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After a long, dull spell the weather started to brighten this week. We have passed the Solstice and I am sure the longer days are starting to show. On the other hand it might just be that it has stopped raining. The rain didn't drift away like a feather on the wind it dropped from the sky with a crash and ended. The sunshine is very welcome. It animates the garden and marbles the wet ground with intricate shadows.
There will be a price to pay for the bright light. The weather forecast is predicting the arrival of the cold. At the moment it looks as though we have a few cold days to get through, and some colder nights, before the temperature starts to rise towards the end of the week. Only time will tell if it works out that way. At this time of year a return to warmer weather cannot be relied upon.
I have taken heed of the warning and wandered around the greenhouse scattering fleece willy-nilly. There is no suggestion of a radiation frost yet, but these things occur at very short notice. In December 2022, a radiation frost seriously damaged the Clivia and many of the Dendrobium and it arrived almost without warning. The cloud that was scheduled to blow in simply didn't arrive and suddenly the greenhouse was at risk. This year I have put the fleece out early, the Clivia are sheltered beneath black plastic and I have crossed my meteorological fingers in preparation. The greenhouse was warm in the sunshine this morning but it won't last.

Camellia 'Winters Interlude' .
Camellia 'Mary Christian'.
The garden has been rolling on its back through a warm December like a happy puppy waiting for its tummy to be tickled. The camellias have taken full advantage of the warmth. I wouldn't expect to see 'Mary Christian' in flower until February, or even March but this year the first flowers opened in December and she is approaching full bloom already. It probably means that the camellia season will be short this year but that won't be a bad thing. It they hang on until April and May then I start to get bored.
This is one of the oldest camellias in the garden. It went in during the second phase of garden planting at the end of the 1980's. The first phase of planting involved a lot of overly intricate plans and a bare, windswept field. It wasn't a great success. There was a year of herbaceous wonder, and a realisation that I couldn't cope with the complexity I had planted. A couple of years of spectacular meadows were followed by a year or two of denial. It concluded with a few years of wildlife garden (brambles) and a rethink.
The second phase of planting involved a lot more trees and large shrubs. They fought the brambles which saved me a lot of bloodshed and saved the village from the constant sound of distant swearing. This Camellia is a phase two plant. It has grown large, suppressed weed and delivered a reliable springtime spectacle. My friends laugh at me when I say that I am not overly fond of camellias but it is true. However they are astonishingly practical. I prefer them to alternatives. They rescued the garden from my ignorant whimsy and I am very grateful. If I lived on chalk I think I would still be trying to plant doomed Iris and Geranium into a field.

Galanthus 'Bess'.
Who would have thought that decades later I would be planting snowdrops and watching them prosper. I planted a few daft things during phase one, but I stopped short of snowdrops. For a year or two I had a quite impressive collection of perennials Oenothera. It's a genus that I would love to revisit but its not for this garden. The original collection was all turned to hay.
Snowdrops have grown well. The soil here is deep and moist and they like it. If there is a problem it is that I have too many trees. Snowdrops do best where they get a bit of sunshine and in the places where I get a bit of sunshine I also get a profusion of brambles. So the snowdrops go into compromise positions. Light enough to let them grow, not light enough to let anything else take over. If you look at them growing naturally in the UK they find the same locations, deciduous woodland that lets some light in during the winter months and then closes over into weed destroying darkness once the summer comes.
I had no great expectations when I bought Galanthus 'Bess' but year after year it has demonstrated its quality. It is a very snowdroppy snowdrop. I would be hard pressed to identify a character in its appearance that was distinctive enough to pick it out in a crowd. Nonetheless, in that same crowd it would still stand out. It makes good clumps, it flowers early, it holds itself well. It is a really good garden plant. At the risk of being boringly repetitive, it is a very snowdroppy snowdrop.

Helleborus x hybridus 'Crimson Ruffles'.
Helleborus x hybridus 'Crimson Ruffles' is not a particularly hellebory hellebore, however it has the hellebores greatest asset, sturdy determination. Just as some snowdrops are strong and some are rather pathetic, so some hellebores persist with dogged determination and others flower, get the vapours and wilt away after a year or two. I have planted a great number of special hellebore hybrids in the garden over the years but it is generally the ordinary ones that have persisted.
This one came from Robin White and like so much of the stuff that came from Blackthorn Nursery, it isn't just special it is tough and special. This strain has anemone centred flowers and, if the light is right, good red flowers. It has come up year after year with no attention, always being one of the first to flower. Last year I moved it to a more open position and now I am hoping that it will increase more rapidly.
As the afternoon has passed the temperature in the garden has dropped. The gritting lorries have be passing on the road and I think we are in for a cold night. Perhaps next week the pictures will be all about sunlight and sparkling frost. The air is heavy with anticipation.