24th January 2016
Galanthus nivalis .
I greet changeable weather with enthusiasm. A little bit of everything keeps things moderate overall. I get up in the morning, put the kettle on and open the back door and then I know what the weather has been like.
We have had an even mix of bright sunny mornings and torrential downpours this week, so I think things are improving.
Last week there were a few things growing in the garden, dotted here and there, but this week spring is moving with determination. The hellebores are all in growth, the evenings are drawing out
and there are snowdrops all over. Even the late ones are showing now. I look down on grey spears, the days of peering wistfully at the promise in the mud are gone. The first azalea has a flower open
and before long the slow pace of the new year will quicken to the frantic rush of spring. These are precious moments of calm before it becomes overwhelming.
Galanthus nivalis is a delight for half the year. It starts in autumn as the leaves on Cyclamen hederifolium expand. I look between them to the precious space that will soon be filled with snowdrops.
The fresh shoots appear around the end of the year, their upright lines changing the texture of the ivy they grow through. Suddenly there are flowers, perhaps two weeks early this year (and
perhaps I should check the dates and not rely on memory but I haven't). Wonderful individually and wonderful in great sheets. They were probably introduced to the UK by the Romans who cleverly planted them in all
the places we would later build churchyards.
24th January 2016
Mahonia siamensis .
The Mahonia season has more or less passed without attracting much attention. Heavy rain since late autumn damaged the display. Mahonia flowers are quite brittle and fall apart in stormy weather, leaving
long empty flower spikes with a few unopened buds at the end. Mahonia siamensis (it is almost certainly M. duclouxiana really) is demonstrating the improvement in the weather
by looking good at the moment. I was worried that it would be tender, so I have one under cover where it is miserable, and this one looking much happier outside and acting as a windbreak for some snowdrops.
The Mahonia may be appreciating a run of unexpectedly mild years (this winter may still turn cold, but it isn't going to be long and cold). The plant under cover is about to lose
its protected location and take its chances outside. I was going to plant it next to the first - they are the same clone - but I think I will find somewhere else in the garden. A different location means a different
microclimate, if we get a harsh winter one or other of them might fare better.
24th January 2016
Fuchsia denticulata .
I have a few Fuchsia species that bring me great joy when they flower. Without flowers they are all rather dull. Despite the great variety of their leaves and their assorted twiggy habits
Fuchsia are uninspiring until they bloom. There are exceptions to every wild generalisation of course (every single one). I will allow that F. 'Firecracker' is an astonishing foliage plant
but the wonder of its variegated leaves is emphasised by the drabness of its fellows.
'Firecracker' is intolerant of low temperatures. A cool night in May or September will be enough to finish it for the year. The suggestion of frost within a hundred miles will kill it stone dead. F. denticulata
is a little tougher but in a mild year in a mild corner of the country I still wouldn't expect it to survive outdoors. I grow it in a pot and the pot goes under the bench in the greenhouse
for the winter. It is unfortunate because it flowers in late autumn just as I am trying to cram it into a dark little cubby-hole. This year I delayed. Wet weather kept the temperatures up
and more significantly, kept me indoors. Two weeks ago I found it in bud and moved it under a porch where it will at least be dry. I would have put it under the bench but it is too tall.
I should take more care, it would be troublesome to find a replacement if I lose it but I am going to take the chance, enjoy the flowers and relax a bit.
24th January 2016
Galanthus 'Ginn's Imperati' .
I sometimes wonder about lunacy, as anyone who grows snowdrops will have. I wonder if lunacy is really just the awareness of some invisible boundary that has been crossed.
I say this because I am aware that I have been wittering on about snowdrops for months. The first autumn snowdrop, the first "snowdrop" snowdrop and now the first snowdrop week. The first week when I have walked
through the garden surrounded by snowdrops. Rows of snowdrops, beds of snowdrops, bucketfulls of snowdrops. Snowdrops snowdrops snowdrops. They are everywhere and I am aware of it.
I am not the first of course. I wonder if the conquering Romans came with bulbs of 'Caesar's Prolific' or 'Ides of March' tucked in their tunics to remind them of their mothers gardens. The massed snowdrops
in churchyards and old religious sites hint that monks in the middle ages did much the same. Naturally it was the Victorians who carried it to excess (though I think we can match them today). They visied the
heart of the Roman Empire to see the antiquities, and brought back snowdrops, giant snowdrops that they called by the general name G. Imperati. They were all slightly different, but the name
came to mean a particularly large flowered snowdrop from southern Italy, especially from the region around Rome.
'Ginn's Imperati' is the last survivor of the name, which has otherwise been absorbed into G. nivalis, swallowed up by the mighty Taxonomic Empire. It refers to a recent
"Imperati" collected by Robert Gathorne-Hardy near Rome and distributed by Ron Ginns. It is larger than our naturalised forms of G. nivalis, more strongly scented, more exuberant. It is supposed
to be fairly typical, even today, of the plants to be found around Rome.
Which leaves me asking why, when they invaded, did they bring the crappy little ones with them?