Hellebore & snowdrops in bloom today plus a spot of colour

Many of the snowdrops are forming seed now and it is time to nip out the spent flower to conserve and build up the bulbs. There are still varieties in bloom however but, first, a lovely hellebore tested over time and now occupying a north facing situation in its square pot where perhaps it is not as voluptuous as previous years. Still, as featured in 2014, Helleborus × hybridus 'Harvington Double White" is a spectacular sight when in full bloom. The dark situation delayed its flowering by over a month. It is repaying the wait for it does lighten the heart

Now for the snowdrops. First, two that are very similar. "The Wizard" is from Avon Bulbs. We are promised that we will fall under its spell. If it matches "Trymposter" it will do well. Both are seedlings of "Trym", "Wizard" having the more rounded outer petals, and an inner that is more or less green.

"The Wizard"

Next up is another plicatus variety, "Sophie North", noted for its short stems, thick, glaucous leaves and a tragic story for it was named after a girl in the Scottish village of Dunblane who died in the dreadful massacre of schoolchildren there in 1996. Sophie had lost her mother to cancer two years before the event. The snowdrop is distinctive at the front of a border, precious and a fitting way to remember a child.

Snowdrops can look underwhelming when photographed. "Duckie" is actually distinctive, with imposingly white petals and a dark green inner that makes a good contrast. It was introduced by Alan Street, and the second snowdrop is a reworking of his name "Alan's Treat". This is a dainty snowdrop that looks rather overwhelmed in the border by other green tipped varieties. I'll move it when it ceases to flower for it is a choice variety. (As an aside, should I ever have a snowdrop named in my honour I want it robust.)


"Alan's Treat"

Too much white perhaps. A few spots of colour. The crocus have been with us for a decade and grow thickly. I have no idea of the name. The two cyclamen coum were taken from the bottom of the garden, where they proliferate with their autumn cousins, and popped into pots. One was selected for its pale foliage, the other for its dark foliage and sharp colour. On this measure, the darker the foliage the more vigorous the plant.

Galanthus nivalis 'Flocon de Neige'

Galanthus nivalis 'Flocon de Neige' is a snowdrop worthy of its own post on the blog. We all have our own favourites. Snowdrop varieties can be very different, they each have their own qualities, flower at different periods; they can be spotted, green, large or small, or yellow; they may smile or scowl at you. Well this little six-petalled beauty squeezes into the favourites category. It hit the news in 2008 when it fetched a record £265 on eBay. I love it because it looks good from above, the usual viewing point, and from below, a position it may be seen from if it is placed as mine is at eye level on a shelf. Like so many unusual snowdrops, 'Flocon de Neige' was a discovery by Mark Brown in Buckinghamshire in the 1980s. I read that Mark wished to call it "Snowflake" but the name was already taken by the Leucojum. The French equivalent seemed to work and think of the fun to be had wrapping your tongue around the accent. Luckily I have help.

Our garden au naturel

There is a lot happening in the garden at the moment despite more wind and lower temperatures. Over the years I have become more interested in natural arrangements of plants, much to Jan's chagrin as she hankers after the organised gardening of my father-in-law who laid out his beds and borders with military precision. He would not have got this little fellow seeding itself in the front lawn, along with many of its pals.

And he would most certainly have had less moss and weeds than my bit of turf.

And yet, among the weeds are jewels and snowdrops, aconites, crocus, even Iris 'Katharine Hodgkin' should one look carefully.

There is also something no blog can convey other than by assurance: scent, glorious streaming fragrance from our Daphne bholua 'Jacqueline Postill', a plant that is synonymous with this season and one I could not do without. It is the first thing visitors remark on as they approach our house. It is sensational, permeating the whole garden with what I can only describe as a hyacinth-like heaven.

Harvington Double Purple Cascade & Harvington Double Lilac Speckled

I look at gardening blogs with arrangements of flowers that are mind-blowing, rendering anything I might attempt as penny arcade material. So my plants have to do it all themselves, with a little manipulation of individual pots as my gesture towards floral arrangement. Two of the Harvington Hellebores that look fantastic in pots are "Harvington Double Purple Cascade" and "Harvington Double Lilac Speckled". The former is perfectly named with a rich colour and masses, and I mean masses, of deeply coloured flowers.

The double lilac variety is petite and stunning in a pot, reveling in the bonsai-like conditions. Indeed when my daughter looked at the plants earlier this week she seemed more impressed by this than anything else (in a world of wonders.) So well recommended then.

For reasons of comparison I placed both together. Were my arms twisted and I was forced to choose only one, I would be hard pressed, then ask my wife.

Hoop Petticoat Narcissus

"Atlas Gold"
Yesterday's gales ripped the roofing felt off our large shed so my gardening tasks were set aside on a sunny, still day as I ripped the skin off my fingers and made the roof watertight again. Time however to photograph the various hoop petticoat narcissus that looked pretty in the sun on the display bench. Narcissus bulbocodium are surprisingly unused in our gardens. They are often described as being "unusual" though appear in all the catalogues, if not the garden centre shelves. Given good drainage they are reliable and do particularly well in pots. In 2015 they were flowering for Christmas Day. They have taken a little longer this season. The common name comes from their similarity to the Victorian whalebone hoop petticoat. I intend to plant a drift in the rockery this autumn as they should make quite a spectacle. Who knows, I may take a risk and attempt to naturalise them in the front lawn and go completely native, my sister-in-law having remarked that our garden is getting more like a woodland glade as each year passes. I took it as a great compliment. For now, I've limited myself to clay pots in which I have a number of varieties, many of which look remarkably similar to be honest.

FS12611 (Seedling)
"Mary Poppins"
"Limey Lass"
Narcissus cantabricus
"Lemon Flare"

Rik Poot: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Arendts Garden, Bruges

Bruges is a city of beauty and history that it is quite easy for us to visit taking the short ferry across the North Sea. The city is full of tourists. It is a tribute to the beauty of the city that it surmounts the numbers and remains a destination to which we return every two years or so. Bruges is not surprisingly a Unesco World Heritage Site. I occasionally feature art and on a day on which gales rage the land I seek refuge in the past. So here we are on the 18th April 2014, in central Bruges, behind the museum, the Arentshuis, and in the small park of Hof Arents where to one side of the hump backed bridge we encounter four bronze figures by the Flemish sculptor, Rik Poot. They represent the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Conquest, War,  Famine, and Death. I have not the slightest idea which is which. My first thought was that they represented Don Quixote, a stupid idea as I'm in the wrong country, the horse is certainly not Rocinante, the figure does not wear a hat and there is no sign of Sancho Panza. Other than that .... I am, despite my country's decision to leave the European Union, a Europhile. I shall have to compensate for my fellow countrymen and women by visiting the continent more frequently.  I know rather more of Cervantes’ tale than of Rik Poot, but these are powerful figures.

Brightwater Gardens, Saxby, Lincolnshire

Imagine starting a major garden from scratch, transforming eight acres of fertile farmland in the flat county of Lincolnshire into a garden open to the public. It's what dreams are made of. It is eleven years since Chris Neave, a twenty years served landscape gardener, commenced constructing a garden for the 21st century on the grounds of a 1930s bungalow built by his great aunt Annie Winifred Neave. Situated in the small village of Saxby, you can spot the influence the moment you approach the village down a narrow road between open fields. Suddenly snowdrops adorn the verges. The gardens surround two modern stone houses. Brightwater Gardens was a surprise. February can strip away any gardens to its foundations and here the foundations are clearly delineated.  For me the eighty varieties of snowdrops on offer were a main draw. The gardens were open for two weeks only for the snowdrop season, re-opening on April 28th. We will certainly return for the summer when we are reliably informed the planting is lush and varied.

The small clumps of snowdrops contained some choice varieties

A notice apologised for the late flowering of the crocus but look!

Neat paths, birch and planted bulbs and the broad lincolnshire sky

A garden in development but so neatly manicured for the warmer months

A whole variety of trees have been planted, and under-planted

The crocus were not named but perhaps "Snow Bunting" 

The snowdrops were all labelled. Perhaps"Brenda Troyle"

Many new projects were in progress

Again a new project

To the side of the house there are hidden depths

Hedges and architectural topiary are impressive for a garden so young

Iris and snowdrops make good bed fellows

"Spindlestone Surprise"

A "barn" for light refreshments and wood burner stove

The narrow road was planted with snowdrops to good effect

St. Helens Church, believed to have been designed by Capability Brown

We left to a fly-by from the Red Arrows based at nearby RAF Scampton

Galanthus plicatus 'Diggory'

'Diggory' is a favourite snowdrop for many people. The seersucker, textured petals are attractive enough but the puffed out and round shape makes for a snowdrop that is distinctive to say the least. I have read that when one asks a child which snowdrop they like they will invariably pick 'Diggory'. (My seven year old grandson was asked that very question this Saturday. He deliberated, cogitated, touched them and then said, "The blue pot".) Whatever, 'Diggory' is distinctive when many other snowdrops are not which counts for much in my eyes. It has increased moderately well in three years, forming a small clump but only two blooms. I shall have to get the feeding correct this year.

Galanthus nivalis 'Ecusson d'Or'- Perfection in Yellow

Three years ago a snowdrop enthusiast recommended a small number of bulbs that were exemplary of their type. Looking back at the list I realise how well he knew his stuff. The priciest yellow was Galanthus nivalis 'Ecusson d'Or' and it is genuinely exquisite, a strikingly beautiful flower. The ovary, inner and outer petals all have a strong yellow and their markings are as fine as if an artist had painted them. There are yellow varieties around that command huge sums and do not dwarf this pioneer. Translated as Shield of Gold after the French hamlet where it was discovered in 2004, 'Ecusson d'Or has only now come into flower. Three years of perseverance has paid off. The clump has thickened out well and at last sent out a solitary flowering stem. I expect the bloom to open out more this year and more blooms next year. For now I am chuffed to bits. Perfection in yellow.

And remembering .....

Galanthus 'Mighty Atom'