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Three measures that spring is here – March 2024

March 18, 2024
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Join me in the thrill of the first week of March

By the meteorological calendar, spring has already started on 1 March and it ends on 31 May. The garden at Wisley definitely thinks it is spring. The vernal equinox takes place on March 20 at 03.06 am. This is the first day of astronomical spring, but I probably won’t be getting up to witness it.

The alpine team think that spring starts when the cherry just outside the alpine yard gate stats to flower. Right on cue the flowers of Prunus pendula f. ascendens ‘Rosea’ opened this week. It looks stunning for about three weeks’ time and then the ground will be carpeted with its petals.

The other measure is when the first frog spawn appears and this happened a few days ago. There are many pools on the rock garden but only two were used. The frogs clearly have a preference for certain conditions. It might be low water flow rate, the temperature, oxygen levels, location, or perhaps as soon as one lays its eggs the others follow. The result looks like a large jelly fish lurking in the depths.

Species daffodils in the alpine meadow

The bulk of the daffodils in the meadow are Narcissus bulbocodium. I’m sure that other surplus bulbs from the collections have been added over the years. One clearly distinguishable plant is Narcissus ‘Rip van Winkle’. This is an heirloom double variety dating back to around 1884. It is a Victorian Irish selection of Narcissus minor var. pumilus ‘Plenus’.

Snowflakes in the fern glade

With snowdrops now finished, the summer snowflakes, Leucojum aestivum are in full flower. The genus name comes from the Greek – leukos – white and ion – a violet, possibly alluding to the fragrance of the flowers. The specific epithet is from the Latin aestivum – of summer flowering time. The species grows wild in the UK and its common name is the Loddon Lily, as it was found growing on the banks of the Loddon, a tributary of the river Thames.

Scilla messeniaca grows in large drifts in the fern glade. In the wild it is found in Greece in the Messenia region. Over the coming weeks this bed will also feature many erythroniums.

There are some nice clumps of Primula vulgaris in the fern glade, such as the one above.  It may be common but it is very pretty just the same. Helleborus argutifolius, the Corsican hellebore comes from Corsica and Sardinia. The specific epithet is from the Latin – argute – sharply toothed or notched and folius – leaved. The lime-coloured flowers really standout in certain light conditions and draw your eyes to them.

Euphorbia x martini has lime green bracts with a red eye. This is a natural hybrid between Euphorbia characias and E. amygdaloides; both species occuring in southern France. It is known as Martin’s spurge, named for the French botanist Henri Martin. The genus name comes from Euphorbus who was the Physician to the King of Mauretania.

On the main rock garden there are lots of cherry trees in flower

Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’ is more of a large shrub rather than a small tree. The original plant was found growing along the Yoshida path to Mount Fuji. It is also commonly known as the Fuji cherry. The specific epithet comes from Latin – meaning deep incisions (on the leaves). Kojo-no-mai translates as a flight of butterflies. I’m not familiar with Japanese butterflies buy I’d like to see a pink one.

Prunus x yedoensis ‘Moerheimii’ is a hybrid between P. speciosa and P. pendula f. ascendens. The specific epithet is the Latinised old name for Toyko – Yedo. This particular cultivar was selected at the Moerheim Nurseries of the Netherlands, hence its name.

Primula denticulata, the drum stick primula has not yet developed its drumsticks. It is found in moist alpine areas in China, India, Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan. The specific Latin epithet means finely toothed (in reference to the shape of the leaves).

On the crevice garden I also noticed Polygala chamaebuxus var. grandiflora. I particularly like the combination of the purple and yellow pea flowers. The genus name comes from the Greek – polys – much and gala – milk, the presence of these herbs in pastures was thought to increase the production of milk. In the UK we have Milkwort and that was thought to do the same. I personally think it just made the cows happy and happy cows give more milk. The specific epithet is Latin for false box.

Around the edges of some of the paths in the main rock garden are some self-sown plants

Ficaria verna ‘Brazen Hussy’ was discovered by Christopher Lloyd (1921 – 2006) in his wood at Great Dixter. The seedlings can be variable and only the ones that reflect the type should be kept. Anenome blanda can be found throughout much of south eastern Europe and the middle East. The specific Latin epithet means enchanting or pleasing. I’m sure it has pleased many gardeners over the years.

On the north facing tufa wall the primulas have stated to flower

Primula allionii and Primula farinosa are coming into flower on the north facing tufa wall. P. allionii comes from southern France and northern Italy, where it grows on cliffs at 700 – 1700m. The specific epithet was named for Carlo Allioni (1728 – 1804), a professor of botany at the University of Turin. I have not tried to name these particular plants but they came from the collection at Wisley at some time in the past.

The birds eye primula, P. farinosa is native to the UK (north of Endland) and Europe. It likes lime and moisture which it finds on the tufa wall. There is also a Primula marginata growing out of a dwarf Daphne.

There are some impressive herbs in the rock garden

A large plant of Rosmarinus officinalis Prostratus Group is growing above the wall on the top terrace border. It is native to the Mediterranean region and will tolerate drought and full sun. It’s also very useful in the kitchen.

A few highlights from the cushion house

Primula palinuri is native to Italy, growing on north and north west facing cliffs on the limestone coasts of southern Campania and Basilicata. It is named after the small town of Palinuro.

Draba sphaeroides has fragrant flowers and is found growing on Steens Mountain in the south east of the State of Oregon in the USA. The specific epithet is from the Latin – sphaer – globular / spherical and oides – like or resembling.

Dionysia tapetodes ‘Peter Edward’ was named for one of the first successful growers of the genus back in the 1960/70s. Peter Edwards (1931 – 1979) was a leading light that established so many of the splendid plants we see on the show benches today. I can’t but help wonder what he would have achieved if he hadn’t been taken so young. This small plant has only been in situ for six months and it will be interesting to see it grows, hopefully!

Dionysia tapetodes 'Peter Edwards'

In the Alpine Display House there is so much to see

As this is a Wisley diary it would be appropriate to include Ipheion uniflorum ‘Wisley Blue’ AGM. As the name suggests it was found at Wisley, and selected for its silvery blue flowers that are slightly perfumed.

Corydalis wendelboi subsp. congesta comes from Turkey, in a range of colours. It was named for Per Erland Berg Wendelbo (1927 – 1981) a Norwegian botanist and at one time director of the Gothenberg Botanic Garden in Sweden. A peony and a colchicum also bear his name, testament to the respect he garnered.

Also in flower now, Narcissus gaditanus x N. rupicola subsp. waterii is one of my favourite small daffodils.

Narcissus gaditanus x N. rupicola subsp. waterii

Muscari ‘Jenny Robinson’ has very pale blue flowers. It was named for Jenny Robinson, at one time holder of the Muscari National Collection. She discovered this scented form in Cyprus.

Muscari armeniacum ‘Gül’ was found by Bob and Rannveig Wallis growing in Turkey. Gül means pink in Turkish.

Narcissus ‘Connie number 1’ may not be the most inspiring name but the flowers are.

Narcissus 'Connie Number 1'

Many tasks have been undertaken this week

The last of the re-potting was completed in the first week of March. The Rhodohypoxis and Hypoxis were plunged in the Elliot House. They had been located in the Rovero house but in recent years it has been too warm for them in the summer. The Elliot house now has shading and with the side removed there will be good ventilation. In a few weeks’ time the first flowers should appear. Many cuttings have also been taken from the primula and saxifrage collections. The plants will be used on the crevice garden and other areas in the main part of the rock garden.