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Plants in the Garden: February

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Started by: Tim Ingram

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Contribution from Tim Ingram 06 February 2013, 17:32top / bottom of page
Copton Ash in February

Is anyone else foolish enough to open their garden in February? It is wet, the wind is freezing and quite often of course it snows. And yet there is something about the plants at this time that sets the blood racing. Maybe it is more comfortable to visit the February Show in South Wales, but these are a few pictures to show why the garden also captivates, at least when the sun shines and a good bowl of porridge sets you up for an explore.

You enter our garden under a 40 year old Magnolia soulangiana and planted beneath this is Fatsia ?Spider?s Web?, brilliant now and brilliant for much of the year, the perfect plant for dry shade. This came from Bob Brown?s renowned nursery, Cotswald Garden Flowers. The real stars in the garden now of course, and why we are opening so early, are the snowdrops. Once these begin to make significant colonies they light up a garden even as large as ours - this first one came from Kath Dryden as ?caucasicus? Late Form (an elwesii form with very good silvered-blue leaves). The best displays are under rows of dwarf apples and nivalis has been established by burying ripe seed pods in the summer, whilst still green and firm - the resulting tufts of seedlings flower within 3 years and look very natural.

Copton Ash in February

In other places named varieties have been planted as discrete groups, mixed with a variety of other woodland perennials and ferns. Most of these have done well but there have been some which have ?gone back? perhaps as the result of narcissus fly or swift moth caterpillars in the soil, and the ideal is to establish different groups around the garden. There some fine plants amongst these, such as ?Bill Baker? and ?Wendy?s Gold? in the second picture - the seedlings in the foreground derive from seedpods of the latter. On the SRGC Forum Anne Wright describes carrying out controlled crosses between ?Wendy?s Gold? and nivalis ?Lutescens? with superb results, and this must be the way to go to develop a wider variety of garden worthy yellow snowdrops. ?Primrose Warburg? is another good variety, but perhaps more often seen in a pot than the garden. Finally, snowdrops look even better when associated with other early flowers, and especially hellebores.

These plants look wonderful in the garden in February but the effect is not achieved without a modicum of effort - or in a garden as large as ours, a great deal. So there are areas that still need work on them but in amongst the weeds and old stems are still small delights like this silver-leaf form of Cyclamen coum, which came from Peter Moore?s famous Tilebarn Nursery. Certain members of the household show a tendency to dig but are not much use at weeding!

Hellebores are beginning to make a show but are more vulnerable to bad weather once they reach this stage; in pots we have always had severe problems with swift moth caterpillars and it seems likely that significant numbers of these are in the soil too, and certainly not too many hellebores have made very strong clumps. None-the-less they are really excellent plants, and some of the species like odorus and torquatus are especially fascinating to grow. One of the most striking of Cyclamen is pseudibericum and this has established beautifully under a small pine and self-seeds with quite a lot of variation in its glossy leaves. It has not been damaged by several recent severe winter lows and is highly recommended to anyne who hasn?t tried it in the garden so far. The star Cyclamen for every garden has to be hederifolium, and this we grow in multifarious forms, and there seems no end to its variation. Here it forms a leafy tapestry with Tiarella cordifolia and Lamium. The final picture is one of the earliest flowering of umbellifers (a family of particular interest); Lomatium columbianum, one of a large number of North American species all strongly adapted to regions of summer drought. This grows on a raised bed in deep gritty soil, and until a couple of years ago was given winter protection, but is probably now growing better without this; remarkable in the family for its deep-pink flowers. Its leaves are an exquisite grey-silver, just like a small fennel (Ferula).

So this is a quick tour around the garden in February. How many gardeners even wake from hibernation until May, just in time for the Chelsea Show? And then fall asleep again in September. Winter is for the true connoisseur of plants who knows that a garden never goes to sleep.

Contribution from Jon Evans 07 February 2013, 08:59top / bottom of page


Thank you for this inspiring glimpse into your garden. I was sorry the weather prevented us exploring in December when I was there.

You seem to have worked hard all winter to get it that tidy - my own garden is full of weeds which didn't get removed during a wet and unpleasant autumn.

I hope we get some warmer weather soon to open all the snowdrops. The last Lomatium is lovely.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 07 February 2013, 09:27top / bottom of page

Thanks Jon - we do have a particular excuse, a party of German galanthophiles coming to visit this afternoon! Unfortunately a lot of the garden still needs a lot of work on it and as soon as you get parts looking really good, those that have been neglected stand out even more. This is one good reason to open a garden because it does keep you working away at it, even if never fully catching up. The good thing about alpines and woodland plants is that they are smaller and generally tidier plants than the more dramatic perennials of summer and autumn.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 08 February 2013, 23:10top / bottom of page

The party that visited us yesterday made all the hard work worthwhile. They bought nearly every snowdrop which we had in pots(!) and enjoyed the plantings in the garden - both of which make collecting snowdrops a valuable pursuit. Amongst them were several growers with much more extensive collections than ours, and also many who grow other woodlanders like hellebores and hepaticas and ferns. It is wonderful to share your garden with 'intelligent' visitors (as Gwendolyn Anley said in Golden Nuggets from the Bulletin - and by that I mean simply others who love and appreciate plants).

Amongst the snowdrops in our garden an eagle-eyed visitor noticed a variegated sport, on a clump of ?Viridapice? - intriguing but how difficult to grow on and how stable? We will have to see what we can do with it.

It is often difficult to judge when the snowdrops will look their best with the vageries of each season, but this is certainly a good time and these are a few more examples: G. ?Ivy Cottage Green Tip? (apparently a number of seedlings were given this name in series, but this one has no obvious Green Tips to the outer tepals); G. ?Hippolyta? - a good reliable double in our garden; G. ?Galatea? - a fine upstanding variety, a classical snowdrop.

G. ?Gerard Parker? - this has proven to be one of the very best snowdrops in the garden, with large distinctive flowers and soft apple-green inner markings. It also produces seed reliably and so has the potential to produce other garden worthy progeny likely to adapt to different garden conditions. A very fine plant obtained originally from Graham Gough (Marchant?s Perennials); and G. ?Mrs Thompson? - also a good doer and distinct for often throwing four and five petalled flowers that in full sun make it show up like few other varieties. And finally the superb Crocus ?Bowles White?, which just asks to have its picture taken!

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