Hepatica japonica as garden plants and a stunning narcissus

We are all familiar with images of hepaticas in close-up to reveal their almost unnaturally perfect symmetry. They lend themselves to posed shots. Indeed I have posted one myself a time or two. Given their almost unnatural cost you’ll not see too many sprinkled through the typical suburban garden here in the north of England. Candidly you’ll not find many in my borders either but here is one scarcely attended pot that features miniature narcissus, a hardy fuschia, whatever annual takes my fancy and four hepaticas, three in full flower on a chilly, blowy Mother’s Day. It brightens up a spot that at this time of year only gets an hour or so of morning sun. They flowered last year and are healthier this.

Hepatica japonica seedlings in north facing pot

The only ingredient hepaticas lack is fragrance so let me recommend a sweet smelling beauty I’ve featured before, one of Bill Welch’s introductions from 1986. ‘Avalanche of Gold’ is sensational. Imagine a bulb that provides up to fifteen small though not insubstantial flowers per stem and up to four stems at that. Add a sturdy quality that stands up to gales and clumps up readily and we have daffodil heaven. Every garden should have them. And have I mentioned the fragrance….

Narcissus ‘Avalanche of Gold’

RHS Harlow Carr in Colour: Sunglasses Required

RHS Harlow Carr is our local garden must see. Whatever the season and, indeed, if one considers the Alpine House, whatever the weather, there’s something to yearn for. Today it is the colours.

Crimson is for Helleborus × ‘Anna’s Red’. So rich, so upright, so resplendent in the winter sun that graced us today. So badly named, for surely this is crimson, not red, with that hint of purple and the yellowish stamens. Photographed here with a backdrop of green cornus stems. I want one.

Orange is for Cornus sanguinea ‘Anny’s Winter Orange’. The stems do have red in there as well though, oh dear, was this an eye-stopper today with  everyone pausing to take a photo, to the point that I found it difficult to dodge their shadows from the low winter sun. Shopping list.

Pink is for Erica carnea ‘December Red’. So pink and purple as the flowers age. And it’s February. When I first commenced gardening heathers were very popular along with dwarf conifers.  I’m not so keen these days with two exceptions ….

Purple is for Erica carnea ‘Nathalie’. Oh boy what a lovely purple,red. The variety is courtesy  Kurt Kramer from Edewecht, Germany and is developed from the Scottish ‘Myretoun Ruby’, a variety I used to love before I fell out of love and needed the space. ‘Nathalie’ has turned my head.

Violet is for Crocus thomasii. And there are one or two other varieties there adding to the splendour. We have it on our front lawn in increasing abundance if not as abundant as here. When the sun shines there’s nothing nicer, even Nathalie. It seeds itself everywhere, disappearing when one cuts the lawn or hoes the earth. To return.


Gold is for the shot before my battery ran out unexpectedly. Never buy cheap batteries on ebay. Yellows, golds, oranges. A mixture of aconites, Hamamelis and cornus. The focus is all a mess, not that it matters.

Green is for Galanthus ‘Edith’. I’m very fickle. Now I love Edith. The sparse information on this gorgeous snowdrop does not mention the lime green inner markings that were so evident this afternoon. I must have this variety. There were so many varieties to choose but I chose you, Edith.

Turquoise is for the Bramall Learning Centre & Library. Have I mentioned my battery running out? Well not before I photographed this sensational modern building with my macro lens. When I come into money I’m going to get the architects to make me one to live in. Opened in 2010 it is everything I desire in a building save that it is not mine.

All the colours of the rainbow. The alpine house. Heaven should be so inviting. Feast your eyes on this. Sunglasses required.

Alpine House, Harlow Carr

Thick snow was covering the garden until today’s rain and slight thaw. Still, time for the Alpine House at Harlow Carr. All 24m of it.

Primula allionii makes a striking show within the protection of glass walls.

Saxifraga ‘Gemma’

Galanthus ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’ looking less beaten down by adversity than mine in the garden

Saxifraga allionii ‘Elizabeth Burrow’

Saxifraga ‘Miluj Mne’ 

Ipheion uniflorum ‘Rolf Fiedler’  – another that in my garden is looking a little sorry for itself at the moment

I was intending to show the difference between ‘Brenda Troyle’ and ‘Sam Arnott’, two very similar snowdrops. I will!

Years ago I saw Cyclamen cilicium  in the hills of Greece and it triggered a great love of all things cyclamen. I’ve had more flowers on mine however.
Saxifraga ‘Kathleen’ and spelt as my mother-in-law’s name 

Saxifraga hybr. ‘Večerní Hvězda’ and my favourite of the day.

Hepatica Japonica Momohanabi

They are tricky beggars to grow properly. However, Hepatica japonica Momohanabi has just commenced flowering and I hope for a mass of the tiny, jewel like flowers. I am experimenting with the best place to plant them. At the moment the highly regarded plants reside in a sunny position though I have lost several in the past when they have either dried out or been waterlogged. Momohanabi is a named variety, rather choice. I have some interesting unnamed doubles. They are so exotic they seem out of place in the winter garden. Lovely though.

I was a little dissatisfied with my images of this little plant and this afternoon (Monday) decided to redo them. So first up is a photograph set against a more colourful background, the one below sitting on the outside windowsill. You can see why the Japanese have developed the culture of these little plants into something of an art form.

Just a few details from the winter garden – Harlow Carr Gardens

We visited, on impulse, RHS Harlow Gardens today due to the bright if cold weather. To be frank there was not a lot of colour in conventional terms. There were however one or two beauties. How about this clematis, the seeds of which caught the early morning sun. I’m not sure of the variety but we used to have Clematis tangutica that came into its own in the early winter.

Or Cortaderia selloana, the once popular but now neglected Pampas Grass. It was high summer all right. Towering over our heads the plumes of this life enhancing, if space inhibiting, grass were extraordinary. My father-in-law grew this plant to perfection until, as he burned down the stubble after the flowering and seed head period, he singed the next door neighbour’s fence.

Later on in the day, or rather night, there was to be a lighting display, Harlow Carr bowing down to populism.  I’m sure it will be illuminating and they were set up in the best possible taste.

Back to real plants. The barks of cherry and birch. The gardeners had been out buffing up the Prunus for all they were worth. A gloss and polish like that can’t be natural. The birch is matt white. Where was my Parker fountain pen when I needed it? Such beauty. The bark not the handwriting.

Naturally I had to visit the alpine house where, genuine surprise here, there was not the variety of colour I’ve come to expect. So I’ll miss out the ipheions because I have them in flower in the open soil – did you hear that Harlow Carr? And go straight to this gem with tiny red flowers. Saxifraga gokka. It flowers in late autumn and I know from a friend that rabbits ignore it completely. So why grow it under glass? Because it is lovely with its bright blooms bursting from interesting lobed foliage. Unsullied by frost’s little fingers.

The sun was bright indeed even if it was perishing. Everywhere was nicely spruced up however. They also provide seats for old men. Very much appreciated.

And to round off our excursion how about this for an all in one treat for the garden visitors? A house with all the trimmings, even a tap. Very nice, yes? Great visit ….. apart from the “Galaxy Wind Spinner / Wind Sculpture in burnished gold finish” I was persuaded to purchase about which much more later when I’ve set it up.

RHS Garden Harlow Carr in Harrogate, North Yorkshire

RHS Garden Harlow Carr in Harrogate, North Yorkshire is a great visit and today the sun shone all day, the bees emerged, and one could see the plants opening out to welcome spring. So here are the highlights.

I’m no great lover of heathers though ….

Catkins can be as good as blossom

“Anna’s Red” and certainly on my newly created shopping list

Another of those catkins

Skimmia japonica “Red Diamonds”

The head only of the towering reed sculpture

Kale “Redbor” is tasty too

Primula palinuro

Primula allionii ‘Mrs Dyas’

Primula ‘Joan Hughes’

Primula allionii ‘ Apple Blossom’

Saxifraga species and my favourite today

Olsynium douglasii 

Primula ‘Netta Dennis’

 Dionysia aretioides ‘Bevere’ and spectacular

Fritillaria raddeana

Draba yunnanensis

Cornus mas – a mass of blossom

We had a visitor at lunch

Location for lunch

Visitor 2

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Ground Hugging Alpines, Harlow Carr, Harrogate 2nd October 2015

Some of the most fascinating plants in the Alpine House at the RHS gardens at Harlow Carr are the alpines that hug the rock. They often have brilliant coloured flowers but do not have to be in bloom to catch the eye. My own alpines grown outdoors never look like these, the combination of drought, soaking, wind and weeds marring the effect but a man can dream.

Dionysia ‘Monika’
Acantholimon litvinovii
Dionysia tapetodes ‘Peter Edwards’
 Gypsophila aretioides caucasica
Junellia micrantha
Saxifraga ‘Cio Cio San’
Saxifraga ‘Gloria’
Draba cusickii
Erigeron ursinus
Androsace pyrenaica
Draba ‘Buttermilk’
Androsace studiosorum Chumbyi
Draba subacaulis & Draba yunnanensis
Dionysia ‘Ananke’
 Dionysia tapetoides ‘ Peter Edwards’
Dionysia ‘ Pascal’
Dionysia curviflora
Benthamiella patagonica
Androsace selago ‘Red Eye’
Dionysia ‘Monika’
Androsace himalaica
Gypsophila aretioides caucasica
 Draba acaulis ex Bolkar Dag
Draba hybrid ‘Buttermilk’
Benthamiella patagonica

Hepatica x media ‘Millstream Merlin’

Hepatica x media ‘Millstream Merlin’ is new to me this year. I have many hepaticas, not all of which do well when I meddle with them, resenting any movement. ‘Millstream Merlin’ is certainly the deepest blue of my plants and has a bright yellow stamen, providing a stunning contrast. Do not get the size out of proportion with my close-up image, this being a miniature marvel. However its vivid colouring does take the eye even among the cyclamens, crocuses, narcissus and snowdrops. It is the first hepatica in flower this year. Sometimes the catalogues get things wrong. Not in this instance. And I was amazed to see the price paid recently on the ubiquitous eBay, £45 plus postage is a little steep even for this jewel particularly as a little research would have discovered a cheaper, very reliable source – check Anne Wright’s nursery.

Ipheion uniflorum ‘Charlotte Bishop’, ‘Froyle Mill’ & ‘Wisley Blue’

Ipheions originate in South America but seem hardy enough, certainly providing invaluable early colour. They have a garlic smell when bruised that is not unpleasant.  I have a number of varieties. They do not like over rich soil, getting rather leafy and failing to support the flower. I shall grow mine in a more gritty soil in future, cutting back on the feeding. They certainly increase quickly. To show the various colours, here is ‘Charlotte Bishop’, ‘Froyle Mill’ and ‘Wisley Blue’, the middle one just showing colour.