and flourishes and has beautiful pink and white blooms in February. I wish I could remember its name. Usually frost turns the flowers brown but this year they are unscathed. It is a mystery why this camellia does so well, it grows right next to a walnut, Juglia regia which I always thought poisoned the soil. In front of it is Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ which is also extremely healthy. For some reason, I seem to have a little acid pocket in this corner. And with the elephant’s trunk grey of the bare walnut, it is a pleasing group.


Fragrance is very important for the winter garden. It tempts out the bees and delights passing humans. I particularly value flowers that you don’t need to bury your nose into because the scent drifts on the breeze. For this reason I have sarcococca dotted here and there. I think the most fragrant variety is Sarococca hookeriana var. digyna which comes from China . Its little creamy tufts are pinkish at the base and they are not very noticable, but the scent is amazing. It is difficult to describe but I’d call it a musky sort of honey.

Sarcoococca hookerana var. digyna’

So those are my six, but every day there is more happening. February is a short month that can be cold but usually you get a few delightfully sunny days and every day there are more beautiful surprises in the garden. Six on Saturday is hosted by The Propagator and I hope my Six on Sunday doesn’t break the rules too much by being a day late.

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Six on Saturday. More Winter Beauties.

Usually, by the end of January, I have had enough of winter, but this year has been so bright and sunny, that I am happy if it lingers a bit longer so that I can enjoy my winter garden in its winter dress. I have a wonderful gardening book, The Startling Jungle, published in 1986, by Stephen Lacey which for years was my gardening Bible. But one thing I would disagree with him about, is his idea that winter-blooming plants should be dotted amongst the garden’s skeletons rather than corralled together to present what he calls ‘an unnaturally bountiful picture’. Clearly Stephen doesn’t want to be startled in February. What nonsense; who wants to see the odd jewel rising from a sea of brown, soggy desolation? Well, my winter garden is not exactly Disneyland, but it is full of colour and gives me enormous pleasure because everything in it earns its place. If we get a sunny day without wind I shall have another go at doing a video so that I can show you round.

I have shown you quite a few twigs and trees with beautiful bark, but so far I haven’t featured my beautiful Acer griseum. This is sometimes called the Paperbark Maple because it has lovely, tattery, peeling bark. It is a beautiful cinnamon colour. In autumn, it gets lovely red foliage. This is one of my ‘must have’ trees. It is slow-growing and doesn’t get very tall, so it is suitable for small gardens. It is one of the finds of Wilson who introduced it from China in 1901.

Acer grieum.

Ribes laurifolium delights me on two counts; because it blooms in winter and because it has green flowers. I don’t know why, I can never resist green flowers. Ribes is in the Flowering Currant family and I am very fond of them and grow quite a few. This one has leathery leaves, hence its name. It is the earliest into bloom. It does sprawl rather so it is better trained up a wall if you have space. Bob Brown of Cotswold Garden Flowers Nursery says it belongs to ‘the Miss Whiplash School of Gardening‘ and must be securely tied to a wall where it will grow up to 6ft tall. I have a much more laissez- faire attitude and I like mine to sprawl and this way it is easy to layer. It prefers semi-shade. I have the form ‘Amy Doncaster’, but ‘Rosemoor’ is another one to look out for.

Ribes laurifolium ‘Amy Doncaster’

Whilst I am taking about green flowers I have to slip in the apple-green flowers of Helleborus argutiflolius which means ‘holly-leaved’. It used to be easier to remember when it was called Helleborus corsicus. This lovely plant seeds about the garden once you have it. It has been in flower for ages and is a real asset in the winter garden.

Helleborus argutifolius

Hellebores are coming out all over and as they do very well in my garden and seed about prolifically. I have carpets of them, although this doesn’t stop me buying one or two specials each year. Really they deserve a post of their own so I will just show you a couple for now. The first one is a picotee seedling which I am particularly fond of because it looks at you quite boldly and so many of them hang their pretty heads.

The next one is an anemone- flowered seedling which looks right up at you.

Double hellebores look as if they are wearing frilly party dresses.

Narcissus ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’ is the earliest large trumpet daffodil to bloom and in sheltered places it appears in January. People seeing it think that it is a unusually early, but this is its normal time to bloom and that is why it is very well named named; daffodils in early February are sensational. This is quite an old daffodil, it was bred in 1943 by F. Herbert Chapman. I was intrigued to know why it was called ‘Rijnveld’s Sensation’ and found that although it was bred by Chapman, it wasn’t until 1956 that a Dutch nurseryman, Rjnveld registered it in his own name, which seems rather a cheek.

Narcissus ‘Rijnveld‘s Early Sensation’

Dwarf irises are like little winter jewels but many of them, specially Iris reticulata hybrids have to be renewed frequently. Iris histrioides is more reliable. Having said this, I find Iris reticulata ‘Pauline’ comes up year after year and it is always one of the first miniature irises to bloom in my garden. It has velvety, purple blooms which are fragrant but only if you get on your hands and knees to sniff it.

Iris reticulata ‘Pauline’

The lovely sky-blue Iris ‘Katharine Hodge’ is quite reliable too, but not so early. But I did find one little bloom growing through the ivy.

Iris ‘Katharine Hodgkin’

I can’t finish without a couple more snowdrops. They are my passion and keep me entranced throughout February. I am always worried about overloading you so I think a drip- feed of two or three at a time is the best way of showing them so as not to bore you. Today, the first is Galanthus ‘Robin Hood’ with his distinctive cross on the inner section.

Galanthus ‘Robin Hood’

The next one is a twin-headed seedling which has appeared in my garden. I think it is a seedling of Galanthus elwesii ‘Kite’ which regularly produces two heads per scape.

Galanthus elwessii ‘Kite’ seedling

And finally we have Galanthus elwesii ‘Godfrey Owen’ which is quite distinctive because it is the only elwesii to have six outer petals and six inner segments so it has nice, rounded flowers like little lamp shades.

Galnthus elwesii ‘Godfrey Owen’

February is a wonderful month as long as we don’t get any snow; the birds have started singing, the afternoons are staying light longer and each day there are more and more snowdrops and hellebores to enjoy. And I have lots more to share with you.

I shall try to come back next Saturday with some more February treasures. In the mean time do check out The Propagator and his ever-growing band of Six on Saturday enthusiasts.

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Six on Saturday. January Delights.

Storm Malik is making photography a bit fuzzy today but it is mild and these January blooms bring so much pleasure. In the greenhouse I have adorable hoop petticoat daffodils. This one Narcissus ‘Mary Poppins’ has increased nicely since I bought it. She is a lovely creamy white.

Narcissus bulbocodium ‘Mary Poppins’

Outside I have great drifts of the buttercup yellow cups of Winter Aconite, Eranthis hyemalis. Some people find this quite difficult to establish but once it gets going it seeds everywhere. It is one of the delights of January.

Eranthis hyemalis

I can’t talk about January flowers without mentioning snowdrops. But because I have a lot of different ones and can talk about them about at length, and frequently do, I will try and be disciplined here and just mention two. And for those of you who think that all snowdrops look alike, I hope these two will persuade you that they don’t. The first is ‘Galanthus ‘Trumps’ with the distinctive green marks on the outer petals.

Galanthus ‘Trumps’

The next one has flowers which are a delightful balloon shape and look as if they are made of seersucker. It is called Galanthus ‘Diggory’.

Galanthus ‘Diggory’

A lot of people grow winter flowering honeysuckle for its wonderful scent. Lonicera fragrantissima makes rather a sprawling bush. Lonicera purpusii is probably better. But one you don’t see so often is Lonicera elisae, it seems to be quite rare. It makes a much more compact bush and the long, hairy, tubular flowers are very pretty and of course, strongly fragrant.

Lonicera elisae

One of my favourite winter flowering trees is just coming into bloom now. It is the white form of Japanese Apricot and it has delightful semi- double flowers which are almond scented It is called Prunus mume ”Omoi-no-mama’ which apparently means ‘Memories of Mama’. I grow it in front of the black stems of Cornus kesselringii.

Prunus mume ‘Omoi -no-mama’

I am finishing with my favourite winter flowering shrub which scents the whole of the front garden. It is the peerless Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ It is quite windy in my front garden and she always loses all her leaves in winter. I think she looks much better like this with a mass of beautiful flowers. Because I love this so much and daphnes are short-lived I have it in other parts of the garden too. Elsewhere it is more sheltered and they hang on to their leaves but the flowers don’t stand out nearly so well. I have other daphnes but Jacqueline is queen of them all.

Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’

I am not a great fan of winter but this year January has been mild and often sunny. And although winter goes on for a long time I adore plants that bloom in the darkest months. And so many of them are fragrant too. I have kept to the rules this week as I am joining in with The Propagator’s meme, Six on Saturday and one has to be disciplined. Well, I have almost managed to stick to the rules, apart from slipping in an extra snowdrop. But there are plenty more winter blooms to enjoy at this time of the year, if you live in the UK January doesn’t have to be flowerless.

if you go over to the Propagator you can see the many other Six on Saturday contributions from around the world.

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Ancient Suffolk. Yews and Puddingstones.

I love old things. My house was built in 1500, that was before Henry viii came to the throne and started chopping off his wives’ heads He was only nine at the time. But there are older buildings in Suffolk. The pretty little Norman church at Wissington was built in the 12th century. When the wool trade enriched this part of Suffolk in the 15th century many of the churches were enlarged and embellished but this little church in the middle of nowhere was overlooked.

St. Mary’s Church, Wissington

The carved tympanum over the south door is beautiful and dates from the early 12th century.

South Door, Wissington Church.

The church even managed to be overlooked by ‘Smasher’ Dowsing, the enthusiastic Puritan iconoclast who was responsible for much of the destruction of pictures and Catholic imagery in East Anglia during the reformation. There are 12th century wall paintings, including one of the earliest depictions of St.Francis of Assisi in England and an early 15th century painting of the dragon which was said to have appeared from the River Stour in 1405 and terrorised the locals.

In these days there appeared lately an evil dragon of excessive length with a huge body, crested head, saw-like teeth and elongated tail in land near the town of Bures near Sudbury, which destroyed and killed a herd of sheep. The servants of Sir Richard Waldegrave who owns the land haunted by the dragon came forth to shoot it with arrows which sprang back from its ribs as if they were metal of hard stone and from the spines if its back with a jangling as if they were hitting bronze plates, and flew far away because its skin was impenetrable. Almost the whole county was summoned to slaughter it but when it saw that it was to be shot at again, it fled into the marsh, hid in the reeds and was seen no more.’

Wall Painting, Wissington Church

It was a joy to find this little clump of Galanthus elwesii nestling in the churchyard when I went to photograph it this afternoon on a bitterly cold January day.

Galanthus elwesii Wisssington Chuurchyard.

But older than any building, yews have always been part of the British landscape. They are one of only three native conifers. Fossil remains show that Taxus baccata is at least 15 million years old. But many living yews are an incredible age. They were venerated by Druids and many of them were planted on sacred sites which Christians then took over. Longbows made of yew were used by English archers at the Battle of Agincourt. In 1911, a yew spear tip was found in Clacton, Essex. It is 420,000 years old and the oldest wooden artifact ever found. Yew trees rot inside with age so you can’t count rings to tell their age, instead you have to measure their girth. There are yews in the UK which are over 1000 years old, they are the oldest living organisms in Europe. They constantly regenerate by rooting from their branch tips when they touch the ground and also roots grow through the hollow centres.

Suffolk doesn’t have the ideal conditions for yews but nevertheless we have one or two old ones. This beautiful tree is in the churchyard of Preston St. Mary quite near to where I live. It is 800 years old and predates the 14th church by a long time so presumably this was always a sacred site. I find it sobering to look at a living tree like this one and imagine that it was there when Genghis Kahn and his Mongol hordes were sweeping across Eurasia and crusaders were on the rampage killing the poor Cathars in south west France and attacking moslems in Jersualem.

Taxus Baccata, Preston St. Mary Churchyard

Irish yew known as Taxus baccata ‘Fastigata’ is an upright form. Irish yews are not ancient at all. Every one dates back to a mutant form of Taxus baccata found in County Fermanagh in 1780. I had one in the middle of my lawn which had to go, as it stuck out like a sore thumb and anyway it got in the way of the croquet.

Taxus baccata ‘Fastigata’

But even older than the oldest yew tree are the amazing puddingstones which are several million years old and the world’s rarest rocks. They are a conglomerate stone which is a mixture of mostly flint pebbles which started off mixed with clay in a river bed. They became bonded together when they were compressed and rolled around by glaciers in the Ice Age. They have the appearance of plum puddings because of all the pebbles bound up in what looks like rough cement. When the Ice Age ended they tumbled into rivers and were scattered round the countryside. Here in Suffolk which is a stoneless countryside apart from flint, they were thought to be magical stones. They were often used in the foundations of churches or as markers at crossroads or fords. There is one in the beautiful village of Kersey which nearly got destroyed a few years ago.

Kersey, Suffolk

Workers from Suffolk Highways department were just about to start attacking it with pickaxes when a local man spotted them and it was saved. It has sat there since the Pleistocene Age bothering nobody and it’s not until the 21st century that it’s suddenly considered to be a ‘tripping hazard’.

Puddingstone, Kersey

I am not surprised that stones have been venerated. I am sure I’m not the only one who loves them and carries stones back in their pocket from wherever they visit. I grew up in the Peak District of Derbyshire and miss having rocks to clamber on here. In my previous garden I had a massive rock installed with great difficulty and planted birch trees in a circle round it. I used to wash the birch trees every year so they were gleaming white; they could do with a wash now. I moved away 16 years ago and I have since heard that local gossip has it that I was a Druid. I don’t know if they thought I sacrificed goats and cockerels or what. Actually nobody knows exactly what Druids did or believed as they left no written records. Anyway, I am not a Druid; I am just someone who loves ancient buildings, rocks and trees. And that is why I decided to write this post.

My previous Garden.
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Six on Saturday. Twigs, Bark and Leaves in the Winter Garden.

We have had some beautiful January sun this week which cheers the spirits and lights up the foliage and coloured stems in the winter garden. The trees I planted down here are now mature enough to make a show.

This is one of my favourite birches. It is Betula albosinensis ‘Pink Champagne’. You can see a bit of the pinkish tinged bark to the left of the tree. It is so beautiful I feel I ought to make something out of it; maybe wrap it round a jam jar for winter arrangements.

The conifer to the left is one of my favourites, it is Abies koreana. Now it is mature it has upright cones which look like candles .

Abies koreana

I also have Cryptomeria elegans which usually looks wonderful in winter as it turns a lovely bronze colour. This year it has been so mild that it has stayed green.

Cryptomeria elegans on the left.

Of course coloured stems are an important part of the winter garden. The red stems behind the Abies koreana belong to Acer conspicuum ‘Red Flamingo’, this wonderful tree looks good all year round. In summer it has pink, green and white variegated leaves.

Acer conspicuum ‘Pink Flamingo’

Another acer with fabulous winter stems is Acer ‘Bi Hoo” this is planted in the newest part of the winter garden which isn’t mature yet. I have planted Box along the stepping stone path which will eventually be trimmed into a round shape so they look like snowballs if we get any snow.

Acer palmatum ‘Bi Hoo’

Cornus stems are vital for the winter garden, I have them in black, golden-green, red and orange. Here is my newest cornus, it is even brighter than ‘Winter Fire’, it is called Cornus ‘Anny’s Winter Orange’.

Cornus ‘Anny’s Winter Orange’

Prunus serrula should be in every winter garden, it has such lovely shiny bark which peels off in ribbons as it matures. I grow it with the matching brown Muehlenbeckia astonii which looks like copper wire netting. Behind you can see green and red dogwoods.

Prunus serrula with Muehlenbergia astonii

I think I have reached my six which is a shame as there is so much else looking good in the winter garden and whilst we are talking about leaves I am going to have to include a sneaky number seven which is too good to miss out. I was never very good at either keeping rules or counting. This little shrub looks wonderful all year round. It is called Lophomyrtus x ralphii ‘Magic Dragon’.

Lophomyrtus ‘Magic Dragon’

We’ll be going back to the winter garden again soon, I am so pleased with it and each day there is more to look at down here. I have just checked some early photos and I realise that I started this seven years ago, it seems like yesterday. I have gradually made it bigger over the course of the last few years and I have gobbled up all the lawn down here.

Here are a few photos of how it started and developed. I started seven years ago by digging up the turf, I must have been mad. Here it is dug over and waiting for some manure to be spread.

All this lawn disappeared in 2019. No more digging though, I just covered it up with a membrane.

Now the lawn has all gone and there is a gravel path through the winter garden. Winter goes on for a long time, it is worth creating something lovely to keep you going through the murkiest months. Anyway, I seem to be digressing so much that it is a bit cheeky to call this Six on Saturday, nevertheless this is what it is, give or take a plant or two. I need some discipline or I would keep you here all day whilst I showed you every plant in my lovely winter garden. As it is some of them will have to wait for next time. I haven’t even started on the snowdrops.

With thanks to our host, The Propagator and apologies for bending the rules yet again.

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