May Sunshine.

It is a bit gloomy outside today, but I have some pools of sunshine yellow brightening up the garden. Next month will be all about tasteful pastels, but in May we still crave bright colour.

In all the lanes round here, cow parsley is making a haze of white and it looks wonderful but it is not tame enough to grow in the garden.

For fabulous foliage in the brightest, freshest colours we need to go to another umbellifer which instead of having white flowers is wonderful for spreading pools of bright yellow in the dappled shade of trees. It is called Smyrmium perfoliatum. I know some people resist Latin names but this is a lovely name to roll around the tongue. ‘Smyrmium’ derives from the word myrrh, the Greek word for perfume and if you dig up this plant the roots smell spicy. And indeed it is edible, it has a vaguely celery-like flavour. It is a relation of Smyrmium olusatrum or Alexanders as it is commonly called. The Romans brought this to use as a vegetable and Roman soldiers would carry it on long marches as all parts of it are edible. So presumably where you see it growing alongside the road, Romans have passed by. But it can also be found on sites of medieval monasteries as monks used it as a pot herb. If you are tempted to try it then don’t confuse it with another umbellifer with hollow stems, hemlock, which is deadly poisonous as Socrates would tell you.

Smyrmium perfoliatum

Smyrmium perfoliatum is delightful because the leaves are perfoliate which means they wrap round the stems as if a magician is spinning saucers round a pole. And they are such a beautiful colour and then you have the dear little umbels of chartreuse flowers. They look like euphorbias but they don’t have the horrible caustic sap of euphorbias so you don’t need hazmat suits to handle them. Actually, they are not flowers at all, they are bracts, but never mind that, they look like flowers. Flower arrangers love them because they set off whatever is in the vase so beautifully. In the garden they look fabulous with the blue flowers of brunnera or the mauve ones of Erysium ‘Bowles Mauve’. I remember seeing them at Great Dixter growing with the tulip ‘Spring Green’ and edged with forgemenots.

But for a bit of zing, my favourite combination is with the elegant bright red flowers of Tulipa sprengeri. It is not always easy to find this very late- flowering tulip and it is expensive but it sets copious seeds and if you grow these on you need ever be without it. The buds have not quite opened yet, this is one I took last year.

Tulipa sprengeri

Smyrmium perfoliatum is monocarpic and that means it dies after flowering, but it seeds around exuberantly, some people would say too exuberantly. But I like to have puddles of it under the trees. I can’t see the point of only having one or two plants. And if it shows signs of taking over, you can always find willing takers for any excess plants. Or you can eat it.

After being so rude about euphorbias I do admit to growing some, although not as many as I used to because the sap is really awful if you get it on your skin and dangerous if you get it in your eyes. The colours range from sharp lime green to acid yellow. But those of Euphorbia mellifera are bronzey orange and they smell of honey which I find irresistible. It makes a nice nice large shrub with bright green leaves. It comes from the Canary Islands and Madeira where I have seen huge bushes of it. It doesn’t get so enormous here and it needs a nice sunny spot. Insects love the honey flowers and as you can see the ants are enjoying them.

Euphorbia mellifera

Euphorbia polychroma is a must have plant at the front of my borders. Oh, hang on, I think it is called Euphorbia epithymoides now, but its common name is the cushion spurge. It is an outstanding plant in April and May with neat cushions of bright yellow flowers. It seeds about, but not excessively.

Euphorbia epithymoides

Other euphorbias in the garden were here when I came and refuse to be evicted. Euphorbia wulfenii crops up everywhere and I weed most of it out. But I like the way it has put itself in front of this old gate post at the end of the drive and it stops passing dogs from using it as a public convenience. A fully grown plant of Euphorbia wulfenii is a lovely sight with large domes of fresh lime green bracts.

Euphorbia wulfenii

Euphorbia robbiae is more invasive because it runs around. But I let a stand of it spread under some trees where it looks good with blue camassias growing through it. The lovely lime green flowers need to be cut off before they turn an ugly brown later in the summer.

Euphorbia robbiae with camassias.

Another invasive euphorbia is Euphorbia cyparissias, it makes an attractive groundcover with its little needle-like leaves and dainty yellow flowers, but I would never introduce it, it is far too greedy for space and I am forever pulling it out.

Euphorbia cyparissias

Somehow these shades of lime green, acid yellow and chartreuse seem to fit the season of May when all the foliage is so green and fresh. Soon we will be seeking a more sophisticated palette; once the peonies and roses take over, the garden will look as if it is dressed in velvets, silks and rich brocade and it will be wearing the most sensuous perfume. But for now yellow suits the mood.

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Crazy about Crab Apples.

If I had to choose just two trees for the garden I would have a magnolia and a crab apple. I adore crab apples, they give you wonderful blossom, lovely foliage and beautiful fruit. They are great for wild life as the flowers are high in pollen; they produce ten times as much pollen as culinary apple trees and the fruits keep birds going into the winter. They are also useful for pollinating apple trees. If I had a huge garden I would have a grove of crab apples, in fact I once did have space for what I grandly called my ‘arboretum’ and I did indulge my love of crab apples. Now I have limited space but I have still managed to accommodate several lovely trees. They come in various sizes, Malus ‘Golden Hornet’ which was here when we came is huge. It has yellow fruit, but I wouldn’t have chosen it. If I was to choose a crab apple for its yellow fruit I would go for ‘Comtessa de Paris’ which hangs on to its yellow fruit into the winter, whereas the fruit of ‘Golden Hornet’ tends to turn brown. Still the blossom looks lovely against the shrimp coloured leaves of Acer brilliantissimum.

Malus ”Golden Hornet’

But maybe you are looking for a smaller tree. You can get dwarf crab apples that will easily fit into a smaller garden. There is a dear little dwarf one called ‘Tina’ or then there is ‘Coralburst’ which is even smaller. There is such a variety of shapes to choose from; some are upright, almost columnar ,others are round-headed and others are weeping. My pride and joy is Malus transitoria which I grew from seed. It took about 15 years to get to this size. Most crab apples don’t come true from seed but this one does. It comes from China and it is an attractive little tree with finely cut leaves. In May it has clouds of starry white flowers and in the autumn it has yellow fruit hanging like beads from the branches.

Malus transitoria

Also with snow white blossom I have Malus brevipes ‘Wedding Bouquet’ which has masses of shell- like flowers. Later it has small, translucent red berries which persist into December.

Malus brevipes ‘Wedding Bouquet’

I have another white flowered crab apple which I don’t have a name for. I bought it for £15 because it didn’t have a label. Maybe I will be able to identify it when it has fruit. Meanwhile it has pretty white blossom.

Some crab apples, like ‘Red Jade’ have white flowers opening from pink buds which makes it look like the usual apple blossom. It makes a pretty weeping tree.

Malus hupehensis is a bit later flowering and is still in bud. It too has white flowers opening from pink buds, they are lightly fragrant. It comes from China where the leaves are used to make tea. Like Malus transitoria it comes true from seed, although I haven’t tried growing this one from seed. It has bright cherry- red fruit.

I have already written about my amazing Malus ‘Princeton Cardinal’ which is sometimes known as simply ‘Cardinal’. It is a variety of Malus hupehensis and in my eyes, it is peerless if you want a crab apple with dark pink flowers. It has dark red leaves which are hardly visible amongst the abundance of blossom. I have featured it in my header picture. Later it has dark red fruit.

Malus ‘Princeton Cardinal’

Another tree with dark pink blossom is ‘Laura’. She is a dwarf tree with an upright habit so handy for a limited space. I love the dark pink blossom with a white stripe. The fruits are large and a maroon colour.

Malus ‘Laura’
Malus ‘Laura’

Having said that ‘Princeton Cardinal’ is my favourite, a close runner up is my latest indulgence. I went to a nursery to take photographs of crab apples for this post but quite forgot to take any because I fell in love with Malus ‘Van Eseltine’ and I could think of nothing else but how to fit it into my small car. I managed with difficulty and as you can see it has fabulous double pink flowers.

Malus ‘Van Eseltine’
Malus ‘Van Eseltine’

Of course, the other advantage of growing crab apples is that the the fruit has a high pectin content and so is ideal for making crab apple jelly if that is the kind of thing you like. Personally, I prefer to leave them for the birds because I am not keen on sweet things. But it is simple to make.

Crab Apple Jelly.

1lb washed, sliced crab apples.

1 pint water.

Simmer until the fruit is a pulp.

Strain through a jelly bag, do not squeeze if you want clear jelly, you have to be patient.

Add 1lb of sugar for each pint of juice.

Boil for about 5 minutes until it reaches setting point.

Bottle and store.

Throw away in a year’s time if you are me. Or else give away jars to friends, they make nice looking presents, specially if you get pretty, rustic labels and lid covers. And then your friends can throw it away in a year’s time. Or do some people actually eat the stuff?

Anyway, that is my collection of beautiful crab apple trees; please remind me that I really do not have enough room for any more if I start talking about them again. After all, I have other obsessions that have to be accommodated. We are coming up to peony time and then there will be roses. And I shall definitely need more roses. I always do.

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Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May…..

Trust Shakespeare to hit the nail on the head, he was a keen observer of nature. We are getting strong May winds tonight which are following on from an almost entirely rain-free April with constant frosts, so many gardeners are feeling a little disgruntled. But my precious tree peony, Paeonia suffruticosa which I grew from seed is quite unperturbed by the winds, but I wish it would get warmer because I can hardly wait for the nice fat buds to open.

Paeonia suffruticosa

The charming, cerise Paeonia mascula is already showing pink. This is native to Southern Europe and has single scented flowers.

Paeonia mascula

I was thrilled to discover a couple of seedlings nearby and so I have carefully dug them up and put them in pots. As I also have the pale lemon Paeonia mlokosewitschii or ‘Molly the Witch’ as she is often called by people like me who cannot remember her correct name, I am not sure what colour the flowers will be. I grew some of Molly’s children on a few years ago and they turned out to be various shades of pink.

Paeonia mascula seedling.

Many of the darling buds of May are now tender new leaves and their freshness and gorgeous colours make the heart sing. The new leaves of acers are often dazzling in their intensity. Here are a few, the others are still in bud.

But for impact in spring, Acer brilliantissimum is well named for its intense shrimpy -coloured leaves. This tree is one of the plants I am grateful to my predecessors here for and I like the way it is planted as a group with the silvery leaves of Whitebeam, Sorbus aria behind and Amelanchier lamarckii to the side with its white flowers and bronzey leaves.

This is another Amelanchier lamarckii which I coppiced because I wanted a multi-stemmed bush rather than a tree in this spot. The flowers don’t last long but the foliage is pretty and colours well in autumn.

Amelanchier lamarckii

Talking of lovely leaves, Acer brilliantissimum often has seedlings which look as if they would grow into ordinary sycamore trees if I left them. But I was delighted to find this seedling the other day which looks as if it will make a lovely tree one day, but it is nothing like its mother, I don’t know how that happened..

Acer brilliantissimum seedling

I also love the dazzling spring leaves of Photinia x fraseri ‘Pink Marble’. The one you usually find is ‘Red Robin’ which is lovely but I love the variegation on this one.

Photinia x fraseri ‘Pink Marble’

I could go on and on talking about leaves and buds but I would like to show you a few flowers which are lovely right now, May blooms are so fleeting. Most of my magnolias are over now but the primrose yellow’ Elizabeth’ is always later and what a good thing as I should hate to see her lovely flowers browned by frost.

I have quite a few crab apples and some of them are still in bud. But I don’t think any of them can compare with Malus ‘Princeton Cardinal’ for sheer flower power.

Malus ‘Princeton Cardinal’
Malus ‘Princeton Cardinal’

My favourite May shrub is Exochorda ‘The Bride’ which has long lasting snow white flowers and I think the bush is such a pretty shape.

Exochorsa x macanthra ‘The Bride’

The flowering currants are just about over now but I have an unusual member of the Ribes family growing against my front wall. Everyone thinks that it is a fuchsia because it has dangly flowers like drop ear rings. It is bright scarlet and so really eye-catching.

Ribes sprciosum

The lilacs are coming out now and they of course smell divine but Viburnum burkwoodii smells wonderful too. This one came from a cutting from my previous garden but it is now mature and blooming profusely. It smells a little like furniture polish, but in a nice way.

Viburnum burkwoodii

I really should include a climber in this early May round up and Akebia quinata is a favourite with flowers that smell of chocolate. I have the cream form as well but it is not as striking as this one.

Akebia quinata.

Last year it produced a large lilac seed pod and I sowed the seed in a pot without labelling it and forgot about it. I ended up with a mystery plant which baffled me for a while until I realised it is a young akebia plant, I wonder if it will come true from seed.

It seems churlish not to mention the tulips which are looking wonderful right now but perhaps they can be for another time. Instead I will finish with my very first irises in bloom which are the rare Iris bicapitata from the Gargano peninnsula in Italy. I fell for this iris when I saw vast swathes of it growing wild .

Iris bicapitata
Iris bicapitata

May is such an exciting month as new blooms are appearing every day. Let’s hope we will get some warm weather to enjoy them soon. And above all, some rain. We are supposed to get some rain tonight and this sky looks as if we might; but I am not holding my breath, it always seems to pass us by.

The tree is the double form of the wild cherry, Prunus avium ‘Plena’, it is one of my favourite cherries.

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Once in a Pink Moon.

Pink Super Moon and Church Tower

Once in a pink moon is how often I seem to post lately. But I am still here my friends, working ever more obsessively in the garden. But I cannot let spring slip through my fingers without writing about some of the choicest of spring floral treasures which are the woodland flowers which do their stuff before the canopy of leaves blocks out the sun. However dedicated we are we cannot create anything as beautiful as nature lays out for us every year in the remnants of ancient woodlands. I grow wood anemones of course, but I cannot produce anything as startlingly beautiful as this. Carpets of wood anemones like this one are indicators of ancient woodland.

Anemone nemorosa

Bluebells are another indicator of ancient woodlands. Here in the UK we are particularly proud of our bluebell woods and justly so; we have 50% of the world’s population of bluebells. A walk through the woods in April is an unforgettable sensory experience, the whole woodland floor is shimmering, misty blue and the delicate fragrance fills the air. It is not surprising that bluebell woods were considered the domain of fairies.

Hyacinthoides non -scripta

And here and there if you know where to look for them are little pools of Early Purple Orchids. Add to the mixture swathes of white wild garlic and stitchwort, the yellow of celandines and patches of wood spurge and you have pictures that no gardener can hope to emulate.

Orchis mascula

Readers of my blog will know that I have been busy with new projects in the last months. At last I can show you one of these projects which is the creation of a new woodland garden. There were plenty of trees here and cow parsley and brambles underneath, along with self seeded elders, oh, and nettles, lots of nettles. It always looked untidy and messy.

I had the tree surgeon come to clear all the trees and lower the hedge right down so that we have a view of the countryside.

When he had finished we realised we had been missing the blaze of autumn colour of the wild cherry trees in the little nearby wood.

And now of course they are a froth of blossom. It’s a pity about the neighbour’s poly tunnel but apart from that we have a lovely borrowed landscape. Instead of nettles I now have a lawn with tulips.

But back to my woodland garden; I have kept two huge horse chestnuts, an oak and a large field maple and had all the lower branches removed. I got rid of quite a few pine trees but kept a few as their tall straight trunks give a cathedral- like feel and their fallen needles provide an acid soil for azaleas.

In other new parts of the garden I simply put a membrane down and covered it with wood chips to avoid the tedious job of clearing away the weeds first. But here in my woodland I want plants to seed and make carpets so I have had to clear it by hand. Oh dear, I don’t think I will do it again. Cow parsley has long tap roots and if you break them they simply regrow. Also the ground is full of seeds just waiting to go so I have to hoe regularly. It has been a painstakingly laborious task and makes me think nostalgically of Roundup. I have made a wood chip path to wind through the little woodland garden and now I just need to wait for a few centuries for it to establish. Here is the work in progress.

And here is the finished path.

The beds look very bare but I have started planting; luckily I have lots of woodland plants in other parts of the garden so I have moved them here. I am going to have a wait for it to look well established but at least I have made a start.

I have a variety of different wood anemones; some are double, others are pink, blue or palest yellow.

I don’t have any native bluebells in my woodland but I have plenty of chunky Spanish interlopers which are everywhere and I have given up the impossible task of trying to get rid of them. I can at least stop some of them going to seed by picking big bunches for the table.

Hyacinthoides hispanica

Of course I am not restricting my palette to native woodlanders because the North American treasures are particularly delightful. I love trilliums and I have a particularly fine clump which has travelled around with me and delights me every spring.

Trillium chloropetalum

Also from America, I have the delightful double Sanguinaria ‘Flore Pleno’ which blooms and then disappears completely until the following year.

Sanguinaria canadensis ‘Flore pleno’

Another North American woodlander which I fell for is the dainty Anemonella thalictroides which is a bit like a wood anemone but perhaps even prettier with bronze-tinted leaves.

Anemonella thalictroides

Unfortunately, the Vicar has run out of snakes’ head fritillaries to graze on and he decide he’d like to try these as a change. He doesn’t actually eat them, just tosses the heads about. I think such an ecclesiastical-looking gentleman should behave with more dignity.

The erythroniums are not native here either but no self-respecting woodland garden can be without them. And they seed around if they are happy. They are so beautiful with their recurved petals.

From China we have epimediums which soon spread into carpets. You have to remember to remove their leaves in winter or the delicate flowers will be hidden. ‘Pink Elf’ is still sitting in the gravel round the pond but when we get some rain I shall move it to its new home. In fact the lack of rain has rather brought planting to a halt which is a shame just as we are now vaccinated and feeling that perhaps it is safe to put our noses out of the door and go on nursery trawls.

I have put quite a few tulips on the sunny edges of the woodland garden but I am absolutely besotted by the woodland tulip Tulipa sylvestris which has fragrant blooms and is happy in light shade.

Tulipa sylvestris

I have also planted some little clumps of small narcissi but my absolute favourite which I have put at the entrance to the woodland is the diminutive, but perfectly formed Narcissus ‘Segovia.’

Narcissus ‘Segovia’

I could go on, I haven’t even mentioned the primroses which I have a special passion for and of course are an essential ingredients of the woodland garden but this is getting rather long so we can come back to it another day.

But before I go, whilst I am I indulging my fantasies of woodland gardens, I must show you my one blue poppy, a recent purchase which is sheer self-indulgence. I know it is hopeless to try and grow blue poppies here in Suffolk as it is far too dry, but just for this year I can enjoy this solitary Meconopsis ‘Branklyn’ and if I squint at it I can imagine a whole sea of exquisite blue poppies, just as I have to squint at the moment to see carpets of wood anemones and other treasures in my new woodland garden. But give me a year or two.

Meconopsis ‘Branklyn’

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In a Vase on Monday. Easter Eggs.

It’s too cold to linger in the garden today so I picked a few treasures to bring inside for my French porcelain egg. And because I love fragrance many of them smell nice. Their are two kinds of skimmias here, ‘Rubella’ and ‘Kew Green’. There is a hyacinth and several small narcissi, all fragrant .And I picked one of the wild Cyclamen persicum from a pot in the greenhouse. So the dining room smells lovely.

Skimmia confusa ‘Kew Green’

I also picked one flower of my Magnolia ‘Leonard Messel’ which is looking wonderful right now. Goodness knows what it will look like after a few nights of frost.

The pussy willow in the above photo is a delightful one called Salix purpurea ‘Nancy Saunders.’ It makes a very elegant little bush and looks good all year; the miniature catkins which appear in spring are so dainty. The wine coloured anemone is Anemone coronaria ‘Bordeaux’ and it is my current favourite, it looks nice with the deep pink corydalis.

Anemone coronaria ‘Bordeaux’

The wine- coloured Akebia quinata is also a good match for the dark anemone. It is supposed to smell of chocolate but I can’t detect it. The snake’s head fritillary, Fritlliaria melagris picks up the colour.

I used three or four different Grape Hyacinths, Muscari including the pale ‘Peppermint’ and the chunky ‘Blue Spike’. The blue is picked up with a few flowers of Chinodoxa luciliae. The Iris looks like Iris unguicularis but it is in fact Iris lazica from the Black Sea. This iris blooms prolifically and it has shiny green leaves.

Scilla luiciliae

The shrubs I used are common Forsythia intermedia which was all over my garden but there is now just one for picking. Osmanthus burkwoodii is evergreen with small white highly fragrant flowers. For foliage I used the marbled leaves of Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Elizabeth’.

Osmanthus x burkwoodii

So this is my Easter egg arrangement. I hope you are enjoying the Easter abundance in your gardens and if it is a bit too chilly to linger outside then why not pick a posy of something lovely and link in with Cathy’s meme In a Vase on Monday at Rambling in the Garden so we can all enjoy it too.

Oh, and if you think the title Easter Eggs means we have lots of lovely chocolate eggs, there is no such decadence in this house. The other eggs are made of Tiger Eye and Amethyst. But I rather wish they were chocolate.

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Six on Saturday. Spring Fever.

Well the clocks go forward to night so at last we can really say that it is spring. Yippee! But the sharp wind doesn’t feel very spring-like and it has created rather fuzzy photos, but never mind we have to celebrate the garden in its spring party finery and if the photos are a bit blurry it is because the flowers are dancing.

My number one is this really pretty little peach tree.

Prunus persica ‘Meldred

When I was a child my grandmother grew a peach tree from a stone and every year it was laden with luscious fruit. My endeavours to grow peach trees have all ended dismally until I found this wonderful Prunus persica ‘Meldred’. The reason for my failures have all been because of peach leaf curl, caused by the fungus Tafrina deformans. This fungus is caused by rain falling on the tree in spring and the leave curling disease weakens the tree each year until it dies. This tree is dwarf and lives in a pot in the greenhouse where spring rains can’t get at it. I brought it out today to photograph it and to give the bees a chance to pollinate the flower. I would grow this tree for the lovely dark pink blossom alone but in late summer it gives me small but very juicy fruit.

Flowering currants are ubiquitous and I have kept one of the shocking pink one which seeds everywhere and was all over the garden and I also grow several different sorts which are more sophisticated. But I am very fond of this white flowering one which blooms before the buds on the pink one open up. It is called Ribes sanguineum ‘White Icicle’ which seems a good name for it.

Ribes sanguineum ‘White Iclicle’

I love early cherry blossom and I also love dainty blossom rather than the big blowsy ones that bloom later. Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’ fits the bill perfectly. The name means ‘Flight of Butterflies’ which is a beautiful description for the masses of delicate little flowers. This is a dwarf shrub and it sits perfectly in my winter garden because even when it is not in bloom the zigzag twigs of the bare branches look lovely.

Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’

A favourite shrub in March is the lovely Stachyurus praecox which has racemes of primrose yellow, bell -shaped flowers like strings of beads dangling from each bare branch. I believe Americans call this ‘Spiketail’ but I wish they wouldn’t, it is such an ugly name for such delicate beauty. In a previous garden I had a stachyurus with beautifully variegated leaves in summer after it had finished blooming. It was called Stachyurus ‘Magpie’ and I have never been able to find it since I left. I am still trying to hunt it down.

Stachyurus praecox’

I love any sort of sweet pea type flower and the little perennial spring- flowering one is a gem. It is called Lathyrus vernus ‘Alboroseus. The flowers are pink and white and the clump gets bigger every year. I also have the purple Lathyurus vernus but it always blooms a bit later. Occasionally, you get seedlings. Bees love this plant and so do I.

Lathyurus vernus ‘Alboroseus’

Fritillaries are amongst my favourite spring flowers and I have quite a few different varieties but the first one into bloom is Fritillaria imperialis ‘Early Fantasy’ I love Crown Imperials and I have clumps of them round the garden in red, orange or yellow but this peachy one is new to to me this year. I just bought the one to see what it is like but next year I shall have to empty out the piggy bank and have a big clump of them. It is so pretty.

Fritillaria imperialis ‘Early Fantasy’

I like it against the cinammon -coloured bark of Acer griseum with a pool of apricot violets at its feet.

So here are my six on Saturday to join in with The Propagator and his ever growing band of enthusiastic followers who find interesting horticultural things to share with us each Saturday. Do go and see.

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Six on Saturday. Taking the Winds of March with Beauty.

Spring has come screaming in like an unruly ten year child crashing about and slamming doors and generally being very annoying. You get so irritated by the constant noise and buffeting that you forget to notice the glories the wind is bringing with it. It is not just Shakespeare’s daffodils which are taking the month of March with beauty, every day there are exciting things to enjoy. Everywhere in my garden hellebores look as if they are doing the cancan with their frilly dresses whirling and the spring beds are beginning to look like Botticelli ‘s Primavera. But constrained by the requirements of the meme ‘Six on Saturday’ , I’ll show you some special treats which I braved the gales to look at, although the photographs will probably be a bit blurry.

First of all is the rhododendron which I grow in a pot by the pond. It is early flowering but not as early as its name suggests. Rhododendron ‘Christmas Cheer’ blooms in March but it used to be forced in heated greenhouses and brought inside to bloom at Christmas so that is how it got its inappropriate name. I’m not a great fan of rhododendrons possibly because I don’t have the right soil for them, but I love this early beauty.

Rhododendron ‘Christmas Cheer’

I have a pretty little shrub which has starry white flowers on naked stems in February and March. It is called Abeliophyllum distichum. I don’t know why it is so rarely grown because anything which blooms so early is welcome and these little flowers are deliciously fragrant. It needs a nice sunny spot and perhaps mine should be in a better position but still it blooms well and I like it flowering in front of the grey trunk of my walnut tree which always reminds me of an elephant.

Abeliophyllum diistichum

One of my favourite March shrubs is Edgeworthia chrysantha which comes from China where its bark is used for paper. The flowers emerge from silky white buttons which hang tantalisingly on the shrub all winter and are a constant worry if you forget to cover the bush up as I did this year. One night when we had a particularly bad night I hurried down the garden in my dressing gown to cover it with a tablecloth. But despite this neglect it is blooming happily and shows no sign of frost damage so perhaps it is hardier than I thought. The clusters of flowers are the colour of cheap custard and they are fragrant. I think these shrubs grow well on the edge of woodlands and they don’t like to dry out.

I have grown the pretty Pieris ‘Valley Valentine’ in a pot for a couple of years and after complaining that I can’t grow rhododendrons you will probably be surprised to hear that I have planted this shrub which is a calcifuge (plant which grows in an acid soil.) in my new woodland garden. But I have a clump of old pine tree, or I did have, I have just got two of them now, but the soil underneath has been mulched with pine needles for years. So far my lovely Pieris looks very happy here. This particular variety has panicles of deep red bell-shaped flowers.

Pieris ‘Valley Valentine’

Japanese apricots have been in bloom for a few weeks now and Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ blooms intermittently throughout the winter but the first cherry blossom in my garden comes on the pretty dark pink single flowers of Prunus ‘Kursar’. This is a small, neat tree and as well as early pink blossom you get lovely foliage.

Prunus ‘Kursar’
Prunus ‘Kursar’

So far I have just talked about shrubs and trees so let’s finish off with one of the stars of the Primavera beds. It is the pretty, little corydalis which spreads everywhere in shades of pink, red and purple. I started with named varieties but I am more than happy to let nature have its way and produce flowers in a whole range of shades.

Corydalis
Corydalis ‘Blackberry Wine’

So there we have my six on this windy, March Saturday, I would like to go on but we have to obey the Propagator‘s rules, I believe he is very strict about it. Do go and check him out and see other Six on Saturday posts.

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In a Vase on Monday. Dydd Gwyl Dewi Hapus.

St. David’s Day marks the end of the winter and what an interminable one it has been this year. But after a weekend of sun, exciting and beautiful things are happening in the garden.

But to celebrate St. David’s Day and the advent of March today’s vase has to have daffodils, which according to the Bard ‘come before the swallow dares and take the winds of March with beauty’. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

To introduce my vase here is my grand- dog, Hector who no longer gets to spend every Tuesday helping me to dig the garden. Lovely Beatrice has captured his soulful expression beautifully.

The earliest daffodil in the garden is ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’. It is a tall daffodil with a large trumpet and it starts blooming in January. It is still going strong and tides us over until the main March ones get going.

Narcissus ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’

Another early-flowering daffodil is ‘Spring Dawn’ and I love this one, it has pale lemon cups and a creamy white perianth.

Narcissus ‘Spring Dawn’

But perhaps my favourite early- flowering daffodil in the garden is the dainty ‘February Gold’ which doesn’t loll about as ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’ sometimes does, but who can blame it after a week of snow? But ‘February Gold’ came into bloom after the snow and it stands up beautifully straight and has lovely swept back outer petals.

Narcissus ‘February Gold’

To go with these early daffodils I used some Summer Snowflakes, Leucojum aestivum which always bloom in winter despite the name. I have clumps of this all over the garden and although it is not dramatic it is useful for vases. The drama is in the sinister- looking black claws of the pussy willow, Salix melanostachys.

Salix melanostachys
Narcissus ‘Spring Dawn,’, N. ‘Rijnveld”s Early Sensation’, N. ‘February Gold’ with white ‘Leucojum aestivum’

It is nice to start off the month with flowers from the garden but there is something worth celebrating in the greenhouse too. It is my mimosa, Acacia deabalta which is in full bloom and filling the air with its warm, powdery scent. The fragrance takes me right back to the south of France where we spent one magical February roaming the mimosa forests of the Massif du Tanneron.

Acacia deabalta

I know that mimosa can become invasive in certain climates and indeed it has become so in the south of France where it threatens the native flora. But here in Suffolk it rarely survives outside although I have occasionally seen it thriving in sheltered corners. Mine lives in a pot in the unheated greenhouse. I am going to have to give it a short back and sides or it will have to take its chance outside next year. But there is no chance of it becoming a nuisance here. I snipped a bit for today’s IAVOM and put it in an old ink pot.

Acacia deabalta

The lemony yellow is a perfect match for the daffodils.

I see that Cathy from Rambling in the Garden who hosts in a ‘Vase on Monday’ has found herself looking towards spring too with some early daffodils. So do go and see. What a lovely and appropriate way to celebrate spring and for me it is a chance to say Happy Birthday to my Welsh friend, David who was appropriately enough born on St. David’s day. Plen-blwydd hapus David. And a very hapus day to everyone now that March is here with all its floral delights.

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The Winter Garden.

And so it goes on, this is not what we are used to in Suffolk. The snow plough had to clear the top of the lane. We bravely ventured out, and even the Pianist wore his bear suit, his is a fetching shade of blue but it has no ears. I think bear suits should have ears. To make up for this he wears a furry hat. One of the great advantages of getting older is not caring what you look like.

I don’t know whether we are being singled out here in the East, but if we are I think it’s a poor show. Talking about bear suits, I was very taken by an item of news the other day in the Derbyshire Times with the headline ‘Lockdown fine for naked man’. Presumably, it is not so cold in Derbyshire. A man was fined £200 for breaking lockdown and parking in a closed car park. He said his journey was necessary to buy wet wipes and he took some wrong turnings and got lost. I don’t know whether wet wipes are essential items. He didn’t explain why he was sitting in his car completely naked but the story cheered me up enormously. I am not sure whether the fine was for going out, for being in a closed car park or forgetting to put his clothes on, but presumably £200 covers the lot and is a lesson to us all.

But I digress, let’s rewind to last Friday when the sun shone, the birds sang and my winter garden sparkled. Spring was really in the air or so we thought. Here we are at the winter garden. If you look carefully you will see a ghost lurking in the top left of the photo, but never mind that, here is Hamamelis ‘Jelena’ looking wonderful with Cornus ‘Winter Fire’.

The witch hazels are the best they have ever been this year.

Hamamelis ;Jelena’
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelelna’

‘Jelena’ looks fabulous with the orange cornus and to the right, the ghostly white stems of Rubus thibetanus ‘Silver Fern’ which is not quite as invasive as the more common, Rubus cockburnianus. But still I keep it firmly under control

The coloured stems of cornus are wonderful for the winter garden and I have them in red, orange, yellowy green and black. The best orange one is ‘Anny’s Winter Orange’ but I forgot to take a photo of it and it doesn’t look very orange right now. The next one is the very vigorous Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’ which is supposed to be golden but it is more yellowy green. Behind it is the holly-like ‘Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki Tricolour’ and behind that a phormium. I am very keen on lots of contrasting shape and form in the winter garden.

The black Cornus kesselringii is a good foil for the white blossom of my Japanese Apricot.

The thin stems to the right of the birch tree belong to another cornus, this one is a low growing suckering one called Cornus sericea ‘Kelseyii’. To the right of the birch is Abies koreana which I love for its shape and its wonderful cones which stand like candles on the tips of the branches.

Cornus stolonifera ‘Kelseyii’ is a neat, thin stemmed cornus which suckers and makes a nice dense bush. The stems are reddish brown.

Cornus stolonifera ‘Kelslyii’

To the right of the little cornus is Betula albosinensis ‘Pink Champagne’.

Abies koreana

I like to have lots of coloured stems in the winter garden but I also include a few conifers. On the photo below you can see the red stemmed Acer pensylvaticum ‘Erythrocladum’ in the foreground and red Cornus alba ‘Baton Rouge’ behind the abies. The conifer to the left is Cryptomeria japonica ‘Elegans’ which usually turns a coppery bronze in winter but this year is staying stubbornly green.

I love rich chestnut brown stems too and the peeling bark of Prunus serrula looks fabulous with Meulenbergia astonii which is like tangled copper wire.

Muhlenbergia astonii with Prunus serrula

Evergreens are an important part of the winter garden. The native daphne laureola pops up all over my garden and I value it for the shiny, evergreen leaves. The epimedium in front of it will have its leaves cut off soon so that the flowers stand out.

Photinia fraseri ‘Pink Marble’ is another evergreen and I love the way the leaves are variegated with pink and cream.

Photinia fraseri ‘Marbled Pink’

Another shrub with pink leaves which looks good all year round is Lophomyrtus x ralphii from New Zealand.

Lophomyrtus x ralphii ‘Red Dragon’

Sarcococcas are evergreen and the smell when you walk past them is wonderful.

Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna
Sarcococca confusa

The shrub Edgeworthia chrysantha has little yellow button flowers which are fragrant. Before the snow arrived the buds were just about to come out. I am worried about it tonight though because the temperature is supposed to be going below -7 c.

Edgeworthia chhrysantha

I am also very worried about the flowers on my white Japanese Apricot, Prunus mume ‘Omoi -no-mama’, it is my pride and joy.

Prunus mume ‘Omoi-no-mmama’
Prunus mume ‘Omoi-no-mama’

I have shown you several witch hazels in recent posts and now my first yellow one is in bloom. It is called Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Westerstede’ and like most of the yellow flowered ones its leaves go buttery yellow in the autumn.

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Westerstede’

Nearby I have a yellow leaved choisya called Choisya ternata ‘Goldfingers’. As I said, I like contrasting foliage and texture so this is planted with the silver hedgehog holly, Ilex ferox ‘Argentea’ and a curly hazel, Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’

And then we come to the the stumpery and beyond this is where I have been working for weeks developing a new part of the garden. But that is for another day.

Of course there are many different snowdrops down here, I know quite a few bloggers don’t quite get the snowdrop obsession, so I will show you just a few to try and convince you that they don’t all look the same.

Galanthus ‘Godfrey Owen’
Galanthus ‘Wendy’s Gold’
Galanthus ‘Robin Hood’
Galanthus ‘Titania’
Galanthus ‘Bill Bishop’
Galanthus ‘Diggory’
Galanthus ‘Angelique’
Galanthus ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’

I might have to show you some more another day when the snow has gone. And then there are the hellebores too but they will have to wait. The winter garden is worth another visit because it looks better and better as the spring comes on.

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In a Vase on a snowy Monday.

Well here we go again. The Beast from the East Mark 2 or Darcy as we have to call her this time. I was going to write about my winter garden today and now the whole thing is a winter garden; white, icy, cold and monochrome. The Pianist thinks it looks beautiful and asks me where my aesthetic sense is. So to please him I put on my bear suit onesie and went out and looked at it, on the condition that there would be no snowballs, snowmen, snow angels or any of the fatuous things grown people find to do in the snow. Actually, wearing four thick jumpers, two pairs of trousers and a furry bear suit ensured he didn’t suggest we went walking out of the garden because I look like an ursine Michelin man. So, here it is, my first appearance on my blog, My neighbours don’t get to see this sartorial vision but you do. Maybe the look will catch on. But perhaps not, as you can see I am not a happy bear.

This is supposed to last all week and beyond. What with endless lockdown, combined with arctic conditions, we will all end up as white-eyed troglodytes, specially if like me you loathe the stuff. I for one will be a very unhappy bear.

Anyway, we made our way down the garden. As you can see, nothing but white stuff.

And here is the actual winter garden looking very wintery indeed.

I designed my garden for colour and interest all year round so that there is always something exciting and beautiful to enjoy even in the depths of winter. On Friday my Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ was looking and smelling divine.

Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’

Today she looks like this.

Beautiful Hamamelis ‘Vesna’ was looking fabulous too.

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Vesna’

But now she is encased in snow.

But I pride myself on having something to pick all year round, there must be something. I thought I would pick some dainty Pussy willow, Salix ‘Nancy Saunders’ but the pond has risen so high after constant rain that I would have had to swim out to her on Friday, and today I would need skates. This pond has never been so full. I didn’t go near in case I fell in and was never seen again.

The pond on Friday

But I managed to get a few catkins and some sprigs of the pink pussy willow, Salix gracilistyla ‘Mount Aso’.

Salix gracilistyla ‘Mount Aso’

I knew there was a pink hyacinth buried in the snow so I dug her out.

Somebody asked me if my Clematis cirrhosa var. balearica ‘Wisley Cream’ is hardy. She seems to be coping so far under her roof of snow. So I picked a couple of sprigs.

And then after cutting a few sprigs of the red stemmed Cornus Baton Rouge’ I had to admit defeat and go and see what I could find to pick in the greenhouse. I picked a liiac flower of my carnivorous plant which is a butterwort, or Pinguicula vulgaris and to match it I picked one little Iris reticulata ‘Painted Lady’. And then I picked a few hoop petticoat narcissus and that is all I could manage today.

Clematis cirrhosa var. Balearica ‘Wisley Cream’
Iris reticulata ‘Painted Lady’
Narcissus bulbodicum ‘Mary Poppins’ and Narcissus bulbodicum sbsp. obesus ‘Diamond Ring’

So there we have it my Beast from the East posy. And thank you to my friend, Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for encouraging us to go out and find something for a vase even on the bleakest of days. Very soon I shall post about my winter garden, not as it is now, covered in horrible snow, but as it was on Friday when the sun shone and spring seemed to be in the air.

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