Happy New Year

 May 2021 be much, much better than 2020. That won't be difficult. Luckily we have a garden. Keep well, dear readers.

A Christmas stroll through Yorkshire Wildlife Park's Winter Illuminations. Socially distanced and cold.

Christmas Elf

 Before it disappears completely, and in that barren garden period, here's a little something from our twelve year old granddaughter, Daisy, to celebrate Christmas. Hopefully I'll have a succession of plants to write about soon.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

 Merry Christmas to all, particularly gardeners, lovers of plants and fellow bloggers. 

Hellebore niger 'Verboom Beauty' for Christmas

 The weather was perishing cold today yet I can take any low temperature provided the sun is out which it was as we set off for a walk in nearby Nostell Priory. Arriving there and drinking my usual caffe latte outside we had dark clouds and rain. The intended long walk was shorter than intended. Driving back the sun came out. Hellebore niger 'Verboom Beauty' graces our porch. It was bred specifically to flower at Christmas and indoors. The cool porch is perfect. So is a plant one may enjoy whatever the weather.

Allium carinatum subsp. pulchellum - exploding firework

 Not the time for sowing seeds one might expect and I have been intimidated by alliums self seeding as pernicious weeds underneath our beech hedge. Still, in for a penny, in for a pound or rather less in this case. Allium carinatum subsp. pulchellum, or more mystically witch's garlic, is a late flowering, exploding firework of an allium, photographed here on 27th August at Wentworth Castle Gardens. What the image does not do is capture the bees and hover flies that thronged the tiny, bead-like flowers. Truly it was an entrancing sight in the summer sun and despite no label displayed I chased up the name to discover this flowering onion from Mediterranean climes, perhaps the latest in flower of its type. This is not an expensive bulb if rather hard to find. However there was some straggling growth discarded by the tidying gardening team on a visit there last week. Hence today's seed sowing as the winter light faded. I read that there needs to be some frosting for the seed to be viable. There was much more about propagation complete with diagrams and figures which I disregarded. As my beech hedge garlic is illiterate yet still plagues me mercilessly, I hope for similar fertility in this case. Something to look out for in the spring after what promises to be a damp squib of a Christmas.

Rosa banksiae 'Lutea' - time to say goodbye

 One of the most difficult acts in gardening is to discard a beautiful plant and yet there are times when it is time to say goodbye. You might fancy a change, it may simply be in the wrong place, or it has outgrown you. I have had to make some tough decisions this year. Too often in the past I've let sentiment get in the way of practicality. Take the early flowering climbing rose, Rosa banksiae 'Lutea', that graced our south facing patio wall. Note, dear reader, the past tense. 'Lutea', photographed here on 21st April, is a stunner. I bought it a few years ago in imitation of Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire. There the yellow laden, thornless tentacles leap up to the tall towers, a truly magnificent sight so early in the year, or anytime come to think. Frankly on our modest wall the plant was too much of a good thing. When not bathed in eye-catching, fresh, tightly bunched, clusters of flowers I was forever pruning it. Windows, guttering and roof were fair game. It had to go to be replaced by a modest clematis. I'll miss it in spring. If you have a stately home do give it a try.

Renishaw Hall - 'Lutea' climbs to top of centre tower!

Ted Hughes 'Snowdrop' on the Shortest Day

 I can't let bad news on Covid, narcissus fly losses and me griping about paying excessive prices on ebay (when no one is forced to part with their money) pass without offering something positive. So here's a little poem for the shortest day.

Snowdrop - Ted Hughes  

Now is the globe shrunk tight 

Round the mouse’s dulled wintering heart. 

Weasel and crow, as if moulded in brass, 

Move through an outer darkness 

Not in their right minds, 

With the other deaths. 

She, too, pursues her ends, 

Brutal as the stars of this month, 

Her pale head heavy as metal.

As the globe has 'shrunk tight', predators weasel and crow struggle to survive in  winter's dark, the mouse hibernates in the earth and, like stars in a cold sky, the snowdrop flowers, albeit 'pale' and with 'metal' for petal.

Narcissus Fly: The Ugly Truth

 A chastening, unpleasant image today as I reveal the murky secrets of the Narcissus Fly larvae. They make a home out of a nice plump snowdrop or narcissus bulb that serves them as food and shelter through the winter. This little dwelling is or was 'Pieces of Eight' - a warning for those who fork out lots of cash for the latest varieties of snowdrops. For the record, it is possible for a bulb to survive although in the case of smaller bulbs, and this one, I rather doubt it. I live in hope. Whatever, from top down: bulb, grub, adult fly. Pretty things aren't they. There does not appear to be a pesticide on the market to deal with the pest. Prevention is better than cure I read though how one might practically whack every passing two winged bumblebee (real bees have four wings) is beyond me. 

Friendly Robin

 I can't be alone in delighting in the company of the friendly robin when I work in the garden.  They have a delightful lilting song in full cry but it's a simple chirp that alerts me to their presence and it's always very near, only just out of reach and within actual reach a moment later. I turn the soil over and they seize opportunity, insect, seed or worm. I used to regularly throw food to a particularly tame one through the patio window until a mouse also took an interest and my infatuation folded. Anyway this little beauty has been at the same spot at a local RSPB  reserve for our last three visits. The exact same spot and today I noticed s/he had been ringed which seems excessive for a tiny thing even for a bird reserve. No hint of resentment however. Jewellery.

Snowdrops: Inflated Prices, Ridiculous Prices on eBay

 Today I had a look at some of the pots of snowdrops that have shown no sign of life on my display bench. This can be a dispiriting experience though most are simply biding their time. But there have been casualties. 'Pieces of Eight' has a hole right through it, infestation or rot, I'm not sure. So a blast of fungicide but little or no hope. I have also just done the hot water treatment of 40C to kill any larvae still devouring the bulb. Snowdrops achieve huge prices on eBay. Given that a passing narcissus fly may take a fancy to your prized and expensive plant it's a huge risk. I have parted with no money for snowdrops this season and little over the past two years. All my snowdrops now come from swaps and I'm very cynical about new varieties that add little if anything to the range. For instance most featured below are very adjacent to a number I could mention - clever marketing campaigns from sellers who rightly see eBay as the money tree that keeps on giving. Some growers I know have switched sales entirely to eBay. Here are a few delights on offer today. One has little visual merit from what I can see and maximum merit in terms of price. By the time you read this post one at least will have been sold. 'Titanic' gives me that sinking feeling. Should you be a reader outside the UK I will convert the currency for you. (£200 is a lot.) Note that the price for delivery varies. It does not cost £10 to post a single snowdrop. Greedy! Oh, and I have one of those featured below bought last year for a sliver of the price. It has at least two flower buds and one plant will be swapped after flowering. I may get a replacement piece of eight.

Clumber Park Historic Bridge

 We walk around the lake at Clumber Park twice a week. During the Covid restrictions the four mile trip has been a mainstay. But this is a post about the beautiful 250 year old, historic bridge that was vandalised in March 2018. Usually we walk in a clockwise direction which means that by the time we cross the bridge we are about half a mile from the estate courtyard, cafes and toilets. This means coffee, cake or lunch awaits or, more mundanely, car and journey home. Goodness me, we even have two favourite ducks we feed there, cross breeds with domestic escapees I suspect judging by their size. But back to the vandalism where criminals drove a stolen car in a determined and successful attempt to ruin this landmark and route over the lake. Luckily after fund raising and great expense their destruction has been erased, reconstructed and a rare beauty emerges, all the more gorgeous because we now realise the treasures we have, not to mention being spared the extra effort of navigating our way around the upper lake. It's good to know craftspeople still survive and that suitable stone is still able to be quarried  - from very near us as it happens. I'd rather dwell on the positives though I include a photograph to show the task the constructors faced immediately after the incident. Unfortunately no bodies were discovered in the burnt out vehicle or lake.

Sun and snowdrops

 Yesterday I photographed 'Three Ships' with only one flower fully opened. Lots of sunshine today and four ships are sailing. Time to plant them in the garden. I tend to spread my bets with snowdrops. Rot, narcissus fly and stray weeding take a toll. 

Early snowdrops - Galanthus 'Three Ships' & Galanthus 'Fly Fishing'

 The weather has been mild this year with only a couple of mornings of mild frost. 'Three Ships' and 'Fly Fishing' have been out for a few days. Discovered under an oak tree in 1984 'Three Ships', a plicatus or Crimean form, is a conventional snowdrop in every way save for its reliability in flowering in time for Christmas. I saw three ships come sailing in .... The best name for a snowdrop.  'Fly Fishing', an elwesii or giant snowdrop, is a particular delight with a long pedicel and the tendency for fish to leap up and take the bait. We are indebted to John Morley and Alan Street for the two cultivars. 

Dodecatheon Meadia

 'Shooting Star' or plain 'American cowslip', Dodecatheon Meadia is a captivating plant in our May border. Scale on photographs like this are deceptive, the plant being tiny. It looks like a cyclamen and is a member of the primula family. I have grown some from seed for next year and am looking for some variety in colour. I also have an even smaller alba form, photographed in early April, that appeared by osmosis in the front garden. Delightful plants.

Narcissus 'Corby Candle' - Division 2

 I once read an article about the threats posed by bright, modern daffodils encroaching on the traditional more subdued flowers of Ullswater, immortalised in William Wordsworth's poem. 'Corby Candle' is too bright for the Cumbrian lake. A hybrid from the Northamptonshire enthusiast, John Gibson in 2003, this is a vibrant highlight in the Spring border. John is very active in the Daffodil Society. Indeed, should you require a copy of the latest RHS Daffodil, Snowdrop & Tulip yearbook,  John is the port of call. One of my favourite modern narcissus.

Viburnum x juddii in close-up

 We have two of the sweetest smelling shrubs. The daphne will be in flower next month and as I mark time until the new plants come on stream for more current posts here's a reminder of March when our viburnum x juddii was streaming scent.

Fritillaria Crown Imperialis Lutea

 Fritillaria Crown Imperialis Lutea bosses the spring border. The pendant shaped flowers of daffodil yellow have a strong musk smell you either like or dislike. Hard to be neutral. One thing I do know from the wonders of Google analytics is that my earlier post on the orange variety had more views than anything else I've posted for quite some time. Must be that musk.

Fritillaria uva-vulpis

 In the early days of lockdown here in the UK travel was strictly limited to short walks for no more than 50 minutes and our garden became all consuming, vital for 'mental health'. I'd not realised how important visits to parks and gardens were to my state of mind. Luckily I'd new plants in our own garden to look out for and boy did I treasure them. And then there were those I'd taken for granted. Fritillaria uva-vulpis is a small bulb that grows in the front garden in our 'wild area'. Photographed on 4th April when things were grim with Covid and glorious in terms of weather small things mattered. This tiny fritillaria was one of the ingredients of our memorable spring. Don't you think it's a beauty?

Fountain, roses and berberis

 Our fountain was off rather more than it was on this summer. We like the sound of water, I don't like cleaning the filter.  So here is a dry Goddess basking in the sun amidst the roses. We bought the fountain as a reaction to discovering all the fish deceased after returning from a summer vacation. The pump had packed up. I'll just point out the golden berberis on the far right. It is thirty five years old, surviving dogs, children and drought. Safer than fish and no filters to clean. Sharp prickles however. 'Berberis thunbergii Aurea' I've written in an old diary.

'Where the World Turns Wild' by Nicola Penfold

 I don't have advertising on this site. Today I'll make an exception and shamelessly plug our daughter's novel, Where the World Turns Wild, published this year on 6th February. I've linked the title to Amazon though there are other sellers. The blurb explains the plot better than I could ever manage though it has a strong environmental message, plus an equally strong and exciting plot. Read it and be aware the novel was written before the pandemic. Truth and fiction. Adults seem to have enjoyed the novel as much as children. A Korean edition has just been published. 

Family visit

 Apart from the obvious blessings of grandchildren and son-in-law hiding behind the hedge I'm posting this to remind me of how our garden looked in early July. So, the rowan tree got a fatal fungus, the Juniper 'Skyrocket' simply rocketed too far and the other conifer whose name escapes me got too dense. The roses to the left were transplanted where possible,  though not the red one sadly. However Rosa 'Cliff Richard', a glorious pink rose, remains in situation. Looking at our now expansive front lawn I'm loathe to post a photograph as it all looks so bare, requiring spring warmth to blend turf and existing turf together. Our glorious family are blooming of course.

Omphalodes Cappadocica ‘Cherry Ingram’

 A lovely plant for a shady position today. Omphalodes Cappadocica ‘Cherry Ingram’ was purchased from a plant stall at a local fair and it may not be the named variety. However it flowers in the most shady part of the garden and whereas it perhaps does not have the density of flower it might attain in a more favoured position it does lighten up our side gate area beside a dark purple hellebore and holly bush. Photographed on 3rd April.

Brodsworth Hall: Orchid Heaven

 I have had little success in retaining hardy orchids in our garden. In search of inspiration and in the depths of Covid lockdown we travelled regularly to our local country estate. Brodsworth Hall has some of the best plantings in England and a display of hardy orchids I have not seen the like of anywhere else. In the rockery the plants were deliberately placed whilst elsewhere most have seeded themselves liberally. Indeed some of the normally bowling green quality bankings had been left to grow as rare bee orchids had found a welcome home. The gardeners tell me the garden has never had herbicides used in the estate's history. Funnily enough about five years ago they cordoned off a section of lawn to preserve a solitary orchid. Now they have spread everywhere. And look at the prices should one wish to commence a collection. Photographs taken on 15th June.

Hepatica japonica f. magna seedlings

Hepaticas are the most expensive plants. Frankly, for anyone but absolute experts and an alpine house, paying hundreds of pounds for the exquisite double, named forms, is a game for the very rich. However the range of colours of the Hepatica japonica f.magna make for a delightful addition to the early spring garden. In the pot below I added a few seedlings to brighten up what had been full of cyclamen coum. This was pictured on 16th March. I notice flower buds are already forming for this winter.

Narcissus 'Jenny' - a beautiful daffodil

 We tend to believe the best plant varieties are the products of modern hybridisers, learning from mistakes, breeding from a huge stock. In the case of the cyclamineus 'Jenny', photographed on 29th March, the breeding goes back to 1943 by the English writer and grower, Cyril F. Coleman. The relexed petals are a milky white and the trumpets a slightly deeper cream, after an initial dalliance with a lemon yellow. I love this daffodil and certainly it is a favourite. In the fifties and sixties Cyril F. Coleman was one of the RHS's leading experts on narcissus and tulips, the author of several books on bulbs, one of which is featured below.

And remembering .....

Galanthus 'Mighty Atom'