8th December 2019
Galanthus 'Peter Gatehouse' .
At the end of the week a strong breeze is blowing a confetti of sunshine through the garden. Tiny sparkles alight here and there but the sky is darkening,
the rain is returning. So it won't matter that I have been planting things out and not watering them in.
A radiation frost during the week killed off the last Dahlia flower. It finally put the last vestiges of summer out of their misery - it was the kindest thing to do
under the circumstances. Musa sikikimensis turned from perky-green to droopy-brown overnight. I'm hoping that the stems will survive the winter and give it a head-start
in spring. It is planted on the boundary by the side of the main road, the plan is that the whizzing cars and burning petrol will keep the temperature up a bit. Last time
I planted it in the garden it was followed by the coldest cold winter since the last one and it died. Time will tell if the main-road-heat-island effect is enough to save it.
Early snowdrops are continuing to delight. Galanthus 'Peter Gateghouse' is one of the earlier G. elwesii forms, distributed originally by Washfield Nursery.
It has spent a couple of weeks as a slender and elegant bud before a speck of glowing confetti landed on it and it opened.
8th December 2019
Camellia brevistyla .
I am sure that there must be an unexpected Camellia open in the garden. One of the spring flowering forms that has become over excited in the headlong rush to the solstice.
I can't find it and I am convinced that I have looked everywhere. At least I am convinced until I sit down again. What about the camellias by the road - there might be an errant bud or two on the sunny side.
I will have to go and check later. They are only accidents of timing, like early Christmas presents, but they are a pure joy. They are not the delight of spring, they are the promise of the delight of spring,
somehow it is much more telling.
Meanwhile poor old Camellia brevistyla is struggling to do its December duty. I grew a potful of seedlings many years ago and they have been potted up and potted on but never quite planted out.
It is a mistake that I must rectify, this one has been in its pot for far too long. The flower is a tiny reflection of its proper magnificence. It flowers a little later than the C. sasanqua forms,
straddling the awkward gap between Autumn and Spring, that period that the pessimists refer to as "Winter". It must go out, it needs a chance to astonish and amaze. I might put it behind
Musa sikkimensis so that it can sparkle with winter sunlight as the banana turns to black mush. Triumph from disaster, light at the end of the tunnel, an evergreen windbreak, take your pick.
8th December 2019
Massonia pustulata purple leaf .
The mediterranean climate zones around the world are home to some interesting plants for temperate maritime gardens like mine. Spring rains in medeterranean regions
promote the early flowering of a wide range of shrubs and herbaceous plants that become dormant as the heat and drought of summer take hold. In wetter gardens many of these will
keep flowering throughout the summer, released from the restrictions of water supply.
There are also a large number of bulbs that will spring into growth at the arrival of the first Autumn rains to flower, produce leaves and spend a happy winter photosynthesising
their hearts out. They are a joy. Under the eaves on the south side of the house Narcissus pachybolbos is poking through the soil. It is a Moroccan species and I have yet
to see if it will settle in the garden but at the other end of the African continent there are a wealth of other winter growing bulbs to delight the darkening days.
Massonia pustulata will never be tested outside. It is cold hardy but I doubt I have anywhere dry enough in the garden to suit it. It comes from the Western Cape
where its winter flowers are pollinated by rodents. In the greenhouse it is remarkably tolerant of drought - even the cactus enthusiasts have started to grow it to provide winter interest.
This one is referred to as the purple leaved form but the colour only shows if the plant is kept on the brink of dehydration through the autumn. This one was watered once
as the Nerine set off into growth and green leaves are the inevitable consequence.
8th December 2019
Nerine 'Aquila' .
Lush green leaves on a Massonia are a small price to pay for the display from the Nerine house. Winter is scratching at the plastic walls of the house, and the Nerine can feel it,
but there is still plenty of colour on show. This is a difficult time of year, I tend to underwater the plants even though they are in full growth. As a result the latest flower spikes
risk flopping over as the flowers expand. I could keep them wetter, but the risk of really hard weather freezing the pots solid prevents me. They tolerate a lot more cold than might be expected
but frozen pots would probably be a chill too far.
'Aquila' is one of a series of hybrids between N. sarniensis and N. undulata that produce late season colour. The hybrids are mostly pink, I have one or two at the palest end of the range
that could almost be mistaken for white, but I haven't yet seen a scarlet or red member of the group. 'Aquila' started early, as the N. sarniensis cultivars reached a peak, and it is still going strong.
These hybrids don't seem to produce seed under my conditions and that may be why the flowers last so long. Perhaps they would seed if kept warmer, perhaps it is the cold that preserves them.
Whatever the cause, the flowers remain fresh until the clammy condensation of winter claims them.
With ponderous determination the garden is aligning itself for spring. Small changes are accumulating. I spent a practical evening during the week entering events for 2020 in my new diary.
It reminded me that this is the calm before the storm of Spring.