17th January 2016
Nerine 'Pink Petticoats'
Sometimes the winds of change can be very literal. When I wrote these notes last week the wind had been howling and the garden had a sad dejection about it. Nothing in the weather that it wouldn't survive
but it was existing in the state of dismal acceptance you reach when you have been out for a walk, the skies have opened, you are soaked to the skin and still ten minutes from home. Cold and wet and fed up.
Changes were afoot and they were blown in on the wind. We have slipped out of the warm kiss of the Atlantic and into the icy embrace of the north. Cold clear air from the arctic has seen me enjoying the sunshine,
forgotten wonder of the garden.
In a little plastic greenhouse reserved for things I don't know what to do with is Nerine 'Pink Petticoats'. I bought a small bulb last autumn and because it was making such a determined claim to pinkness
I asked the vendor more searching questions than I would normally. Is it actually any good? At the heart of the matter, do I really need (or even want) another pink Nerine? Well, I apologise. The
answer is yes (as it always is). It turns out that 'Pink Pettiocoats' is one of the last to flower, basking in the heat of the early spring greenhouse. It is magnificent, the sun replacing the rain and flooding
through the plastic, the greenhouse warm as toast in the bright light. Shortly after breakfast on saturday I had one of those precious moments with Nerine 'Pink Petticoats' when time stops snapping at your heels
and you float on the honey of existence.
No doubt in my mind that the moment was worth twice what I paid the nurseryman, and next time I see him, I am going to give him the outstanding balance. He won't understand it, but it seems only fair.
17th January 2016
Sunshine transforms the spring garden. Last week I was struggling to find snowdrop flowers among the wind battered leaves. Even at ground level their little heads had been twisted and wrenched.
This week they are standing up and dangling laughably, the very epitome of ridiculous reproductive organs.
'Merlin' was raised by James Allen some time in the 1880's. It is believed to be a hybrid between G. elwesii and G. plicatus so it may (or may not) have been gracing gardens for more than a century.
The question remains whether the plant we now grow is the same thing that James Allen introduced. Descriptions at the time mention the distinctive long outer segments, some three times the length of the inners.
The modern manifestation is rather shorter. Descriptions of the green mark on the inner segments vary, though all are agreed that it extended from the base to the apex. Early writers
mention a Y-shaped marking but in the modern form, if that's a "Y" then it has eaten a dangerously unhealthy number of doughnuts. The uncertainty is nothing new. In 1951 the RHS gave it an Award of Merit
and then decided that the plant they were looking at was wrong and it was remaned 'Colesbourne'. Richard Nutt believed he had the real thing in the 1990's (his word is good enough for me) and that
it was difficult to keep it going. Mine came from Elizabeth Parker-Jarvis in 1988 and has been moderately vigorous.
Such are the joys of confusion that await the damp knees of the snowdrop lover. Those more learned than I will argue the historical niceties with a passion that stops just short of violence
as they finally agree that the situation is uncertain.
If I am ever seen sitting with a smile and a glazed expression then I am laughing to myself. Improbable dangling reproductive organs.
17th January 2016
Metals have a taste and I don't understand why. It is the reason that silver and gold cutlery are so popular (and I suppose stainless steel, if you must). I know it is the case, but I don't understand it.
The same is true of the scent of the garden in the recent wet weather. All of the aroma has washed out of the place and yet there is a distinct smell of mud and mystery. Out comes the sun
and the smell level rises. Suddenly there are little peaks and troughs, sweetness then musk and the thin menthol of the cold wind. I have a young plant of Daphne bholua 'Jacqueline Postill'
(trendiest of its class) with a single flower open, enough to scent the air for a foot or so around it. A wonderful breath of possibility from a plant I have been looking at with
The Hamamelis are also well underway, many of the young bushes now large enough to have a visual appeal. The sweet scent of H. mollis, richer than syrup but sharper than honey
is drifting languidly on the air, seeming to resist the pull of the stiff wind, anchored somehow to the plant. It is much stronger than the scent from H. x intermedia, sometimes thought
to be unperfumed but simply softer. Less assertive and harder to grasp. I thought there were hints of chocolate from 'Ruby Glow' but intangible chocolate, the sort you smell on the pavement
looking through a confectioners window. I look at the seed set on them and think I should sow it, but what for? Surely there are enough indistinguishable cultivars to make snowdrops look diverse?
On the other hand it would be quite fun to select them for scent, wandering sniffily through the winter rows armed with a rejecting-spade.
17th January 2016
Iris ensata 'Gracieuse'
I have been watching this Iris bud forming for several weeks. I couldn't understand why it was taking so long to open. I had assumed that the wet weather was holding the Iris unguicularis
back. I had even convinced myself that it was the cultivar 'Peloponnese Snow', tall and white and only flowering for the second time here. I should have checked more carefully but I was content
to watch it unroll from a distance.
When it came time to take photographs I got a surprise. I have no idea what inspired a form of Iris ensata to flower at this time of year but it is welcome. A promise of things to come
and a demonstration that an unexpected splash of sunlight will lead to a summer.
'Gracieuse' has been a good thing in the border, though enthusiasm has been dulled by a slight uncertainty of the vowels. One of those words that is worth writing out a hundred times until it is
thoroughly familiar and no longer a distraction.
So the week has lifted me out of the mud and started to sparkle. Even the path to the greenhouse is drying out. I have been watching the increasing weather hysteria on the television news
and wondering what they will talk about when the dry weather starts. It's a bit early to start talking about drought, but no harm making a few plans just in case!