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Thats enough introduction - on with the plants!
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... out in the garden.

27th January 2013

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Promise'
Weather is the constant pre-occupation of the gardener. Plants are lovely, weather is awful (whatever its particular characteristics might be at the time). The week started off with pictures of snow from the north, followed by the threat of snow from the north, and finally by some actual snow from the north. I awoke on Monday morning to find it had arrived and by lunchtime it had gone again. I had time to take a few pictures but there wasn't time for the catastrophic awfulness of the situation to sink in. I didn't fall over in it and I didn't build a snowman. I saved the falling over for the next day. Carrying some fence posts up the hill I slipped in the melt water and went over with the world-weary thud that is especially associated with fence posts.
This morning the sun is shining, the garden is warm and springlike and I have been banging in aforementioned posts with a big hammer. My aim isn't as reliable as I would like, squinting in the bright sunshine but it is astonishing the minor tribulations of life that can be resolved by hitting a fence post with a big hammer.
'Arnold Promise' is not numbered among the very best Hamamelis. It grows rather large and it flowers rather sparingly. I have in the past been a little dismissive but I was wrong. This young plant is flowering as freely as any of them and the visual display is impressive. It has a pretty orange calyx and it smells of something appropriate baking in an oven (a cake perhaps, rather than a wellington boot). The flowers all open downwards so that a topping of snow adds to the moment without obscuring the petals. It is an unexpected pleasure which is the very best sort. It creeps up and surprises you before cynicism can spoil the moment.
An unexpected hybrid, it was raised at the Arnold Arboretum in 1929 and named in 1963. Illicit sex in the Arnold Arboretum in the 1920's, who would have thought it! Horticulturalists (and many others) have been doing the same ever since, but I'm not sure we've got any better at it.

27th January 2013

Helleborus dumetorum
When Hellebores have sex they do it back to front, which can be perplexing. They are protogynous so the stigma is receptive long before the anthers mature, a reversal of the usual schedule of events. If they are to be pollinated it is sometimes appropriate to break into the swelling bud before it is fully open. I think it probably ensures that the flower is pollinated before the weather can cause too much damage.
I have a single plant of H.dumetorum and I have had problems locating a partner for it. Perhaps in the modern age I should set up a facebook page. Last year I tried it with a double green H.x hybridus but I didn't get any seed. I keep hoping I will run into a suitable mate at a show but by the time it reaches this stage the flower is wide open and the moment has probaly passed. I have tried matchmaking with a fellow gardener locally who also has a singleton but an exchange of fecund flowers came to nothing. I have tried soliciting pollen by post (plain brown envelope) but they don't produce a lot of pollen and it doesn't seem to travel very well. I'm not sure how the postman would feel about it if he knew. I have a friend who worked for a time delivering a frozen product of similar significance to dairy farmers. He never talked about his job at dinner parties.

27th January 2013

Galanthus nivalis 'Sandersii'
Spring can be relied on to bring the snowdrops, and the snowdrops can be relied on to be white with green decorations. From time to time a pink one appears, the press have a field day and the perpitrator slinks into the distance sniggering and clutching a bottle of red ink (the younger generation might be interested to know that ink was a sort of coloured fluid that we filled fountain pens with and manually imitated the actions of a laser printer).
In 1897 Revd. H Harpur-Crewe was sent a form found in Northumberland with yellowish markings and ovary which he named G.n. var. sandersii. It seems that some populations of wild snowdrops in Northumberland can occasionally produce a yellow plant. Similar (or the same) plants have been introduced as 'Lutescens' and 'Flavescens' and as a teenager I was lucky enough to obtain both names, and to confirm from personal experience their reputation for fragility. In 1993 Richard Nutt published the results of his nomenclatural investigations, and restored the name 'Sandersii' for these plants. There are a number of different named clones now available, so they are often treated as the Sandersii Group. I have wanted to try again for many years and it was very satisfying to obtain a plant. Even more satisfying to have it come up again in succeeding years. In the sunshine it is bright enough to be enchanting.

27th January 2013

Galanthus x allenii
The garden is currently full of snowdrops and they will continue to decorate it until March. They attract an obsessive following but fortunately the real lunacy seems to be confined to February. It is curious that some sorts of madness (woolly hats, rock salt and Galanthomania) seem perfectly reasonable in the proximity of snow. Snowmen are permitted to display unspeakable carrots and newscasters suddenly become adventurous. One local TV reporter travelled to the top of Bodmin Moor last week to point out that the road wasn't blocked. He filmed it in front of of an empty snowy field, presumably so that he tell us in a later bulletin that aliens hadn't landed.
There is some doubt about the origin of G.x allenii. The original bulb was received by James Allen in 1883 among a shipment of (probably) G.woronowii from an Austrian nursery. It could be a wild collected hybrid or it could have occurred in cultivation. The parentage is still a matter of speculation. It is widely reported to smell of bitter almonds but I have never managed to detect it. I grow it in a pot in the greenhouse because it was once regarded as a little less hardy than most. It has grown vigorously and I will be trying a few bulbs outside this year. I think the flower has rather flatter outer tepals (less spoon shaped) than most snowdrops and it seems to be sterile.
Some time in March the temperature will swing upwards and Galanthomania will suddenly vanish. Like the spawning of the salmon, one day it is all frenzy and the next it is done for another year. Galanthomaniacs will come back to earth with a slight bump, apologise to their friends and family and start saving for next year!

Acorus Alocasia Anemone Arisaema Arum Asarum Aspidistra Begonia Bromeliads Camellia
Carnivorous Cautleya Chirita Chlorophytum Clivia Colocasia Crocosmia Dionaea Drosera Epimedium
Eucomis Fuchsia Galanthus Hedychium Helleborus Hemerocallis Hepatica Hosta Impatiens Iris
Liriope Ophiopogon Pinguicula Polygonatum Ranunculus ficaria Rhodohypoxis Rohdea Roscoea Sansevieria Sarracenia
Scilla Sempervivum Tricyrtis Tulbaghia Utricularia Viola odorata Watsonia

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