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Is it spring yet? – February 2024

February 12, 2024
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It is too early to say that the worst of the winter weather is past, but it was nice to see some sunshine after a few grey days in the garden.

The Bonsai walk on a sunny day

The first day of February saw some welcome winter sunshine.

The Bonsai walk at Wisley

Although these bonsai are not alpines, the Bonsai walk is looked after by the alpine team. The trees have been kindly loaned to Wisley by Peter Chan of Heron Bonsai, and some of the trees on display are even older than me. In 1986 Peter and Dawn founded the nursery, which is located near Lingfield in Surrey. During the winter, the old GPO black telegraph pole supports were replaced using logs from fallen trees in the garden.

The Fern Glade has undergone a transformation in recent years

A Maple tree was taken down in the autumn, by the top pool in the rock garden, due to disease. This is the highest path going from the fern glade into the main part of the rock garden. The little waterfall is also the highest on the rock garden. A lot of the planting has been changed and I will cover this in later diaries.

Eranthis hyemalis

The winter aconites are almost open, spring can’t be far away. The name comes from the Greek er – spring and anthos – a flower. The specific epithet is from the Latin for winter, of winter-flowering. Some of these plants were suffering from Eranthis smut last year, a disease I had never heard of before. However, it doesn’t appear to have done too much harm.

Eranthis hyemalis

The snowdrops in the fern glade were also responding to the sun

The scent from Daphne bholua ‘Garden House Enchantress’ is very powerful. This seedling was selected at the Garden House in Yelverton, Devon, where Keith Wiley used to be the Head Gardner. It can be seen on the right hand side in the first picture.

Snowdrops in the Fern Glade

Snowdrops in the Fern Glade

Another couple of fragrant plants are Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Charles Lamon’ and Lonicera fragnissuma which can just be seen on the centre and right hand side of the second picture.

Some of the stone troughs have been given a makeover this month

There are a number of stone troughs outside the cushion house and these have been re-built and re-planted. It will be interesting to see how these develop over time.

Stone troughs outside cushion house

The first Iris to flower this year was on display

In Greek mythology, Iris was the messenger of the gods. She was personified by a rainbow, the bridge between heaven and the earth. The wild irises of Greece were placed on women’s graves. This was to entice the goddess to guide the departed through the afterlife. The word iridescence has a similar etymology – all the colours of the rainbow, that the wild iris were said to have. The next time you see a rainbow, think of an earlier version of the internet with information flowing back and forth. Iris reticulata ‘Purple Gem’ and Iris reticulata ‘Gordon’. This iris is comes from the Caucasus Mountains all the way to central Iran.


This month you can admire many more snowdrops in the display house

I promise I won’t feature all the snowdrops that Wisley has in their collection, over 200 pots. This time I will focus on the ones I liked most.

Galanthus ‘Diggory’

The outer tepals appear to be crimped and curve round the inner tepals. It was named in 1993 after Diggory Birtles, the late son of Rosie Steele. Rosie and Richard Hobbs found it growing in a population of Galanthus plicatus near Wells, Norfolk.

Galanthus 'Diggory'

Galanthus ‘Primrose Warburg’

I thought the reference to primrose would be to the yellow colour in the flower. Primrose Warburg was a keen grower of snowdrops (1920 – 1996) and lived at Yarnells Hill, Oxford. This plant of unknown parentage was found in her garden.

Galanthus 'Primrose Warburg'.

Galanthus ‘South Hayes’

This is another plant grown by Primrose Warburg in her garden and found in 1992. It is unusual in the shape of its tepals that curve outwards as well as the green markings.

Galanthus 'South Hayes'.

Galanthus nivalis (Sandersii Group) ‘Norfolk Blonde’

Believed to have originated in Northumberland. ‘Norfold Blonde’ is known to be growing for nearly 100 years and having been introduced into cultivation under several different names, by several different people. I’ve found two different references as to where it was discovere. One is Chillingham, north west of Alnwick, and the other a farm house at Belford, Northumberland.

Perhaps it’s like the origin of the Bakewell tart or is it pudding? There are at least two claims to being the original bakery producing them. There are also some records suggesting that Primrose Warburg visited the area to see these snowdrops.

Galanthus nivalis 'Norfolk Blonde'

Galanthus ‘Desdemona’

This was selected by Heyrick Greatorex. It is a cross of G. plicatus x G. nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’. It was named after Othello’s wife from the Shakespearean tragedy.  It has double flowers. The right hand side picture is G. Ailwyn which I’ve discussed in the previous diary entry. Here it is again as the green markings have aged to yellow on the tepals.

Galanthus ‘Fred Whitsey’

Named for Fred Whitsey VMH (1919 – 2009). He was a renowned horticultural journalist, editor of Popular Gardening, gardening correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, and RHS Vice President.

Galanthus 'Fred Whitsey'

Galanthus ‘George Elwes’

This is a cross of G. elwessii x G. plicatus selected by Lady Carolyn Elwes (1940-2022). It was found growing at Colesbourne Park. Carolyn named it for her late son, in 1979.

Galanthus 'George Elwes'

Below, you can see Jess from the alpine team, talking about snowdrops.

The YouTube videos is just over 5 minutes long. It’s had 4,700 views in the first fourteen days. Well done Jess.

There are many other spring-flowering plants to enjoy in the Alpine Display House right now

Fritillaria striata

This fritillary is gloriously scented. The genus name comes from the Latin fritillius – a dice box (the markings on several species being like a chessboard, associated with dice games). The specific epithet also comes from the Latin striata – marked with parallel lines, groves or ridges.

Muscari neglectum

These are the common grape hyacinth. From the Greek moschos – musk, some species having a strong musky odour. The specific epithet is from the Latin for neglected or long overlooked. Hopefully the visitors to the Alpine House did not overlook it.

Muscari neglectum

Muscari celeste

I was going to describe this as having sky blue flowers, which is just as well, as the specific epithet is from the Latin meaning sky blue or heavenly. Native to Turkey.

Muscari coeleste

Hyacinthella glabrescens

Keeping with the blue theme for a little longer. Native to south Turkey from a range of habitats, dry slopes, pine forests, limestone scree and clay.

Hyacinthella glabrescens

Hyacinthella lineata

This species is mainly found in western Turkey.

Hyacinthella lineata

Cyclamen coum is now in full-flower

I’m always amazed by the variety of cyclamen leaf markings, more so in some species than others. One that is not meant to have leaf markings is Cyclamen coum ‘Meaden’s Crimson’. It was named for Robert (Bob) Meadens who was a Scottish plant breeder. He sent some seedlings to Basil Smith who selected and named this one for Bob. The specific epithet come from the Latin for Cous or Cos (Kos) the island off the coast of Turkey.

Cyclamen alpinum

The specific epithet is from the Latin, alpine or of mountain pastures. It is found in south west Turkey, from sea level to 1700m. It has sweetly, primrose-scented flowers.

Cyclamen alpinum

I like the scale that Wisley operates on

If you have a big garden you have to have lots of tools to help you look after it. One can never have too many wheel barrows. To be fair, these are not used just by the alpine team and I’m always surprised at the number of times when they are all being used at once.

Water butt envy?

These hold 20,000 litres each and are fed by the run off from the Rovero poly greenhouse in the Alpine Yard. This provides water for the various collections in the Rovero and South African house, reducing the need to use mains or river water.