Friday, 28 February 2014

Plant of the Moment No. 19: Daphne bholua 'Jacqueline Postill'

In flower since late December and still going strong, with many buds yet to open, this semi-evergreen shrub fills a large area of the garden with an intoxicating, almost addictive scent – particularly if you stand downwind on a mild day with the lightest of breezes. Unlike some Daphnes, this seems to be a relatively easy plant to establish and one that for us has made a large shrub over the course of the last eight years or so. Okay, so the foliage starts to look a bit battered by the end of the winter, and the older leaves yellow and drop in spring, but the long season of mid-winter flowering, the clusters of slightly waxy, yellow-stamened pink flowers, and above all the outstanding perfume, make this minor fault eminently forgiveable. This is a plant I would not be without.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Sunshine between the showers

Some welcome sunshine between the showers over the last few days has shone a spotlight on the textures and colours of early spring...

Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) seedheads
Vivid young shoots of Persicaria microcephala 'Red Dragon'
Unfurling buds of Ribes sanguineum 'White Icicle'
A hybrid of Pulmonaria officinalis
'Pussy willows' of Salix daphnoides
Willow stems, hazel catkins and snowdrops

Monday, 24 February 2014

Lenten Roses steal a march

The Christian observance of Lent, associated with piousness and self-denial, doesn't begin for another ten days, but nobody seems to have mentioned that to the hellebores – or 'Lenten Roses' – already at their gorgeous peak, some in demurely dusky shades of deepest wine red, others in far more flamboyant dress, ranging from apricot, through primrose yellow, to vivid green and pure white, many embelished with delicate veining or bold spotting. Hold one of the nodding flowers in your hand and turn it upwards to marvel at the intricate structure of the petal-like outer tepals enclosing dozens of bright yellow stamens, clustered around a protruding tuft of styles and emerging from a basal ring of nectaries, whose sweet secretions are so attractive to the first bumble-bees of spring. Lasting for weeks, hellebores are among the seasonal stalwarts of this garden and the moment they are over I begin looking forward to their next flowering – mid-way between the first snowdrops and the first wild daffodils.


Sunday, 23 February 2014

Mr Bowles' and Mr Rijnveld's precocious daffodils

While the prize for the earliest daffodil in our garden always goes to Narcissus 'Cedric Morris', usually in flower well before Christmas Day, those following hot on Cedric's heels as he begins to fade for another year both have their precocious nature writ large in their cultivar names: 'Bowles' Early Sulphur' and 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation'. The former is named for one of the doyens of British horticulture, the latter after a Dutch nurseryman (but therein lies a tale of horticultural skulduggery, of which more shortly).

Narcissus 'Bowles' Early Sulphur'
E. A. (Edward Augustus) Bowles (1865–1954) of Myddelton House, Enfield, Middlesex, was an avid gardener and plant collector and a prolific horticultural writer, with a particular interest in bulbs. It is therefore fitting that among many plants to carry his name is one of the first daffodils to flower in spring. I was captivated when I saw it in bloom at The Garden House a few years ago and am now proud to have a small, but slowly increasing colony of this diminutive gem in my own garden. The snowdrop Galanthus plicatus 'Augustus', together with Milium effusum 'Aureum' (known as Bowles' Golden Grass) and Carex elata 'Aurea' (Bowles' Golden Sedge) grow nearby.

Narcissus 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation'
In his recently published book Daffodil: The remarkable story of the world's most popular spring flower Noel Kingsbury writes that 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation' was "...originally bred by F. Herbert Chapman in England, of unknown parentage*, sometime before 1943, but only registered in 1956 by F. Rijnveld & Sons of Holland. This was not the first time that English growers might feel aggrieved at Dutch nurseries taking their plants and renaming them – a constant problem in plant breeding history." [*The delicate matter of doubtful parentage refers to the daffodil, rather than to Herbert.]

The name 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation' is certainly striking and apt to elicit a wry smile or possibly an ever-so-slightly-smutty titter. Not only does it show that hyperbole in the commercial naming of plants is nothing new, but it also has overtones of breathless Victorian newspaper advertisements: "Such is the Sensation provoked by the introduction from Holland of Mr Rijnveld's latest horticultural wonder, that ladies are swooning in the drawing rooms of Chelsea, rendered senseless by the Early display of his golden trumpet." Or words to that effect (I made that bit up, by the way).  

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Top Trumps

A view from above of one of our favourite snowdrops – Galanthus 'Trumps' is a vigorous hybrid with green-splashed pagoda-shaped flowers, originally from Matt Bishop when he was at The Garden House on the southern fringe of Dartmoor.