It’s Alive!

Recently the weather has been dry and cool but not cold. The ground is still wet but not quite as sodden as it has been, so I have been able to paddle about and do some work in the garden. Lots of major work needs doing because some of the planting in the past few years has been ‘panic planting’ and things need to be moved. All the asters (symphyotrichum) need to be moved to where the iris are, and vice versa and although it is not a bad time to move the asters it is not ideal for the iris but needs must. Large new beds need filling so I have been dividing and replanting herbaceous plants. That was an education in itself because I found lots of vine weevil grubs under the geraniums and swift moth grubs under the chrysanthemums. I will take my camera out next time I am dividing plants so I can show you what they look like. I am sure there are lots more munching away.

But the garden is waking up and there are flashes of colour and excitement here and there. In the raised beds the reticulate iris are popping up and seem to have actually increased. Where last year there was one shoot from each newly planted bulb, this spring there are three or four. The hot summer may have helped bake them and contributed to the success and although ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ is the first to bloom, ‘Sheila Ann Germaney’ seems to have bulked up best. She is more blue than Katharine but both are hybrids of blue Iris histrioides and yellow Iris winogradowii.

The snowdrops are still slug-a-beds and not in any hurry to open, but more are showing buds every day. In contrast, some of the shrubs have been colourful for weeks. The sarcococcas are beginning to fill the air with their sweet scent and every day, as more blooms open, the fragrance wafts further. Unscented, but quickly becoming a favouite, is Grevillea victorae ‘Murray Valley Queen’. I was not sure how hardy this Australian shrub would be but reports seemed hopeful. The flower buds form in late summer and should open throughout autumn and winter and this has proved to be correct. I was concerned that cold would kill the buds but they have survived. Nearby, Viburnum odoratissimum, which is supposed to be hardy, has dropped all its leaves in protest at the -4c we have had this winter (so far) but the grevillea is fine. In the same bed is an older Grevillea ‘Canberra Gem’ with needle-sharp leaves. In 18 months it has reached 1m high, flinging narrow stems in all directions and masses of sideshoots each end in a flower cluster which are just starting to show colour – should be nice soon.

The foliage of Grevillea victorae is very broad for what I would expect of a hardy grevillea (most hardy kinds have needle-like leaves) and they are olive green above and silvery below. The flowers have been opening for months and there is still colour. I have only had it for 8 months but I am sure it is pretty happy and I look forward to great things.

Not far away, but in a part-shaded bed, I have two hamamelis (witch hazels). I have mixed success with these and find them a bit tricky to position so they are happy but I think I have cracked it. ‘Aphrodite’ is orange and is growing in a very awkward way, the main two shoots growing in tandem towards the trunk of its sheltering young birch. I know I ought to prune it to shape it but am scared! The other is ‘Ripe Corn’ which is yellow. Both are H. x intermedia. I am not sure of the origin of ‘Ripe Corn’ and lots of cultivars are very similar, at least the flowers look very similar, and I am not sure why I chose this one. But it does what you want from a yellow hamamelis and it is growing! Last summer a sucker from the H. virginiana rootstock appeared and was quickly removed.

I have planted some new cornus in the past few weeks, to fill an awkward, rather wet area but the Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ grown from cuttings over the years, are maturing well and very useful. This plant was planted as a hardwood cutting, shoved in the ground where it is now growing and provides some winter colour. I will prune it back hard in March.

Among the newcomers is ‘Baton Rouge’ which is reputedly brighter and more compact. It certainly seems very bright as a young plant but time will tell.

I have finally bought a few more winter heathers to plant because the original planting makes me so happy. I don’t love heathers but the winter heathers are so cheerful when in bloom. They are planted around some young birch and they are starting to almost touch now and should be able to keep the weed down by themselves soon.

Of course, hellebores are the order of the day and they are starting to peak right now. I did bring some with me that were sat in pots for several years and struggled a bit but they are recovered now and I am starting to find those deep green shiny cotyledons that show they are starting to self seed. I dig these up, pot them and grow them on a bit before planting. To avoid getting a mass of muddled colours I tend to keep plants of one colour together. I need to plant lots more but the star of the garden is surely one of the HGC Ice ‘N Roses series with deep red flowers. These HGC hybrids are complex and sterile but really are special and worth the money.

I trim the old leaves off the H. hybridus hellebores but have left it on these because it is actually very attractive. Last year I did trim it off but I have left it this year. No reason really, and not even laziness. But I will have to soon or it will be difficult to remove the old leaves without damaging the new.

The pulmonarias are only just stirring but this one is actually in bloom. It is supposed to be ‘Trevi Fountain’ which it obviously is not, but any early queen bumblebees won’t care about that so I will leave it to grow.

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