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A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: January 2014 - Entry 13

Happy New Year from a wet and windy North Wales!

Well, you all know about it but I might as well tell you again that this has been the wettest winter in Wales since official records began in 1910  - which means that it has been VERY WET!! This has resulted in me having very little to tell you this month, as there have only been a few days when it has been fit to be outside, and even then the soil has been too  wet to step on without doing damage to its structure and work has largely been limited to tidying and pruning from the hard paths and pottering in the alpine house and my little orchid house. Although it has been very mild with no frost so far worth recording, there is very little to report on in the garden. While I gather from correspondents living in much colder parts of the UK that they have had good shows of snowdrops for several weeks, they have been conspicuous here by their absence. I can only surmise that this indicates a requirement for, or at least a stimulation by cold weather, but do any of you galanthophiles out there have views on whether this is a reasonable explanation? You can see from this photograph that the common snowdrops are only just beginning to come into flower, at least 2 weeks later than usual. One snowdrop that has not let me down and is always the first in my garden is G. ​'John Gray', which was one of several very choice varieties (another is the excellent 'Mighty Atom') that the late Bertram Anderson obtained from John Gray's garden in Saxmundham after his death in the early 1950s. It has the great advantage of a very sturdy stalk which helps the flower to stand erect even through the worst January Gales.

Of much inferior quality, but a much more prolific spreader, is G.  'Mrs. Backhouse's Spectacles',  supposedly thus named because the said lady having mislaid her spectacles found them again when the snowdrops were in bloom, because they were lying close to a clump of a particulalrly fine form. Her husband,  Robert Ormaston Backhouse  (1854 - 1940) came from a County Durham Quaker family, previous generations of whom were bankers, horticulturalists, nurserymen, (founding a famous 100 acre nursery on the outskirts of York), foresters and missionaries, amongst many other professions. 



Galanthus 'John Gray' Galanthus 'Mrs Backhouse' Spectacles'

Hopefully there will be a few more snowdrops to show you next month, but in the meantime here are a few other things that may be of interest. By chance rather than design (usually the case where colour schemes and yours truly are concerned!) I have a very nice combination of Rhododendron dauricum and Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold's promise' in the so-called 'wild garden'. The rhododendron is particularly good this year because it has not had to recover from frost and produce new sets of flowers as it often does. 

Rhododendron dauricum and Hamamelis x intermedia ' Rhododendron dauricum Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold's Promise'

Another winter-flowering rhododendron that is very late this year is Rh. 'Christmas Cheer'. It certainly did not live up to its promise this time as I was unable to find a single truss for the Christmas posy, and it is only just coming to its best now. I am very fond of this plant which is tough, reliable and, to my eyes at least, very pretty.

Rhododendron 'Christmas Cheer'

As well as the splendid Daphne bholua 'Jacqueline Postill', which fills much of my garden with perfume at this time of year, as it does those of almost all discerning gardeners who do not live in the very coldest of places, I have a nice plant of D. bholua 'Alba'. This grows at about a third the rate of 'Jacqueline Postill', mine is just under 2 m high x 0.5 m wide after 15 years. As you can see from the photograph, the flowers are a nice clear white and as freely borne as Jacqueline's

Daphne bholua 'Alba'

Pesky weevils!

Finally, do you have troubles with weevils making fretsaw cutouts in the leaves of your bergenias and if so what do you do about it? As the photograph of B. ''Baby Doll' shows, these pesky beetles have runied the appearance of my plants, and they also do a fair amount of damage to rhododendron leaves.This sort of damage is done by the adult weevils, not the ghastly 'half-moon' shaped soil dwelling larvae that can decimate a collection of primulas and various other plants. I don't really fancy treating quite large areas of the garden with 'Provado'  insecticide, which is supposedly particulalrly effective agains the larvae, but what else can I do apart from pulling up and burning affected plants and disposing of  the soil in which they are growing - over to you!

Bergenia leaves damaged by weevils
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