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A North Wales Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: January 2015 - a very dull winter! - Entry 29

The chief thing about this winter so far has been its lack of anything notable climate-wise to remember it by, except perhaps that it has been dull and dreary, but then, we do live in North Wales! We have had no snow, very little frost, lots of rain and wind, but despite the lack of any really cold weather the season is not early, rather the reverse. In recent years I have often had bog-standard snowdrops in my Christmas lunch table posie, but not this year, and in fact, as the photograph taken today shows, the common snowdrops are only just beginning to come into flower.

Common snowdrops

While we're on snowdrops I will show you a few that are at, or coming to their best now, in the order shown: GG. 'Merlin', 'Little John', 'John Gray', 'Magnet', Mrs. Backhouse' Spectacles (I've told the story here before of how it got its name), 'Jacquenetta', 'Lady Beatrix Stanley'. Others will follow next month.

Galanthus elwesii 'Merlin'

Galanthus 'Little John' Galanthus 'John Gray' Galanthus 'Magnet' G. 'Mrs Backhouse' Spectacles' Galanthus 'Jacquenetta' G. 'Lady Beatrix Stanley'

I have only about 40 different snowdrops, most acquired as gifts or by swopping with other enthusuasts via the Swop Shop that I set up on the AGS web site Discussion page a couple of years ago. I say 'only' because there are of course several thousand named snowdrop varieties, which IMHO is far too many, probably by an order of magnitude! The problem is that anyone can give a snowdrop a name without the need to file any sort of description, and since humans love naming things, this is what happens. That's not so bad if the new cultivar is truly outstanding and easily recognisable, but most aren't, and as the years pass more mediocrities get added to the list. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that with so many varieties already available, how can we positively KNOW that what we wish to immortalise by a new name is different; unless we have either seen all that are similar and are in posession of an encyclopaedic visual memory, or can find good, correctly named photographs of them all. This problem regularly besets the Joint Rock Garden Plant Committee, on which I serve, when snowdrops are put up for an RHS award - is the plant in question a real improvement in some way on what is already available? 

Some shrubs

My Witch hazels are late this year and so will have to wait until next month for an airing here, but one or two other shrubs are good, including the perennially reliable. Rhododendron dauricum 'Midwinter', which is probably the best it has ever been, a real stunner whenever the sun glances fitfully through the January gloom.Sophora japonica 'Sun King' has also begun to open its first blooms, and while the rhododendron will be over by the end of February, 'Sun King' will go on flowering well into May. I have recently acquired a plant of Ribes laurifolium, which I show out of interest because I don't think it is a common plant and I like its creamy white flowers displayed against the semi-evergreen leaves. It is a vigorous, spreading grower so it needs a fair amount of space, but at my time of life I don't worry about such constraints, muttering to myself the good old get out clause of those in the last furlong of life that  it will be, 'someone else's problem'.

I have a few flowers beginning to come out on my camellias and they will of course get better and better over the next two months, but just to brighten up this page I give you an old favourite (also incidentally a vigorous spreading plant!) C. japonioca Lady Clare'.

Rhododendron dauricum 'Midwintr'

Rhododendron dauricum 'Midwintr', close-up Sophora japonica 'Sun King' Ribes laurifolium Camellia japonica 'Lady Clare'

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