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JEARRARD'S HERBAL


5th February 2017

Cyclamen alpinum
A blustery week, all wind and rain and saturated soil. The path that wanders down to the greenhouse has developed a distinct splosh. I have a small wind sculpture mounted on the top of the propagation house. A series of spinning blades around a rotating axle made from scrap metal. This week it recycled itself.
It started on Monday when I found one of the blades on the path. The remaining unbalanced sculpture spinning and thudding lopsidedly. More blades followed every day until Thursday when the whole structure uprooted itself and rolled down the hill. That answers my question about its strength. Insufficient.
In the greenhouse below it I am finally forgiving the genus Cyclamen. I don't recall their offence but I have held them at a distance for decades. Like a strangers dog that runs wagging through a puddle straight towards you, I haven't wanted to get close. Perhaps it is about vine weevil. The first one I ever found was curled beneath a rootless Cyclamen tuber looking fat and smug and repulsive.
Cyclamen trochopteranthum has petals arranged like a propellor or the blades of a wind sculpture. I can imagine them mincing vine weevil as they spin. The first flowers fell this week and landed on the path with all the other debris. There is something pleasantly circular about the whole thing and it warms me to Cyclamen. I will even forgive the name changing to C. alpinum.


5th February 2017

Galanthus 'Brenda Troyle'
The problem with snowdrops is that they all look the same. Perhaps that is also the attraction. People throng round them like philatelists around a mis-print. Every year I seem to buy one or two that are distinctive and in the process acquire another half dozen that are not. It would be easy to discard them but there are always a few unexpected wonders to be found.
'Brenda Troyle' has been with me for decades, quietly increasing and now all planted under the camellias. It is a very snowdroppy snowdrop, close to 'S. Arnott'. The two are difficult to distinguish and original descriptions of both are insufficient to provide much clarification. In the forms I grow, 'S. Arnott' is a shorter thing, which makes the flowers look larger. 'Brenda Troyle' is taller, leafier and clumpier (a comparative adjective that you will struggle to find explained in botanical texts).
I have grown both for about the same time but it is 'Brenda Troyle' that sweeps majestically along the path. Perhaps it is simply a case of finding the right plant for the right place but she is not just taller, she stands head and shoulders above the diminutive scottish gentleman. There are other concealed delights among the ordinary snowdrops. 'Lerinda' is particularly good and 'Natalie Garton' is a beauty among mis-prints, like an accidental twinkle in Queen Victoria's eye.


5th February 2017

Galanthus x valentinei
Snowdrops have been the outstanding feature of the week. They seem to be earlier this year but there are still plenty to come, noses just pushing through the ground. There are even one or two not yet pushing. I look at the blank space with anxiety but I resist the urge to burrow down to find them. That is the path to frustration, recrimination and dirty fingernails. All things to be avoided if possible. As I get older I am becoming calmer, more patient and distinctly prissy.
Galanthus x valentinei is the hybrid name for all of the G. (nivalis x plicatus) hybrids and they are legion. Many of the best older hybrids probably belong here but it is only in very recent years that anyone has hybridised snowdrops deliberately so parentages are entirely speculative. All known specimens have appeared in cultivation as random seedlings among the parents, it is not known from the wild. Mine is an un-named seedling that came from a bulb exchange last year, and as I walked through the snowdrops this week it caught my eye repeatedly until I had to go back to the house and get a camera. When it was opening the large outer segments made it look 'poculiform' but once it opened wide it was clear that it is just a very good thing. It may be that it is the curse of the snowdrop grower, a named cultivar that has lost its identity over the years. My memory tends to conflate adjoining ideas over time, so if in later senility I refer to this as 'Brenda Troyle' perhaps someone would be so good as to slap me. Or sit me by the fire with a cup of cocoa. Possibly clean my fingernails?



5th February 2017

Helleborus x hybridus 'Phoebe'
Flowers go to extraordinary lengths in the search for sex. They tremble and blush in expectation like teenagers in a chemists preparing for something that isn't going to happen. Perhaps modern teenagers don't do that anymore. Perhaps it all happens online.
I approach 'Phoebe' with some anxiety. She is part of the second wave of micropropagated hellebores. In the beginning there was H. x nigercors and H. x ericsmithii, hybrids between H.niger and the larger sub-shrubby species. Thay have taken over the spring hellebore market because they are easy and reliable to produce. The search moved to micropropagated forms of H. x hybridus. 'Tutu' was the first and 'Phoebe' followed. Once the technical problems had been solved they were easy to produce and the results were completely predictable, unlike seed grown strains. The only drawback was that the original culture was produced from seed, and it was only once plants had been grown on that their quality could be assessed. 'Tutu' is a perfectly ordinary dull pinkish anemone form. 'Phoebe' is a moderately good spotted pink double. Neither can match the best breeders seedlings.
This year we are seeing a third wave hit the market. 'Madame Lemonnier' is a sensational hybrid between H. x hybridus and H. niger with the largest flowers you will see. The Rodney Davey series continue to expand , with 'Molly's White' appearing this year in large numbers, adding sensational evergreen leaves to the mix of attributes. Alongside it are H. x hybridus forms like 'Lucy Black', a good deep black single hybrid.
'Phoebe' was a warning, and breeders should take note. Micropropagation overtook the traditional breeders of double primroses as it will overtake Hellebore breeders. "Look to your laurels", "times they are a changin" and other floral messages. The varied delights of hellebores in spring, charmingly filling the dead space between Christmas and polyanthus-March, are going to be swallowed up in the ruthless onslaught of tissue-culture. We need to protect our seed, which is a satisfyingly circular return to the start.