Late Winter Wonders
Spring is just around the corner, one more cold and wintery month to go. There are lots of lovely plants to look out for at this time of the year some of which have been in flower for a few weeks now. Snowdrops and Iris reticulata’s are just coming out in my garden. While winter aconites are now appearing in the woods locally and Hellebores are starting to push up their fresh green flower shoots in a wide array of colours. There is nothing like getting outside on a bright crisp morning and enjoying these beautiful plants. With all that in mind here are a few of my favourites for February.
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ – Witch Hazel
If you want something to encourage you to get out and in the cold months of the year then you must plant a Hamamelis in your garden. These have wonderful spidery flowers which gradually unfurl over a day or so. When fully expanded several varieties produce a sweet spicy scent. H. ‘Jelena’ is one of my favourites as it has a lovely mixture of colours on the petals. They are a rich coppery burnt orange in the centre and gradually fade to a zesty orange-peel colour towards the tips of each petal.
The scent is light and sweet. Like all Witch Hazels they prefer a soil that does not dry out in the summer. If you want lots of flowers then nip the tips of the new growth out when they have grown to about 30cm (1ft) long as this encourages side shoot development and therefore more flower bud development. There are lots of different varieties to choose from some of my favourites include H. x intermedia ‘Diane’ with its deep burgundy red flowers, H. x intermedia ‘Aphrodite’ with deep cinnamon-orange flowers, H. x intermedia ‘Pallida’ with lemon yellow flowers and a very good scent and finally H. x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ which has sulphur yellow flowers and flowers later than most.
Chimonanthus praecox ‘Luteus’ – Wintersweet
If I had to choose my favourite plant, Chimonanthus praecox ‘Luteus’ would definitely be in my top 10. I can’t imagine my garden without this at this time of the year. It is an absolute stunner. The straight species C. praecox has greyish- yellow flowers with a deep maroon centre. Whereas C. ‘Luteus’ has sulphur yellow flowers with a very pale stain or sometimes no stain at all. The scent is incredible as it drifts through the garden on a still crisp winter’s morning.
Unlike some shrubs the scent lingers all day too. Grow this on a north wall in a walled garden where scent cannot escape simply delicious. My one has been in flower since the New Year and will continue to flower until the end of February. They respond well to pruning and produce lots of side shoots which will bare flowers the following year if pruned regularly. They are tough and hardy and do well in colder spots in the garden too.
Helleborus orientalis – Lentern Rose
It always amazes me just how tough these early herbaceous perennials are. They push up out of the ground when all else is still only just starting to think of growth. Hellebores produce an array of different coloured, single or double flowers which the early bees adore. These plants love a humus rich soil with lots of leaf mould. They will grow in full sun but prefer to be in semi-shade. Nowadays there are lots of named forms and groups which produce flowers with central spotting, swollen nectary’s (as in the picture below), or with fancy coloured petal markings.
I personally like the older forms which tend to breed with one another and create lots of seedlings which in a few years will flower, that’s the exciting bit seeing that new plant flower for the first time and discovering whether it’s a stunner or not!
Sarcococca hookeriana ‘Purple Stem’ – Christmas Box
If you want a good dense reasonably short growing evergreen then you cannot beat Sarcocca hookeriana ‘Purple Stem’. There are quite a few species and cultivars of these now to choose from. S. ‘Purple Stem’ is a suckering shrub that will get to roughly 1m (3′) tall and 1.2m (4′) wide. It produces clumps of pink tinged white flowers that have almost no petals and long stamens. They release a sweet soapy scent which smells better outside than in (in my book). Like all of this genus they prefer full shade as they tend to go yellow in full sun.
Daphne bholua ‘Jaqueline Postill’
If fragrance is something you search for in the garden then why not try a Daphne. D. bholua is a tall growing specie which can get to 2m (6′) tall. This evergreen (or semi-evergreen in cold winters) prefers full sun to semi-shade in fertile, humus rich soils that are well drained. The scent is incredible and carries through the garden on the slightest breeze.
I am lucky enough to have one in my garden at home which flowers usually from late January until mid to late February depending on the weather. There are other good varieties to look out for such as D. bholua ‘Spring Beauty’ which has a slightly darker mauve flower in bud and D. bholua ‘Gurka’ which is often deciduous in winter.
Iris reticulata ‘George’
Along with Snowdrops (Galanthus), Iris reticulata are often out in flower in early February. They thrive in well-drained soil that has good fertility in full sun or part shade. They are a good subject for growing in pots and make excellent companions with alpines in troughs and rock gardens. There are many different cultivars which range in colour from pure white to deepest purple. Some to look out for include I. reticulata ‘Pauline’ which has rich royal blue flowers with golden markings on the lower petals. Also I. r. ‘Natasha’ which is pure white with orange markings and I. r. ‘Katherine Hodgkin’ which has a mixture of pale green and blue flowers with yellow markings.
Jobs for February
Snowdrops – now is the time to split up those dense clumps that have stopped flowering or that are too congested. Dig up the clump, separate out into smaller clumps, and then replant to the same depth as they were in the ground. I tend to plant my clumps of Snowdrops in groups of 5 bulbs as I feel this looks more natural than one here and there.
Potatoes – if you want to grow your own delicious potatoes or have always wanted to, then now is the time to have a go. Some of my favourites include ‘Juliette’ which is a main crop variety. The tubers it produces are beautifully waxy when you eat them and make great new potatoes with salad in the warmer months to come. The best potato salad I have made was made with these! ‘Charlotte’ is a good second early potato which reliably crops and is nice tasting. ‘International Kidney’ is better known as ‘Jersey Royals’ and is often the first to crop if you get them planted under protection now. Grow in pots or potato planters with a good compost. I find that a minimum size of 10 litre pot works well, any smaller and the yields tend to be small.
Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th March is our Spring Open Weekend. Come and see our range of lovely plants in the Plant Centre or browse the garden sundries and gifts in the shop. Why not have a stroll around the beautiful garden and then pop into the Café and have a coffee and indulge yourself with one of our delicious cakes some of which are gluten free. We look forward to seeing you.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Well the home grown trees are cut and ready for sale, Holly and Mistletoe gathered and Wreaths made so the nursery is looking very festive. We have decorated the shop and put together a lovely display of gifts too. I really enjoy the run up to Christmas and all that glitter that goes with it. With this in mind I am looking at the plants that you can use for decoration in this month’s blog. Don’t forget also that you can still book on to Sara’s Wreath Making Course, further details here. Perhaps you can bring along cuttings from some of the plants we look at in this blog.
Cotoneaster ‘Cornubia’ – A very Christmassy plant which is covered in red berries which the birds, especially Thrushes, adore. It is evergreen but can lose a few leaves if we get a very cold winter. It is ideal for any soil as long as it does not sit wet during the winter and makes a handsome tree. It can be pruned to keep it under control or grown as a hedge. It makes quite a dramatic plant when grown against a wall where it can be trained to encourage flower and berry production. The berries last well when cut to be added to wreaths and it looks great added to table decorations.
Hedera helix – AKA: Ivy. A beautiful native plant that really comes into its own at this time of the year. The lovely flower spikes have just finished and the berries are now swelling and are ideal to use in arrangements. I have some water pipes that are exposed in our kitchen and I always dress these with Ivy and Holly and some other evergreens and then hang baubles or orange segments from them, it looks great and is very simple to do. Ivy is a very useful plant in the garden as it will grow almost anywhere and is very good in those difficult areas such as dry shade. It can be used as ground cover or to grow up a very dark wall. This also creates good nesting sites for secretive birds such as Wrens.
Skimmia japonica ‘Female’ – An evergreen shrub that is female. If you want berries you will need to get a male form as well such as Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’. The latter also has handsome flower spikes in March and beautiful pink buds throughout the winter.
These prefer a slightly acid soil and like to be grown in the shade so are ideal for that difficult dark corner on the patio or courtyard where they need to be grown in pots. This variety produces large fat shiny red berries that are generally too big for birds to swallow. They are very useful to add to wreaths and last for quite a while in arrangements.
Cedrus deodara-Deodar Cedar– A very large statuesque tree that produces tiered open branches that weep slightly. Branches are covered in light glossy needles. This Cedar is not a tree for a small garden but it does make a bold statement if you have some space to grow it. Because of its lax habit on the new growth it is a good foliage for putting around the base of an arrangement or for draping over picture frames or along the mantelpiece.
It combines well with Holly and Ivy and can be used in making garlands for draping over the banisters or around doorways.
Ilex ‘Nellie Stevens’- AKA ‘Holly’. You cannot talk foliage for Christmas without mentioning Holly. This is not a form of our native holly but it is as good. I. ‘Nellie Stevens’ is hermaphrodite and so, unlike the native holly, you do not need separate male and female plants for berries.
Like all hollies it is easy to grow and will tolerate all sorts of aspects and soil types. The only thing it dislikes is very wet soil. This plant is ideal for a wildlife garden or for that area of the garden where access is difficult. They are easily pruned to keep under control and grow very well in pots if you want to make a statement either side of a doorway. They need little attention except the odd watering to get it established.
Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’- AKA: Tassel Bush. Ideal for a shady wall or woodland garden. This lovely evergreen shrub produces long silvery-green catkins which can be up to 15cm (6”) in length. These appear now but will unfurl to release their pollen in early spring.
These long catkins can be used in wreaths and other Christmas decorations and last very well. It is a large growing shrub but is quite slow and so takes a while to establish. It is quite an eye catcher when the catkins are fully extended and will tolerate a cold position which makes it ideal for a north facing wall.
Picea abies – Norway Spruce or ‘Christmas Tree’. The traditional tree that we decorate with baubles and other festive paraphernalia. There is something about the smell that this tree releases (that lovely resinous fresh smell) in the house that just says Christmas.
If you buy one with roots then you can keep it from year to year as long as you look after it. For a cut tree it is essential that you sit it in a container that you can keep topped up with water as they lose a surprising amount over the Christmas period and will drop their needles if allowed to dry out. The ready-made metal tree stands with 3 or 4 feet are very useful and have a water reservoir built in. The screws in the neck help to keep the tree steady when screwed in to the trunk. Which is useful if you have a dog or cat that like to tree climb!!
Jobs for December:
Terracotta Pots– Now we are getting frosts at night it is a good idea to make sure that your terracotta pots are lifted off the ground with pot feet. This reduces the risk of the pots cracking and flaking.
Fruit Pruning– Apples and Pears have dropped their leaves and so now you can see the outline of the branches. When it is not frosty you can prune them to encourage more fruit next year and remove anything that is diseased or rubbing. Try to get a nice even shaped tree with plenty of air movement around the branches which will help to reduce disease attack next year. Always cut to an outward facing bud to ensure you reduce the risk of rubbing branches.
Happy Christmas to all our customers and all those who have visited the garden over the past year. Thank you for your custom and we look forward to seeing you around the Plant Centre next year.
Happy Gardening, PCM Matt
Classic Cottage Garden Plants.
June is a month of great colour and change in the garden as the next wave of plants start to perform. The late spring flowers are now fading making way for the summer border stars. There are so many plants to choose from but here are a few favourites of mine.
You cannot talk about plants for June without mentioning Roses this is there month, when their buds form and open to reveal the array of colours and scents which in my book is a quintessential cottage garden smell.
Rosa ‘Munstead Wood’
An absolutely fabulous rose with the most sumptuous deep wine red flowers and a lovely perfume. Although it’s quite a new form it easily fits into the cottage garden. It’s not the tallest of roses but mixes well with other cottage favourites such Campanulas and Geraniums. Unlike some of the David Austin forms this one is strong from day one and holds its flowers up for all to see and sniff!!
Rosa ‘Boule de Neige’
A very old form and certainly and old favourite, I love its burgundy kissed buds which fade to the most beautiful pure white flowers. It has a lovely light fragrance and can be a bit leggy and floppy but use this to your advantage and grow it up an obelisk or against a low wall where it looks amazing.
Another classic plant for cottage gardens, these combine well with climbing roses but can also be used to scramble through trees and shrubs in the informal style that this type of garden allows. As long as their roots are shaded and cool they will grow in most positions and in most soil types. ‘Niobe’ is an old favourite of mine being both dependable and long lived. This rich burgundy flowered plant doesn’t fade in sun and make a striking feature in any garden.
If you fancy something a little more subtle then why not try this lovely plant which can grow anywhere but I find it great on a north wall where it can take on a ghostly effect, especially in the evening near to dusk when it becomes iridescent.
A must for any garden that needs colour all summer. This plant just goes on and on. It forms dense mounds of mottled foliage above which beautiful deep blue disk shaped flowers often with a white eye appear. Great for a sunny site but it will tolerate some shade.
Evening Primrose – not a quintessential English cottage garden plant but one that is becoming more and more popular, this lovely pale lemon form combines well with other plants, likes a sunny spot and will tolerate some drier conditions. Lightly fragrant in the evening and a good plant for insects.
Dianthus ‘Mrs Sinkins’
Old fashioned and fabulous, this lovely old plant adds some class to the cottage garden. The flower petals are ruffled and split through the side of the flower head creating that slightly untidy look which I love and the scent has to be smelled to be believed it is so strong. It likes to be in the sun and not too wet and comes very easily from cuttings.
A giant scabious that produces pale creamy-yellow pincushion like flowers which can get as tall as 6ft in the right conditions. Great for the bees and other insects. It does not need support as the stems are usually pretty strong. It likes a free draining soil.
Jobs for June.
Climbers – Tie in climbing plants such as roses and Wisteria. This will restrict the growth causing more side shoots to develop along the length of the stem. This increases the chances of more flower development for later this year or for next year.
Take Cuttings – You can take softwood cuttings of Fuchsias, shrubby Salvias and tender perennials such as Osteopermums and Pelargoniums. Make sure that you choose a non-flowering shoot as these root better and that you trim off any excess leaves that would encourage the cutting to fail. Some shrubs can also be taken from softwood cuttings this month and these include plants such as Hydrangea, Caryopteris, Spiraea and Philadelphus.
May is usually known for its exuberance in flowers and colour. Foliage is often overlooked but don’t under estimate it! This month the freshly emerged leaves are at their best as they have not had the exposure to the ravages of the weather. Foliage is very important especially in smaller gardens as this can create great impact whereas flowers can be fleeting. As I walk around the Plant Centre and the Arboretum or my own garden at home I am always amazed by the vibrancy of newly emerged foliage. So, I thought, why not talk about this month it would be so easy to talk about things in flower but let’s look at the background and revel in it.
A really beautiful suckering shrub which will tolerate a wide range of situations from full sun to dappled shade. The new growth emerges with a reddish/ bronze tinge which gradually fades to lemony-green. These finely cut pinnate leaves are topped with small white panicles of flowers in summer. It is ideal for borders and great on banks due to its suckering habit.
Matteuccia struthiopteris- Shuttlecock Fern
Foliage does not have to be coloured to be dramatic as with the leaves of this beautiful fern. I absolutely love this plant, it looks amazing in a semi-shaded position especially when lit from behind. It does however need a moist soil which does not dry out, but digging in lots of leaf mould or compost will help to combat this. It will sucker and move about in the garden often finding the damper areas. It looks great when combined with other dramatic foliage such as Gunnera or the bronze leaved Astilbes.
Sorbus aria ‘Lutescens’- Whitebeam
The newly emerged foliage of this handsome tree is a striking silver in colour and it makes a great addition to any garden. The felted/ hairy leaves will darken slightly as the year progresses but it always has a silver tinge. It will tolerate most soils (except very wet) and is good in full sun.
Philadelphus coronarius ‘Aureus’
Ideally suited to a shaded spot in the garden (where it will show up) and which has a moist soil that does not dry out. It can suffer in too hot and sunny sites as the leaves can get dried out along the edges. The highly scented flowers appear in May/June and these look great against the bright lemon yellow leaves. A real must for anyone with a north facing wall it’s just fantastic!
Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’
A wonderful evergreen shrub that has dark maroon purple mature foliage. In the spring the new growth is bright green which contrasts against the mature leaves. As the new growth ages it gradually turns maroon. These changes in foliage colour give this plant quite a lot of interest throughout the year. It likes a sheltered site and fertile well drained soil but is ideal for the smaller garden as it only gets to about 4ft in height and spread. It naturally forms a rounded shrub therefore the need to prune it is limited making this a great shrub for low maintenance gardens.
Physocarpus ‘Lady in Red and P. ‘Dart’s Gold’
A plant that seems to be under the radar for most people and should be more widely grown. It produces attractive palmate leaves which vary in colour depending on the variety. ‘Lady in Red’ has a distinct ruby red flush to the new growth followed by small white flowers in clusters during the summer. As the foliage ages it darkens to a deep mahogany red. ‘Dart’s Gold’ has lovely golden yellow foliage which needs some protection from full sun which can burn it. This means that it is ideal for shady borders and especially good for north facing ones. Small clusters of white flowers are also produced during the summer.
Jobs for May.
Pruning– Shrubs that have flowered already this year such as Forsythia and Chaenomeles (Japonica) can now be pruned to encourage new growth. This in turn will mean lots of flowers for next year as they will flower on the growth that is produced from pruning now.
Bindweed– Now we have had some warm weather bindweed is now stretching away and climbing through everything in the garden. To try and eradicate it you need to stick a bamboo cane near to each of the twining stems and unravel them from the plant it is climbing up. Then twine it around the cane. Now you can spray it with a glyphoshate based weed killer. This way you don’t risk spraying the plant you want in the garden and have every chance of getting the spray to work on the bindweed. However you may need to do this a few times.
Tuesday 9th May – Climbers and Wall Shrubs – Come and listen to Martin talk about these fascinating plants. He will have tips and ideas on plants for all aspects and soil types. Call 01206 299224 and book your place. Tickets £15.00 (RHS Members £13.00). Talk includes tea/coffee on arrival and entry into the garden.
Sunday 14th May – Garden Open in aid of St. Elizabeth Hospice. 2-5pm. Cream Teas.