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JEARRARD'S HERBAL


12th February 2017

Galanthus 'Comet'
It has been a cold week. Cold air from the arctic has been rolling down from Scandanavia and then blowing eastwards. For a while at the start of the week I had some hope that a spirited defence from North Atlantic weather systems would push it back before it reached Cornwall, but they weren't strong enough. Ground temperatures haven't dropped to freezing, but we had a light air frost on Friday night, and we must have got close again on Saturday. Despite that the garden is looking cheery. The water vapour has been frozen out of the air and for the first time in months the garden feels fresh and not clammy. A week without significant rain and even the ground is drier. A couple of flakes of snow yesterday afternoon can't be counted, they were just for decorative effect.
Snowdrops have had a hard time finding warm spells to open in. While the buds are still like droplets they can open and close seemingly at will, but if we get a warm spell of sunshine and they open wide then they never quite close again. That is why I was able to find an open flower on 'Comet'. It had gone past the point of no return and had to hang in the cold wind. It has a very large flower so it was thrashing back and forwards, there weren't many still moments like this. If there had been a still warm day this week then I think it would have been the perfect snowdrop moment with a peak performance all round. It didn't come.


12th February 2017

Fuchsia x colensoi
In my enthusiasm to protect Fuchsia from the frost over the years they have been bundled into pots and shoved under the greenhouse staging year after year. It is an indignity that they will suffer stoically for a few years but eventually they suffer. The few that are planted in the garden do much better, even when the location isn't really suitable.
Fuchsia x colensoi is a natural hybrid from New Zealand between F. excorticata and F. perscandens. Plants are quite variable and a number of diferent clones have been introduced. This one is a sprawling trailer so close to F. perscandens that it may even be the species. If it had a label on it, I might change the name, but that was lost years ago. Nowadays the name is called up from memory, and in my memory it is F. x colensoi. That is much harder to change.
I planted it at the base of a purple leaved plum so that it could scramble up into the lower branches. Six feet away a low conifer hedge protected them both from the wind. The plum is long dead, completely overshadowed by the 20m conifers. I forgot to trim them. The Fuschia survives, scrambling up into the dead framework of the plum. I should take some cuttings, grow a few new plants in pots and scatter them around the garden. It would protect the plant, and give me a reason to write some new labels. If in future years I am complaining that F. perscandens in the garden (with a label) looks exactly like the F. colensoi I have always grown, then I have forgotten what I have done.


12th February 2017

Helleborus occidentalis
Gardeners are always nice people. Some grow the fattest of modern hybrids, gleaming in indestructible plastic perfection. Others grow the species, small and gentle and elegant. I always seem to find myself with a foot in both camps. Looking at the pictures this morning, I could have chosen a perfect black double hellebore like a block of carved coal, or this tiny green flower of H. occidentalis. It was a close thing, and for a while it looked like the decision might split me right down the middle. The wind was blowing, the picture of the hybrid was off centre. Decision made.
H. occidentalis has only recently been split from H. viridis. The name relates to plants in the north west part of the total distribution, in France, Germany and occasionally even in the UK. It is thought that the plants all originate from the Pyrenees but they have spread further north as a result of cultivation in the Middle Ages. I cleared some vegetation that was growing around it, and found it in full flower. I was delighted, but it seems to be typical of my life. A foot in both camps, torn down the middle.
That was when I realised how glad I was to have only two legs. Three or four would be impossible. I would spend my entire life never quite deciding to do one thing or another, paralysed by too many feet. I think that's why gardeners are never pigs.



12th February 2017

Narcissus 'Navarre'
In recent years I have started to pay more attention to the tiny daffodils. Their large bretheren are a bit too big. If I scattered the different varieties around the garden in small clumps (in infininte variety, as I would inevitably do) they would be fascinatingly ugly. I struggle to ensure that the garden holds on to some sense of integrity as it is, a thousand blobs of white-yellow-pink through the spring would not help.
The small ones are a different matter, grown along with the snowdrops they are charming and not intrusive. I claim no knowledge and I'm not following any particular plan. If I see one and like it, I plant it out. Just recently I have been seeing more and more that I like, many of them not easy to obtain. I have made a note of the warning signs of obsession. I'm not going to back-peddle on the tiny daffodils but I am going to establish an index of insanity. At present it stands at about a dozen. If I reach a hundred I will make a constructive move to step out of denial and into rationalisation. Small daffodils are after all, a very good idea. (Just practising).
'Navarre' is a form of N. asturiensis collected in 1937 in Spain by Robert Gathorne-Hardy. I have a couple of forms of the species, but this has been the first to flower this year. Perfect small trumpets that lean forward on sloping stems, it is fairly typical of the species.
If I remember, I will pollinate the flowers with an early white daffodil - I'm currently thinking 'Spring Dawn' - and see if I get seed. Nothing wrong with that. Somebody told me yesterday that the only way they could collect seed of snowdrops was to sew tiny bags from old net curtains or the developing pods were taken by mice. My job for the afternoon is to find some muslin.
Snowdrops are such valuable things, it is well worth taking a bit of trouble. Does that sound like I've been practising?