Happy New Year

May 2021 be much, much better than 2020. That won’t be difficult. Luckily we do have a garden. Keep well dear readers.

A Christmas stroll with the family through Yorkshire Wildlife Park’s Winter Illuminations. Socially distanced and cold.

Hellebore niger ‘Verboom Beauty’ for Christmas

 The weather was perishing cold today yet I can take any low temperature provided the sun is out which it was as we set off for a walk in nearby Nostell Priory. Arriving there and drinking my usual caffe latte outside we had dark clouds and rain. The intended long walk was shorter than intended. Driving back the sun came out. Hellebore niger ‘Verboom Beauty’ graces our porch. It was bred specifically to flower at Christmas and indoors. The cool porch is perfect. So is a plant one may enjoy whatever the weather.

Allium carinatum subsp. pulchellum – exploding firework

 Not the time for sowing seeds one might expect and I have been intimidated by alliums self seeding as pernicious weeds underneath our beech hedge. Still, in for a penny, in for a pound or rather less in this case. Allium carinatum subsp. pulchellum, or more mystically witch’s garlic, is a late flowering, exploding firework of an allium, photographed here on 27th August at Wentworth Castle Gardens. What the image does not do is capture the bees and hover flies that thronged the tiny, bead-like flowers. Truly it was an entrancing sight in the summer sun and despite no label displayed I chased up the name to discover this flowering onion from Mediterranean climes, perhaps the latest in flower of its type. This is not an expensive bulb if rather hard to find. However there was some straggling growth discarded by the tidying gardening team on a visit there last week. Hence today’s seed sowing as the winter light faded. I read that there needs to be some frosting for the seed to be viable. There was much more about propagation complete with diagrams and figures which I disregarded. As my beech hedge garlic is illiterate yet still plagues me mercilessly, I hope for similar fertility in this case. Something to look out for in the spring after what promises to be a damp squib of a Christmas.

Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’ – time to say goodbye

 One of the most difficult acts in gardening is to discard a beautiful plant and yet there are times when it is time to say goodbye. You might fancy a change, it may simply be in the wrong place, or it has outgrown you. I have had to make some tough decisions this year. Too often in the past I’ve let sentiment get in the way of practicality. Take the early flowering climbing rose, Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’, that graced our south facing patio wall. Note, dear reader, the past tense. ‘Lutea’, photographed here on 21st April, is a stunner. I bought it a few years ago in imitation of Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire. There the yellow laden, thornless tentacles leap up to the tall towers, a truly magnificent sight so early in the year, or anytime come to think. Frankly on our modest wall the plant was too much of a good thing. When not bathed in eye-catching, fresh, tightly bunched, clusters of flowers I was forever pruning it. Windows, guttering and roof were fair game. It had to go to be replaced by a modest clematis. I’ll miss it in spring. If you have a stately home do give it a try.

Renishaw Hall – ‘Lutea’ climbs to top of centre tower!

Ted Hughes ‘Snowdrop’ on the Shortest Day

 I can’t let bad news on Covid, narcissus fly losses and me griping about paying excessive prices on ebay (when no one is forced to part with their money) pass without offering something positive. So here’s a little poem for the shortest day.

Snowdrop – Ted Hughes  

Now is the globe shrunk tight 

Round the mouse’s dulled wintering heart. 

Weasel and crow, as if moulded in brass, 

Move through an outer darkness 

Not in their right minds, 

With the other deaths. 

She, too, pursues her ends, 

Brutal as the stars of this month, 

Her pale head heavy as metal.

As the globe has ‘shrunk tight’, predators weasel and crow struggle to survive in  winter’s dark, the mouse hibernates in the earth and, like stars in a cold sky, the snowdrop flowers, albeit ‘pale’ and with ‘metal’ for petal.

Narcissus Fly: The Ugly Truth

 A chastening, unpleasant image today as I reveal the murky secrets of the Narcissus Fly larvae. They make a home out of a nice plump snowdrop or narcissus bulb that serves them as food and shelter through the winter. This little dwelling is or was ‘Pieces of Eight’ – a warning for those who fork out lots of cash for the latest varieties of snowdrops. For the record, it is possible for a bulb to survive although in the case of smaller bulbs, and this one, I rather doubt it. I live in hope. Whatever, from top down: bulb, grub, adult fly. Pretty things aren’t they. There does not appear to be a pesticide on the market to deal with the pest. Prevention is better than cure I read though how one might practically whack every passing two winged bumblebee (real bees have four wings) is beyond me. 

Friendly Robin

 I can’t be alone in delighting in the company of the friendly robin when I work in the garden.  They have a delightful lilting song in full cry but it’s a simple chirp that alerts me to their presence and it’s always very near, only just out of reach and within actual reach a moment later. I turn the soil over and they seize opportunity, insect, seed or worm. I used to regularly throw food to a particularly tame one through the patio window until a mouse also took an interest and my infatuation folded. Anyway this little beauty has been at the same spot at a local RSPB  reserve for our last three visits. The exact same spot and today I noticed s/he had been ringed which seems excessive for a tiny thing even for a bird reserve. No hint of resentment however. Jewellery.

Snowdrops: Inflated Prices, Ridiculous Prices on eBay

 Today I had a look at some of the pots of snowdrops that have shown no sign of life on my display bench. This can be a dispiriting experience though most are simply biding their time. But there have been casualties. ‘Pieces of Eight‘ has a hole right through it, infestation or rot, I’m not sure. So a blast of fungicide but little or no hope. I have also just done the hot water treatment of 40C to kill any larvae still devouring the bulb. Snowdrops achieve huge prices on eBay. Given that a passing narcissus fly may take a fancy to your prized and expensive plant it’s a huge risk. I have parted with no money for snowdrops this season and little over the past two years. All my snowdrops now come from swaps and I’m very cynical about new varieties that add little if anything to the range. For instance most featured below are very adjacent to a number I could mention – clever marketing campaigns from sellers who rightly see eBay as the money tree that keeps on giving. Some growers I know have switched sales entirely to eBay. Here are a few delights on offer today. One has little visual merit from what I can see and maximum merit in terms of price. By the time you read this post one at least will have been sold. ‘Titanic’ gives me that sinking feeling. Should you be a reader outside the UK I will convert the currency for you. (£200 is a lot.) Note that the price for delivery varies. It does not cost £10 to post a single snowdrop. Greedy! Oh, and I have one of those featured below bought last year for a sliver of the price. It has at least two flower buds and one plant will be swapped after flowering. I may get a replacement piece of eight.