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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.