13th March 2016
Pericallis 'Senetti Deep Blue'
A fortnight ago I was listening to the weather forecasters telling us in apologetic terms that March 1st was the meterological start of spring. It struck me that after centuries of magic and meterology
we still hadn't come to any sort of agreement about what that meant. I have a dozen definitions that I use when the urge takes me. The most useful has always been that spring starts on the first day
that it is warm in the greenhouse. I was happy with that for years, but then I built a plastic greenhouse without vents that heats up if there is ever five minutes of sunshine. Suddenly my definition is less helpfull.
Pericallis caught me unawares. It was one of those genera that I would smile at as I walked past. I had relegated them all to the level of the florists cinneraria, useful for attracting pests out of the greenhouse
and then destroyed. I was given P. appendiculata and it grew into a fat shrub in the greenhouse, covered in flowers for most of the year and so I have gingerly dipped a toe into the pool of seemingly disposable Senetti.
A 'Deep Blue' pool as it happens, but there are others. I like the electric blue one with a white centre and I enjoy (a different experience) the pink one, shrill as a fire engine going down a hill.
I have watched its lethargy through the summer. It doesn't become dormant, it just dawdles along until winter, when the new growth starts. It has produced the odd flower, promise of things to come, but I have been waiting
and suddenly it has delivered.
And that is my latest definition of spring. The moment you stop waiting for it and start to enjoy what's going on.
13th March 2016
It helps that Paeonia cambessedesii chose the same moment, in more or less the same place, to burst into spring. The flower bud has been visible since the first scarlet shoot broke from the ground
in January, slowly growing in size and promise. Last week it was showing colour but this week it is scented, heavy and deep, floating like a cloud above the leaden foliage. The last Nerine is still holding on to
flowers and the peonies have started so I think I am right to disregard winter, that fictional season when we are convinced it is best to wait around for something else to happen.
If I wanted a new theory of climate that I could use to taunt the media it would be Global Paeonification. P. cambessedesii comes from the cliffs of Majorca where the weather is always mild, and winter is marked
by the arrival of rain. There can be little dispute that we have experienced the same conditions this year. Many in the northern counties will have wished that they also lived on the cliffs above the sea
as the rising tide of sludge engulfed their semi's. This little pink peony is spreading rapidly in cultivation and it seems clear to me that the wet mediterranean winters are following it.
A few weeks ago a friend harvested a handful of lemons from a tree in a poly tunnel. I was left open mouthed with amazement. I think that was the whole point of a stunningly theatrical moment, but I enjoyed it
enormously. I would have affected the same nonchalence myself if I had a treeful of lemons. They grow in Majorca as well, and I think that proves my point.
13th March 2016
Erythronium dens-canis 'Snowflake'
Just as I have reappraised my views on Pericallis I have reconsidered Erythronium dens-canis. It is one of those plants that I didn't grow up with in a very determined way.
Try as hard as I could, I simply couldn't grow up with it, and I did try over and over again. Bulb after bulb after bulb were planted like Pirate's Treasure, never to be seen again.
As I got older I got richer (at least in teenage terms) and I could afford to buy E. 'Pagoda' instead. I discovered that the species from the western side of the USA were larger
and more tolerant. At that point my only experience of soils was the one I gardened on. Foolishly I believed the pundits who suggested that a heavy soil could be improved with organic matter
or gravel. Don't listen to them, it is nonsense. If you hear anybody suggest anything so stupid you can be sure they haven't tried it. Anyone who has tried it now crawls around on their hands and knees
because they can no longer straighten their back. Erythronium hated my thick yellow clay.
Now I live on a deep brown fluffy soil like a feather pillow. Some days I lie back on it in the sun just for the comfort. I know that when I stand up I am not going to have to fight my way free of its adhesive suction.
Erythronium seem happy in it. Even the fussy European Dog's Tooth Violet. I planted this one thinking I would never see it again but here it is, forcing me to reconsider.
There are plenty of named forms of E. dens-canis easily and cheaply available, and suddenly I want them all.
13th March 2016
There are plenty of small spring flowers that make me feel like James Bond ("The World is not Enough"). I have plenty of Pleione. Surley the time has come pick the best and start growing seedlings from them?
It is always my general plan to put together a small collection and then raise some new ones. Unfortunately I get distracted by the latest shiny thing. If I saw a new Pleione I would have it
without question, and forego a cappucino along the way in compensation (except we all know I wouldn't actually forego the cappucino at any point).
This clone of Eiger has been the first to flower for a couple of years now. It is a joyful moment but I admit it isn't the best shaped flower and it hasn't got much of a stem. It doops over the edge of the pot
and looks as though it is wilting. On occasion I have even been fooled into watering it at this stage, and it hates it. In a week or two I will spray it lightly so that there is a hint of moisture as the new roots develop
and perhaps after Easter I will start to water them again. We will see what the weather does.
The Pleione are very convenient. They flower in a burst in spring when I pay attention, and then they get on with it by themselves for the rest of the year. I have tinkered with the autumn flowering forms
but they are too tender for my greenhouse. I did think for a while that I could sit them on a low wattage heat pad but fortunately I decided that was a winter idea. Not a thing to take notice of, just something
that happened while I was waiting for spring.