Penstemons & Japanese Anemones in winter; first and last flowering bulbs - Ipheion and Tritonia

The last Japanese Anemone, the rest cut down for composting. I simply did not have the heart to give it the snip. The anemones have been special this year.

The Penstemon has a very very special place in our garden as it was the last plant my mother gave me. The plants keep on giving in this exceptionally mild autumn and early winter.

The first of several Ipheions we possess in shades of white, pink and blue. They are always a reliable source of early colour and, placed on a table on the rear patio, the spicy fragrance of their foliage is somewhat reminiscent of a mild Fritillaria imperialis. Whatever, there are lots of buds ready to burst out.

Undoubtedly a handsome fellow, this red Tritonia has caused me something of a problem in its sheer bountiful spread. Originally a small shoot popped into a sink garden with alpines and winter bulbs, it has simply exploded. Given our near record breaking warm autumn here in Britain it is something of a wrench to cut plants down in preparation for Spring. So this chap is one of a huge clump placed in a temporary pot until I decide what to do. Meanwhile I had to attend to the disturbed sink, plant labels and bulbs that have been cast asunder.

Variations in Helleborus × hybridus 'Harvington Double White"

Hodsock plant stall on 8th February 2014 when we were examining the lush hellebore, 'Harvington Double White". Isn't it lovely, and something of a change, when one can say about a plant: ours is better! I have seen many of the Harvington Hellebores and this double white is the best by some distance in my opinion.

We inspected our own specimen on our return. It resides in a large planter in the front garden and is simply voluptuous in full bloom. It is a confident beauty refusing to droop its head in a way that so many hellebores do. Ours manages some three months of flower, almost blooming itself to death from late December well into March. I purchased it from a batch of seedlings for a pittance with one single bloom to show its class. None of the others in the batch matched this one. Whether it is a bona fide Harvington I do not know but it is glorious.

Examining it this morning there is not the tiniest sliver of a bud and I gave it some liquid feed to perk it up. But in this photograph I remember just what we may have in store later in winter. Unlike some of our hellebores it collapses in the most dire cold only to rise again, Lazarus-like, as the weather slightly improves. It is four years old now, and a selection of its seedlings adorn the garden though they have yet to flower. Maybe this year.

In the beginning, or almost .... an alpine garden from seed.

It hurts my eyes, but here we are way back in 1978 I think, our daughter and my second garden. Our second daughter was born that autumn.We had a semi-detached house on a slope. Poor as church mice at that time, the stone was a big investment from the local quarry in Billinge, Lancashire. No money for plants in those days so I grew everything, save for the bulbs, from seed. There was a public footpath at the bottom of the slope and folk used to pause to admire the garden much to my great pleasure. Aubretia, helianthemum, campanula, sedum, saxifraga for pennies, catalogues galore and a gradual use for my elementary schoolboy Latin.

A damp, foggy day but still bright at Hodsock Priory

We visited one of my favourite snowdrop gardens this morning. Hodsock Priory opens from Saturday 31st January - Sunday 1st March 2015. We shall be there. But for now, Hodsock at the end of November. 
Daffodils in November. This very morning indeed.  George Buchanan, who now runs Hodsock Priory in North Nottinghamshire with his wife Katharine, could not remember the name sadly. My own earliest variety is "Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’ 
We were on a tour. I got lost in the crowd and so could not ask the name of this early flowering Rhododendron but my guess is "Praecox".
We have two Sorbus having planted our largest red Rowan when we moved to our new home in 1981. The blackbirds devour its berries the moment the red appears, the white being left until relatively late in the new year. This fine specimen looked lovely with the rain glistening on the fruits. 

Hodsock Priory in the late November mist and drizzle. I have brighter images of the house but this is as it was at noon today. Hodsock is where I first realised that snowdrops come in many guises and where I bought my first "collector's snowdrop", the double "Lady Beatrix Stanley", named after one of the Buchanan family's illustrious ancestors. I have a few in the garden now and doubtless they will feature as the season allows.
It is easy to overlook the humble Mahonia but this is a bright plant on a winter's morning.

A young Ginkgo Biloba with butter coloured foliage. We have a specimen but obviously in too shady a spot. We do not get this gorgeous deep colour.
And finally a Malus in full fruit. Both of ours are selected seedlings brought to what was then a  spanking new house over thirty years ago. Ours sheds its fruit on the lawn, smelling of raw cider as I toured our modest estate (ha ha) this afternoon.

And remembering .....

Galanthus 'Mighty Atom'