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JEARRARD'S HERBAL




4th October 2015

Sternbergia lutea
Last week emerged from autumn like a Lotus from the mud. Perfect and shining and pristine. Even the actual Lotus appreciated it I think. All the real activity goes unseen beneath the surface and the leaves and flowers emerge unexpectedly. Last week they were dying back for winter, this week they have rallied a little and taken advantage of the warmth and sunshine. It all bodes well for next year. It seems a pity to look to the future when the present has been so wonderful but there are dark clouds on the horizon - or there would be if I could see that far into the Atlantic. We are promised rain.
The clockwork mechanism of the garden has also rolled forward a notch. The Cyclamen are at their best and the trees are starting to colour as part of the slow rotation, but there was an almost audible click this week as the bulbs kicked in.
Sternbergia lutea has been a problem for decades. It doesn't appreciate our dank autumnal weather. If I had a dry sunny spot outside it would probably survive, but I haven't. I have been growing it in the bulb house but it is too hot and dry in there. Last year the Nerine expanded and it was pushed out into a little covered corridor. Cool, sunny and protected from the rain, this is the result.
There are a number of wonderful yellow Sternbergia. I find them all indistinguishable!




4th October 2015

Crocus speciosus
Some things happen in long slow pre-planned ways and other things just happen with a little puff of smoke. In the course of an hour last weekend I noted that nothing was showing in the pot of Crocus speciosus so they are probably dead again; I read in an article that they grow well in short grass, and I had to go out to a nursery for a new spade (whoops, little puff of smoke). An hour after I gave up hope on the old corms, I had bought some new ones, a new spade, and I was back in the garden planting.
Meanwhile, in a pot in the greenhouse, my extinct Crocus had other ideas. Within days they were up and flowering. There are less of them than there were last year, but I already knew a mouse had been in among them eating the corms. I am amazed that there are any.
I am tempted to say that all Crocus speciosus look exactly like this. There are a number of distinct named forms but the supply chain is not always reliable. I would say that results were mixed but the truth is they are very uniform. Order what you like, this is what you will get. Fortunately this is so wonderful it is difficult to object. The flowers grow on thread-thin floral tubes and fall over shortly after opening, much like Colchicum, but if you catch them standing upright it feels like a tiny but perfect miracle. If the sun is shining at the same time, well those are the memories you fall back on when you are being fed prunes and bran for breakfast in a care home.
I am prepared.




4th October 2015

Polyxena pygmaea
Polyxena pygmaea is another of those things that arrived suddenly. The bare pot had a distinct whiff of pessimism about it (vanilla with a hint of loneliness) and I was preparing to walk past it briskly when I noticed the tiny nose poking up. Days later it is in full flower.
It serves as a starter for two ideas. It looks to me like one of the little blue things that will pop up throughout the spring so it is a (completeley spurious) foretaste of the Scilla alliance. It also serves to start off the Lachenalia season, into which genus it has recently been moved (I am just slow to adapt).
The species comes the Kamiesberg in Namaqualand and is dubiously distinct from the variable P. ensifolia, both flowering in autumn when the more conventional Lachenalia are just starting to produce leaves. I was led to expect the flowers to smell of almonds but I could only smell the compost this afternoon. It may have been too cool (though kneeling in front of a large pot and smelling the compost isn't particularly cool).





4th October 2015

Galanthus peshmenii
And so the week has rolled on, the beautiful light trapped in a beautiful flower. When I saw that this picture hadn't quite worked I wanted to go out again for another try, and again and again, but I understand madness. It finds a natural companion in the snowdrop and I have a sense of self-preservation that tells me no. Leave it there.
The first snowdrop of the season is a game changer in the garden. Summer is done, autumn is about clearing away the clutter so that the stage is set for the snowdrops. G. peshmenii lives in the greenhouse with the Nerine (and all of the autumn snowdrops). It survives outside but it doesn't flower. Although it is fascinating to know what the grassy leaves are, in the final analysis they are just grassy leaves which isn't sufficient to justify the space. It's probably time to dig up the plants outside and bring them in. Is it too obsessive to note that the ones outside are from seed and a different source to these in flower? Perhaps not, but when I mention I have a third accession in the greenhouse that flowers a week later I have probably slipped over the edge of reason. Not far enough to plunge into galanthodoom but certainly dangling in that direction.
Every year I convince myself that I am safe from galanthomania and it may be true, or history may point a finger at me and laugh at my naievety. Galanthus peshmenii has started another year with an icy thrill in the bright sunshine.
Next week will have its own wonders and lead the garden towards spring.