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JEARRARD'S HERBAL


18th March 2018

Narcissus 'February Gold'.
Snow has been promised for this afternoon and there isn't even a flutter of excitement. In January I might have roused myself to roll up a snowman from an unexpected fall but in March it is simply tiresome. I walked down to the greenhouse while the kettle was boiling and the ground has frozen where it was open to the sky. It is still soft under the trees so temperatures didn't fall far but it is enough. It is bright and sunny and the temperature outside is rising, the greenhouse is warm, the garden is in flower and there are all the signs of a delightful spring day. The weather forcast is predicting heavy snow for two hours over lunch.
Beside the front door, Narcissus 'February Gold' has pulled itself together. The last freeze stopped it in its tracks for a fortnight or I would just about have had it in time for the end of February. It is a rare example of a plant waiting for spring to be ready, most of the garden burst into action on time and assumed the weather would be there to suit the occasion. 'February Gold' an old Dutch cultivar (registered 1923) that I grew up with. Familiarity has made me very fond of it. I write this wearing a fleece lined shirt that has been worn for a decade. That is to say, a decade ago it was worn and should have been thrown out, now there is barely enough shirt to merit the name. Despite that it is warm, at least the memories are, so it stays. I retreat to its shelter when the outlook is snowy. 'February Gold' has the same effect. The house is cheered by its presence


18th March 2018

Meconopsis 'Lingholm'.
I'm not sure whether I like Meconopsis or not. Naturally I am dazzled by their beauty but it is only there for a moment. For the rest of the year you have to live with the tantrums and the attitude. Meconopsis have judged it well. Last year I was delighted with their behaviour, I was tentatively thinking that I might have found a location and cultivation technique that suited them. It was a good year, my handful of mature plants all flowered and they all set seed. Not only flowered, but went on to produce new leaf rosettes. I was amazed, it was the first time that the blue petals haven't foretold an early death.
Seed sown (almost) immediately germinated well and the little plants grew away with no apparent loss from damping off and mildew. I was astounded, smug, delighted and didn't say a single word (other than the conventional expressions of sympathy) when a friend was bemoaning the slow but relentless damping off of his seedlings.
Autumn brings its own challenges, and almost overnight the whole lot collapsed for the year into piles of hairy brown debris. The big question, is there a decent heart underneath or have they just died? I quick feel of the adult plant found no sign of a hard heart and winter was rather depressing. The seedlings had vanished and I couldn't believe there was enough crown to hold out any hope.
A couple of warm days mark the return to joy as the seedlings produce some new leaves. I'm sure there are slugs out there planning to plunge me back into misery but for the moment these little scraps of green are more precious than the fleeting blue petals. They are wonderful, but life with Meconopsis is a roller-coaster. I'm not sure if I like them.


18th March 2018

Corydalis solida .
With heavy snow wobbling on the horizen perhaps it is a day for ambiguity. An hour ago the forecast was threatening snow at one, now it has been delayed until two. At that rate I might assume it would never make it but the Corydalis have a lesson to teach.
I am always looking for plants that will add interest to the woodland. They have to be bulbs that will pop up in the autumn or spring and then disappear by late summer so that I can get in there and cut down any brambles that are trying to establish.There are plenty of candidates that might work well, but only a few that do. My eye lit upon Corydalis cava, having seen it at Warley Place taking full advantage of the lack of a gardener to run riot through the trees. C. solida is so similar, perhaps it might do the same in brighter colours? A plan was hatched, a few plants were put out. Some sombre purples and three scarlet 'George Baker'. They flowered, the rabbits didn't eat them (the fragile stems are thinner than tissue paper, I doubt there's any nutrition in them) and they died away in good time. Unfortunately the following spring their return was underwhelming. It was a nice idea, but it didn't work out.
Every year since I have looked for the remants. I get a flower here or there but I have been waiting for them to fade away completely. This year they are back. It might have looked like fading away but it was actually building strength for a grand return. The snow may be doing the same.
This little purple speck of camouflage is stronger than it has ever been and all three plants of 'George Baker' are flowering. Perhaps it has just taken them a long time to adapt to the new situation. It may be worth planting a couple of hundred in the autumn after all.


18th March 2018

Pleione 'Eiger' .
The last big freeze hit just as the Pleione started to produce flower buds. The Cymbidium are out there as well and it was enough to destroy all the developing flowers for this year. The Pleione thawed and then carried on as though nothing had happened. Perhaps that is the significant boundary between hardy and tender, the test of flowering. There are other tests that can be applied. I think my short flirtation with Epidendrum has come to an end. I had three plants growing well among the cacti (warmest corner of the greenhouse) and they grew very well through the summer. A long mild winter also suited them and I was beginning to think they might be a possibility. After a freeze the leaves and stems have yellowed. In the sunshine they glow amber with an inner light. If the stems weren't so stiff with fibre they would be mush.
I haven't had the courage to check Pleione praecox yet. It flowers in autumn - in my case it doesn't flower in autumn, but that's a technicality - and it isn't very hardy. I have killed it before and was feeling quite happy that the replacement was growing vigorously. One of those things that I might have brought inside if I had thought about it.
Pleione Eiger seems quite happy and is the first of the genus to flower, despite having P. humilis for a parent (tender and fickle). It starts the season of ridiculously large orchid flowers. The greenhouse is warm and I have had to start watering again.
Winter is over, I just have to break the news to the weather.


18th March 2018

Corydalis solida gets the last laugh.