22nd January 2017
It has felt as though we were touched by winter this week. Temperatures haven't fallen particularly low, but the days have been cold and bright. A leisurely wind from the east
has carried nothing but chills. Fortunately clear skies mean that the greenhouse has warmed in the sun. After a cold day cutting down a hedge I crept into the greenhouse
in the twilight for a moment relaxing among the precious things and then stayed for half an hour while I warmed up, reluctant to brave the cold embrace of the gathering darkness.
The garden hardly seems to feel the cold. The Winter Solstice passed, the days started to lengthen and the garden responded. Cyclamen coum struggles bravely between snowdrops
under the trees but it isn't really happy. Too damp and not enough sunlight. It survives but it doesn't increase. I would dig up the last few corms and plant them somewhere
more suitable but they are the deepest purple-pink forms, strident among the snowdrops like a burst of heartfelt swearing in a cathedral. I like them where they are.
I felt bad watching them fade year by year so I planted a few in a large tub in the sun where they are happy and fecund but distressingly polite.
22nd January 2017
Daphne bholua 'Jacqueline Postill'
Scent in the garden is precious but it is also thin and intangible, evading the search, defying definition. Perhaps that is a good thing on a windy hillside like mine. Solid scent would knock me
flat and leave me lying in the valley, bruised and battered by a passing pungilist.
Famed for their scent, their charm and their ability to drop dead, Daphne have more-or-less passed me by. I have paddled in the shallows of the genus without much satisfaction,
more like treading in a spill of engine oil than cooling the feet in an alpine brook. They prefer the drier eastern counties where their incomprehensible interactions with soil micro-organisms
can develop to perfection in the absence of winter sludge. All that said, I have been persuaded that Daphne bholua is a good thing. Everybody says it, and there are gardens where it seeds
itself around in self-conscious imitation of happiness. An awkward teenager, dancing alone at a family wedding, all smiles and empty champagne glasses. I have been persuaded but I have yet to
'Jacqueline Postill' is the belle du jour. I have had a couple of years of twigs, a flower or two, now a bunch or two. Next year perhaps a whiff of scent on a still day. I just don't think she
has the physique to punch me in the face like a bar of cheap soap in a department store.
22nd January 2017
Snowdrops are mustering. The earliest are in full bloom, the latest still to show above ground. There should be a perfect moment in February when they are all showing or flowering or fading.
Time for a roll-call of wonder, a week of fanfare. It won't happen. By the time the last of them show promise, the bulk will be dangling in decay the fallen clumps and fat capsules
marking the end of magnificence.
For the last few years I have collected the ripe seeds and scattered them along the border. Let the random seedlings have their place and produce an occasional wonder. Not a single one has germinated.
However among the clumps an occasional seedling has appeared. I am sorting through the collection removing them as I see them, replanting them out of harms way. I think that is what happened to my stock
of 'Magnet'. Originally raised by James Allen of Shepton Mallet, my first bulb came to me 30 years ago from a nursery in Somerset. It was never quite right. The flowers failed to dangle in a
sufficiently wobbly way from the long pedicel. In 2013 I finally accepted the error and bought a new stock from Bob Brown. It has been reassuringly vigorous with no suggestion of dangle-deficiency.
As a clump it is sublime, but at about the same time I bought 'Fly Fishing' which has brought dangle into the realm of the male porn star and may appear ridiculous.
22nd January 2017
Hamamelis x intermedia 'Orange Beauty'
Hamamelis do what Daphne doesn't. I may winge a bit about the red flowers fading into the background but it's just because I want them to be perfect. Perhaps if I point out their faults
they will try harder. A parent might call it 'guidance'.
We all have a simulated garden in our heads. A place to retreat to when the real garden lets us down. A wood pigeon has taken to roosting in the fork of a Sycamore above my snowdrops and every evening he makes
himself comfortable, waking on occasion through the night to answer a call and then dozing again. There is a patch no more than six inches square beneath him where the evidence accumulates. Galanthus
'Straffan' will not be a thing of sparkling beauty this year. I call him Shit and would chase him off, but as Spike Milligan said "Everybody's got to be somewhere".
My simulated garden has a double row of Hamamelis around the edge, a walk between them planted with snowdrops and anemone. Wherever the sun, whatever the wind there would always be a perfect winter moment,
warm scent and glowing petals. In the real garden this week it happened to 'Orange Beauty'. The last rays of evening sunshine slipped under the tree canopy and caught the flowers at their best. I knew it was going to be good
but there is satisfaction to be gained from seeing it happen.
Too late now to plant a perfect garden of the mind, I am happy to pick my way through the lottery of sunlight and pigeons.