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JEARRARD'S HERBAL




6th March 2016

Fuchsia x colensoi
I am faced with two options: Spring is a perverse season or I am a perverse person. Currently opinion is evenly divided. I have been cheerfully announcing the arrival of spring since the first 'real' snowdrops arrived in November. I am not a great fan of winter and I am happy to warm myself with the tenuous idea that I can bypass it with Galanthus. On the other hand, the season itself has been behaving strangely, though I accept that strange behaviour may be one of the defining characteristics of spring. The autumn snowdrops were fabulous, the spring snowdrops have been a bit feeble and Nerine undulata 'Winter Sun' is still flowering. I was going to feature it here and write some astonished pink text to go with it but it belongs to autumn and I am looking forward.
Fuchsia x colensoi is a naturally ocurring hybrid from New Zealand, between F. excorticata which is a tall shrub and F. perscandens which is good in a hanging basket if you have a taste for dullness during summer. The hybrid is fertile, so it is very variable and the boundaries are a bit blurred. Mine is close to the F. perscandens end of the spectrum, and may owe its current name to a misidentification. The clone of F. perscandens usually grown has more pointed leaves and isn't as hardy.
Whatever the name, it is a Fuchsia and it heralds the summer. It heralds it in my mind mostly, a heavy hail storm on Friday left me cold (and wet after a short delay). There aren't many tangible signs but as I lit the fire this morning so that my office would be warm enough to sit and type in, I had a marvellous idea. I went down to the greenhouse with a cup of coffee. An hours sunshine this morning has made it as warm as toast (another good idea). I sat there wrapped in the plastic film of summer and indulged in some mock sadness at the end of spring!




6th March 2016

Serapias lingua 'Mars'
I am old enough to remember a brief period in the 1960's when clear plastic raincoats were fashionable. I remember more clearly a period a few years later when they were garments worn to school by nerdy children who looked miserable. I wonder if the clear plastic kept them warm in the sunshine? It gives me a whole new outlook on the idea of a summer wardrobe.
The hail storm brought out the clucking clingers-to-winter. I was chatting to one beside a towering Camellia 'Donation. Six feet of pinkness as a background to the story of winter. I was mildly amused. I have spent decades trying to overlook 'Donation', and here was someone doing it with casual aplomb, I was trapped between admiration and apoplexy.
Everywhere I look is filled with new growth. I would like to say that Serapias lingua was the first orchid of the season but Dendrobium kingianum beat it by a couple of weeks. The Dendrobium comes from the almost-tropical eastern coast of Australia, and can be forgiven for a rather vague approach to the seasons, but it had a long dormant rest and now it has started into growth. For the sake of simplification, I am going to call that spring.
'Mars' is a pale form of S. lingua. I killed the darker one by mistake. It doesn't mind being quite wet and it doesn't mind being quite dry but it doesn't like frequent fluctuations. I should replace it and put it in a big pot where it would be wonderful. I made the mistake of being frightened to repot it in case I killed it, and so inevitably it died. By the time I was given 'Mars' I was feeling reckess and phytocidal so it went straight into a 15 litre pot where it has prospered.




6th March 2016

Primula juliae
Last autumn I built myself a small bench to grow alpines on. It was inspired by a gently increasing collection of auriculas and a few small primulas of other sorts. I had a yearning for tiny things. Along the way I had acquired Primula juliae, smallest of the primroses, most prim and rosy. The tiny leafy rosettes have short roots that barely seem to reach the ground and yet it has increased. I don't have a mat of it smothering other things, but I have a little clump that has started to look as though it should be divided. This week I have the first flower. Neither mauve nor purple quite fit for the colour but it certainly stands out. I haven't put it on the alpine bench yet - there isn't any room.
I should know by now that a new bench is an invitation to all sorts of unexpected plants but if you had told me in December that by March my new bench would be filled with double primroses, I would have smiled politely and looked around for your carer. As a general principle, I am in favour of the unexpected. The double primroses are lovely and I think in a few weeks they will be moved out into the shade so that I can have my alpine bench back. As to Primula juliae, I have no idea where it will end up. Too small for the garden, and too lush for the spartan conditions of an alpine bench it will remain in limbo for the time being. In cultivation it has been replaced almost entirely by its hybrids, and with a bench full of double primroses standing ready, I am tempted to give it a try!





6th March 2016

Adoxa moschatellina
With Camellia 'Donation' in flower, I don't think you have to look very hard for signs of spring. There are some large Magnolia campbellii in the village that would be looking magnificent it they hadn't had to endure a hail storm. It is early in the flowering period, there are plenty of buds still to come. I was standing around under my big M. x loebneri feeling indecisive yesterday (down to the greenhouse in the rain or back into the house for a cup of tea) when I looked up. Right at the top it has started to flower. Unfortunately a long lense was not enough to get a picture. Grey silhouettes against a grey sky. Next week it will flower lower down and be more obvious.
Adoxa moschatellina was also unexpected. Easier to reach but harder to find. I often mistake the leaves for early shoots of Anemone nemorosa breaking through the soil. The tiny clusters of green flowers have no decorative value, the plant would be weedy if it wasn't so small that it escaped attention. I can't think why I grow it but it is an ancient thing. It has watched as civilisations came and went. It saw the arrival of the clear plastic rain coat, and it's departure. It haunts the ancient places, old woods and hedgerows and it has collected names along the way. Town Hall Clock, Muskroot, Moschatel and my favourite, Five Faced Bishop. It is one of the first British wildflowers I identified using a key in a flora. When spring comes and I overlook it, tread on it inadvertantly or just stomp past I whisper an apology. Touch my (long departed) forelock. You staked a claim to this garden long before I did. Sorry, Bishop.