Two granddaughters

Our 12 year old granddaughter, Daisy, posted on Instagram the birthday gift to her 6 year old younger sister, Bea.

Happy birthday Bea. (#daisy.artist_)

Brodsworth Hall Gardens in the Frost

The restrictions on travel are, to say the least, inhibiting so it is a source of solace that we can visit Brodsworth Hall Gardens at weekends.

Brodsworth Hall, its jaw dropping topiary in evidence

We had the place to ourselves this morning as a hard frost crusted the ground.

The formal gardens

We have seen the gardens transformed over the years. For those who enjoy the closely cropped shape of nature tamed this is topiary heaven.

Looking down on the rockery and target lawn.

Seedling Hellebore

Our hellebores regularly seed themselves and generally they follow their parents. This was particularly noticeable when I lost the exquisite Harvington Double White, seen below in 2017. Luckily I had picked out a few seedlings and potted them on. They turned out to be as near as damn it to the original. They’ve not appeared as yet so I’m hoping they won’t be like mum in expiring before their time. This has to be my favourite hellebore.

Helleborus Harvington Double White, February 2017
Unnamed Seedling Hellebore, Picotee Form

Sometimes seedlings surprise and delight and the garden’s latest contribution to saving its household money is now showing. In the face of Storm Christoph I ventured out to photograph it. I suppose it should be described as a ‘picotee’ form, with the darker edges. Anyway it’s very nice and bursting with buds. There’s no excuse for an absence of colour in the winter garden. Hellebores are more and more exciting as the breeders get to work. And here’s my tiny contribution.

Galanthus ‘Golden Fleece’, ‘Dryad Gold Medal’ & ‘Trumps’

Last year a friend bought ‘Golden Fleece’ for quite a sum, discovered it had a small offshoot, swapped it with me for a mature ‘Green Tears’, and proceeded to chip the mature bulb. It succeeded and he now has a number of young bulbs. This cultivar originally sold for over £1000 pounds! Anyway here is my version. Rather small. It has yet to unfurl and was a tiny bulb anyway. There are signs that it will throw up shoots next year and mine certainly flowered early. This has been the most eagerly anticipated plant for me. I’m deciding whether or not to plant it in the garden or retain it in a pot.

Galanthus plicatus ‘Golden Fleece ‘
Galanthus ‘Dryad Gold Medal’

A second snowdrop I was keen to see develop was one of the Dryad family, bred by Anne White at her nursery in North Yorkshire. Galanthus ‘Gold Medal’ seems a very vigorous variety indeed. No doubts about pot or border here. It will go into the garden once it has finished flowering. Anne has said her range of hybrids are sturdy and my solitary bulb has two flowers and is already forming a clump. Flowering earlier than I have read, today’s mild spell has worked its magic.

And finally for today, Galanthus ‘Trumps’ is a favourite. I have it in the border here although those are slightly behind this pot grown one. There are many ‘spotted’ snowdrops out there, many commanding high prices on Ebay but ‘Trumps’ is as good as it gets, a dramatic statement with its heart shaped single mark on the petals. It may be purchased for a modest price at this very moment from Harveys in their sale. Much cheaper than Ebay ….. Always worth checking alternatives.

Galanthus ‘Trumps’

Galanthus ‘Mrs Macnamara’ and Seedling Hellebore

The first ever ‘collector’s’ snowdrop I purchased was at North Easton Gardens and it was ‘Mrs Macnamara’ about which I have written several times.

Galanthus ‘Mrs Macnamara’

The image is nothing special I’ll grant you but its reliability of early flowering, stature and classic form make it a special snowdrop in our garden. This is a must have for the winter garden. Unfortunately it simply has not increased in numbers and I’d love to show you a large clump. I shall have to move it elsewhere. Four weeks ago I saw a large display at RHS Harlow Carr Gardens so it does spread. It must be me.

Unnamed Hellebore seedling

Nothing is more exciting than the opening out of something new and here it is. Last year it had no flowers and amazingly this year it is full of buds having been moved to a protected spot in the sun and cared for like never before as I’ve been available all year due to obvious travel restrictions. I’m looking forward to it fully opening out. Perhaps I shall give it a name…

Galanthus elwesii ‘Big Boy’ – mystery monster

Well it’s not a ‘monster’ though it is a very big boy. I wrote a few days ago about one of my many lost labelled snowdrops. A little look around the garden would have revealed a second pot properly labelled and possessing the exact same fleshy, glaucous leaves with buds perhaps a week less advanced. So Galanthus elwesii ‘Big Boy’ my mystery snowdrop it is then, big and beautiful. Or at least I think it is….

Galanthus elwesii ‘Big Boy’ January 11th 2021

Identifying snowdrops is not easy given the very many cultivars available. Indeed it was to keep a record of my garden plants that I commenced the blog. So I recorded ‘Big Boy’ during mid-February in 2016 and 2017. I was thrown off the scent by the early flowering.

‘Big Boy’ pictured in February 2016
‘Big Boy’ pictured in February 2017

So I have a definitively labelled, reputably sourced bulb that is very slightly less advanced than my mystery bulbs but I can’t definitively say they are the same. The tinge of green on the tip of the petals, not always consistent, evident in 2017, is not in evidence in the 2021 version and there is a slight difference in shape. The latter is perhaps consequential on the flowers shown above being more mature, as well as revealing their dark green inner colour. In fact the current flower does have those exact same markings though you will have to my word for it. And it is a big flower.

The foliage is one key to identification

There was driving, cold rain yesterday when I took the photographs so the telltale inner markings were unavailable.

Wet ‘Big Boy’

And today’s weather is far worse with snow. So I’ll end with an incontestable variety.

Daphne ‘Jacqueline Postill’ braving the snow
And the brave, unflinching cameraman

Galanthus ‘Godfrey Owen’ – one of the finest

Five years ago I purchased one bulb of ‘Godfrey Owen’ from a very well known seller on Ebay, Matt Bishop. In fact he had over-reached himself and had no adult bulbs left. So I received three or four immature bulbs. It was the best investment I’ve made. Exponential growth kicked in and I have them everywhere as well as giving them as gifts and swaps. One of our best friends keeps reporting back on the progress of Godfrey. Three buds, she informed me excitedly only yesterday.

Galanthus ‘Godfrey Owen’

As may be seen above this distinctive elwesii cultivar is a true beauty, perfectly formed with six outer petals and a similar number of smaller inner ones. It caused something of a sensation following its discovery in 1996 in a Shropshire garden by Margaret Owen and named after her husband. One of its qualities of course is its early flowering habit.

A sunny spot brings the bulbs on more quickly

Copper or Stainless Steel for Gardening Tools

A friend received a set of bronze gardening tools for Christmas. The craftsman-made tools look fabulous on the website and the claims are impressive as they ‘are kinder to slugs and snails, meaning no need for chemicals or insect repellent’. Unfortunately no-one treated me to a designer sickle that protects herbs through ‘copper-ion-protection’ thus retaining the ‘ingredients, minerals, vitamins and etheric oils’. Another company  professes each bronze tool ‘enriches the soil with trace elements’. They make other claims. A further company also lists the advantages of its copper tools – bronze being predominantly copper with tin added. Copper ‘does not disrupt the electrical fields in the soil’. One fact is indisputable and that’s the cost. These are at least four or five times the price of stainless steel equivalents. Sadly as I don’t have any bronze tools and my friend has been unable to hoe ice I can’t vouch for the efficacy of these wonder tools.

I did however receive no fewer than two sets of stainless steel hand tools for Christmas. Stainless steel is tried and tested in our garden. I doubt whether they add trace elements to soil and I’m not too sure about those electrical fields but stainless steel is stronger than bronze and slugs don’t like being neatly sliced by a sharp, hand-held implement.

Conducting this cutting edge investigation has revealed some pertinent information about copper, slugs and snails following research by the RHS at Wisley in 2018 who discovered that copper does not deter the pests after all. Which renders another overly optimistic purchase redundant. I’m going to cut the tape into bits and copper-ionise the soil.

I imagine all those proud possessors of bronze gardening tools, eyes feasting on their gorgeous, rustless artefacts as they work away with the steel sharpening file. They’ll get plenty of practice.

Daily Walk During Lockdown

March and April saw the UK in a state of stasis for most of us as the car was left on the drive, shopping delivered by van, family greeted from a distance and we were allowed only a fifty minute walk from the home. Luckily we enjoyed almost unprecedented warm weather in which to bask in glorious sun for those lucky enough to have a garden. I set about redesigning it, clearing out shrubs and trees. But this image sums up that period of stagnant personal freedom at a time of burgeoning growth. In a patch of land awaiting development a self-sown crab apple had the most intense red buds and our daily walks gave us time to observe its daily development as intensely as we might in our own garden. Sadly the fruits never developed to a standard required for the orchard but in that time it was special indeed. As we re-enter lockdown I fervently hope I’m not tracing its progress as winter 2021 turns to spring.

Maturing Hellebore Turns Green

As Hellebores age they change colour. What we see as petals are actually sepals or, even more correctly, tepals, the outer leaf of the flower designed in all probability to protect the bud. The greening process is said to aid photosynthesis and is a process known as senescence, occurring rather like leaves losing their colour in autumn, occasioned by a reduction in proteins and sugars. Here the hellebore in my view is enhanced as the green blooms complement the new pure white ones. I much prefer them to the forms that pink up. Should my shorthand account be insufficiently informative or detailed do read this account that explains the process in more detail than any human being should ever be forced to suffer. Luckily my hellebores, other than the specimen below, are still in bud and some months short of their ‘demise’ so no other green or pink tepals, petals or sepals to tease you with.

Helleborus ‘Verboon Beauty’