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JEARRARD'S HERBAL




28th December 2014

Nerine bowdenii 'Mark Fenwick'
A quiet week in the garden when the weather has done nothing very dramatic but I awoke this morning to find a layer of hailstones on the ground and a light frost silvering the grass. Christmas has passed and we move into the awkward hiatus before the first warm days of spring. The first thing to get through is the strange week before New Year. It is the traditional time for cleaning up the Sarracenia and I have made a start after the usual prevarications finding waterproof gloves and the like. I spent a few moments this morning covering the Cycads in the greenhouse with fleece. Later today I will do the Nerine and the Clivia. I don't think we are due a serious frost yet but I have started to get twitchy and a bit of fleece will keep me from obsessing.
There are a few Nerine still making a show in the greenhouse. This has been one of the latest, not producing flower stems until the rest of the cultivars had finished. To my eye the late flowering and ball shaped flower head suggest some involvement by N.undulata in its parentage. The original clone came from Mark Fenwick who gardened in Gloucestershire. He gave plants to Mrs Hanger in the 1930's (wife of Francis Hanger, later to become curator of Wisley garden). In 1946 it was given an Award of Merit by the RHS and a painting was made of the plant (which is now held in the Wisley herbarium). Later comparisons of plants grown under this name with the original painting show that much of the material in cultivation is wrong.
My plants fit the written description quite well, but are a little less convincing when compared to the original illustration. The plant I grow is a good, tall and distinct thing which deserves a name, even if it isn't 'Mark Fenwick'.




28th December 2014

Helleborus x hybridus
Out in the garden this chill snap will fill the hellebores with enthusiasm. This is the first of the Helleborus x hybridus forms to open, if I overlook a white double which has a few outer tepals peeling back from the bud (which doesn't really count as opening). I can get quite precious about hellebores, especially later in the season. They are almost all grown from seed so I think it is reasonable to select the best and reject the majority. I like clean colours without spotting and rounded flowers that look upwards. People talk about the charm of having to tip the flowers up to see their beauty but it is all hogwash. Much better if they look up in the first place. Select the seedlings with short rather than long pedicels and you will save youself a lot of backache and be able to enjoy the plants even on the days when you don't have time to dawdle past them. Failing that, select the seedlings with good colour on the reverse which generally means those without ugly green stripes and distorted outer tepals. Most importantly however, I select for earliness. I want flowers in January to cheer away the winter blues. Those that don't open until March are a waste of good woodland!
Consequently I am amused by this ugly, spotted mis-shapen thing flowering a week before any other. It is laughing at me, and a good thing too. It came from my mothers garden, and her major criterion for selection was convenience. It had seeded itself where she had a space, so she left it to get on with it. The original plants in the garden were named strains from the 1970's (not many of those) and a plant of H. 'Early Purple' which we were convinced was H. atrorubens at the time. Since then we have met the real H. atrorubens, a fragile plant of subtle beauty quite unlike the stumpy monster that is 'Early Purple'. On the plus side, it seeded freely and the offspring were early enough to be forgivable, with a wry sense of humour.




28th December 2014

Rhododendron 'Katherine van Tol'
The second surprise of the morning was found on the ground, like the hailstones. I was walking up to the Agave house carrying a camera and a big bundle of fleece. I probably looked as though I had finally abandoned my usual sartorial style (oversized shapeless elasticated clothing) and settled for a bolt of fabric wrapped around me in a ball. I will get there eventually, but it hasn't happened yet. On the ground in front of me was a perfect Rhododendron flower. Quite astonishing. It took me a moment to accept the reality of the situation and look for the source.
I turns out that 'Katherine van Tol' is in full flower at least two months earlier than I would have expected. Not just an occasional bloom, but every shoot tip has a cluster of flowers. For many years I have shunned Rhododendron. There are too many of them and they have been blended in their infinite variety until they merge (in my mind at least) into a single large pink blob that squats over spring like a broody hen, grumbling angrily at prying curiosity.
In recent years I have started to take an interest in the very early and very late cultivars but 'Katherine van Tol' is here by accident. About ten years ago I wanted something small and evergreen to fill a space and I bought this for 1.50 in a local shop muttering the mantra of garden design, "that'll do".
It has grown well and moved around the garden a few times without ever inspiring delight, more or less in accord with my expectations. Flowering in December is out of character and laudable. At the moment I am putting this strange behaviour down to the long gentle autumn. Flower buds started to swell early and have kept growing until they are too large to remain closed. At the first suggestion of cold weather they have opened with a sense of enormous relief, like finding a lavatory when you are bursting. The camellias are doing the same thing, and I think for the same reason though I remain open to a better interpretation.





28th December 2014

Schlumbergera 'Nicole'
Christmas Cactus, on the other hand, are doing exctly what it says on the tin. Except for the cactus part. They're not really very good at that. For many years they have been shunted between one unsuitable location and another, kept in tiny pots so that they stay small enough to move. Last year I got fed up with the fuss and the whole lot were planted in the Agave house under a solid section of roof. They will get cold but they won't get a serious radiation frost and they are shaded in summer. It isn't a perfect solution but it will have to do.
Last winter was not very testing so they have grown larger and show all the signs of enjoying themselves. It is possible that a hard winter would reduce them all to slush. In previous years cold winter weather has not damaged the stems but made them very brittle so that large chunks of growth drop off and the flowers get mildew. The Agave house gets quite warn if the sun shines, even in winter so I hope they will prosper.
'Nicole' is a compact, floriferous cultivar, raised in the Netherlands for the flowering houseplant industry. It is common in the trade and regularly appears in supermarkets and garden centres, though rarely by name.
Winter is a strangely myopic time. I can see as far ahead as the short range weather forecast, which is suggesting another frost tonight. I have some more fleece to spread around before I get back to the delights of cleaning up Sarracenia in their lovely cold tanks of water. Waterproof gloves ease the discomfort.