Maybe the winter garden will be resurrected

Winter has been mild so far. It has been wet and very windy but it has not been cold, so far. That means that some plants have been slowly growing. I have some daff shoots up and the garden does not look like it has been sprayed with glyphosate. This may not seem that remarkable but I am discovering that this plot is very windswept and open, meaning that plants do not dare make a move before they are certain warmer weather is on its way. And this discovery put paid to my plans to make a winter garden at the west side of the house, to be viewed from the conservatory. Last year, although the poor thing survived in less than ideal conditions, the witch hazel ‘Aphrodite’ did not bother to open her spidery blooms until April. I don’t blame her but it did not give me much hope for a winter garden. The prunus ‘February Pink’ hid her small pink blossom until May.

But this year there is hope. It is probably because I changed my plans and have planted several evergreens, including a nice collection of seven different hollies, not far from the back door, so I can see them while washing up. Life is like that. They were only put in just before Christmas, in a spurt of horticultural festiveness so I could always move them. I got a mix of male and females including the lovely, yellow-berried ‘Bacciflava’ but, for some reason did not pick a I. x koehneana ‘Chestnut Leaf’. I kept passing it and almost picking it out and knew there was a reason why I should have it. Then, when home, I remembered why I kept being drawn to it – it is Roy Lancaster’s favourite holly. Is there a better reason for planting it? I think not. You may as well say the Pope has one on his balcony. I need to go back – soon.

But, for now, ‘Aphrodite’ has begun to bloom.

Witch hazel

Not only that but the small Lonicera x purpusii has a few flowers open too. They are very near the ground, it is still a pup, so close that it would involve a forklift to get me up again if I went to sniff them. But there they are, perfuming the air for passing meadow pippits. In years to come I will enjoy them too. Though not a beauty to look at this hardy shrub has flowers that match the sweetness of the finest daphne.

Lonicera purpusii

And yes, even the Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ is in bloom, with more buds to come. OK, she didn’t manage the autumn fling but I am grateful for anything right now.

Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’

And the male catkins of Alnus incana ‘Aurea’ are opening. I have a real fondness for this tree, the yellow-leaved form of the grey alder. It will grow in the thickest clay, tolerates wet soil and even fixes nitrogen in the soil. The male catkins are pretty in spring and the females ripen into small black ‘cones’. ‘Aurea’ has the added bonus of soft yellow leaves and although they are not vibrant, they are the better for that, looking good in summer but not looking artificial like some coloured-leaf trees that really do not look nice in a rural setting. And the twigs are a showy orange in winter.



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12 Comments on “Maybe the winter garden will be resurrected”

  1. Paddy Tobin
    January 7, 2020 at 2:00 pm #

    A nice selection of trees and shrubs. I particularly like the alder and have one here that is about 20 years old and each winter confirms that it was worth planting. Garrya ‘Glasnevin Wine’ is looking well here at present and I wouldn’t be without Sarcococca for its fragrance. You will have to try snowdrops!!!

    • thebikinggardener
      January 7, 2020 at 3:09 pm #

      Thank you. I think that as I get older and winter seems longer, anything with colour in winter is valuable. I need to plant a garrya or two and James Roof is the obvious choice but I don’t like the obvious! I am a slight galanthophile! I cant really get into them again till the garden is more established – while a snowdrop costs the same as a tree! I brought some snowdrops with me that I brought from Myddelton when I was Head Gardener there – all un named and no poculiforms I am afraid. I always treat myself to one new one at Altamont each spring!

      • Paddy Tobin
        January 7, 2020 at 3:50 pm #

        Yes, the price of snowdrops is prohibitive (and totally crazy) but swapping is always the way to go. G. ‘E.A. Bowles’ is a stunner but not long lived – I lost two nice clumps in recent years.

        • thebikinggardener
          January 7, 2020 at 4:00 pm #

          I am sorry to hear that. I wonder why they failed? It is a rich man’s game but will dabble for now. I was once asked to write a book on snowdrops – it is the only time I have bowed out gracefully from any writing – I cant think of a more certain way to garner criticism!

          • Paddy Tobin
            January 7, 2020 at 4:21 pm #

            I have heard others say that G. ‘E. A. Bowled’ has been prone to suddenly vanishing which is a great pity as it is an especially beautiful snowdrop. I’ll come on it again! Yes, writing about snowdrops is a head on the block exercise I think – there are so many experts out there and you will always be out of date as new names are introduced on a daily basis. Give me a shout for some of the older common varieties when you are ready for them.

            • thebikinggardener
              January 7, 2020 at 5:21 pm #

              I spent ages among the snowdrops at Myddelton and took lots to compare with the collection at Wisley to try to name them but, the more I looked the more confused I got and it seemed that their collection had errors too. By the time I was at Myddelton the collection had seeded and hybridised and it is interesting that some have now been named. Thank you for the offer. They are certainly eminently collectable and fascinating. Sorry to hear about the flu.

              • Paddy Tobin
                January 7, 2020 at 6:59 pm #

                The flu will fly!

  2. Marie OLeary
    January 7, 2020 at 6:56 pm #

    Excellent description of plants. Loved it.

  3. tonytomeo
    January 23, 2020 at 4:14 am #

    Some of the Loniceras are delightful. Is it known as a honeysuckle, or just Lonicera?

    • thebikinggardener
      January 25, 2020 at 11:52 am #

      Yes it is called winter-flowering honeysuckle. Few shrubby lonicera are grown in this country even though a few are useful, summer-flowering shrubs.

      • tonytomeo
        January 26, 2020 at 7:21 pm #

        Some species are invasively naturalized in some regions, which gives the genus a bad reputation. I am pleased that is not a problem here. I still like the Japanese honeysuckle. The native honeysuckle is nothing to brag about.

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