Thursday, 5 March 2015


This little fellow's behaviour has been most disconcerting over the last few days. He (and I am making a presumption here) has been repeatedly throwing himself against our living room window. I'm amazed that he has not done himself any serious damage. Although we have previously observed long tailed-tits hovering around the window frames in search of grubs, this one is behaving noticeably differently. He collides into the window, before yo-yoing down to land on the outer sill, where he sits looking in, before flying off and then launching into repeat action replays. He does vary window panes. What is also noticeable is that he is on his own which is most unlike long-tailed tits as they like companions. There is a bird feeder in view of the window and I have noticed that he is taking time out to feed which is a relief. All that frenzied activity must seriously delete his energy stores and he is only a small bird.

We've been wondering why he has been behaving so. Perhaps as spring draws near it could be related to thoughts of mating? Maybe he sees himself in the window and thinks that he is a she? Has anybody else seen long tailed-tits behave like this? In the meantime whilst this activity continues window cleaning will be postponed and the windows will remain firmly shut!

Saturday, 28 February 2015

End Of Month View ~ February 2015

The word for this month is 'ANTICIPATION'. It's one that I think that should be sung loudly from the roof tops as we reach the end of February. It's that magical time before spring really takes off in giant irreversible strides, were there is still time to simply stand and stare. The days are getting longer, the birds are chirping away, the green bin awaits the first emptying of the year this week and all around the garden and in the cold frame there are signs of new growth.
Galanthus 'Blonde Inge'
February here has been hard to gauge but I think that it has been definitely colder and drier than it was in 2014. There has not been much in the way of wintry precipitation other than the odd bit of fleeting snow, sleet and hail but nothing that has caused serious problems. The most distracting feature of the weather has been cold winds from a northerly direction. I'm convinced that the older I become the more of a fair weather gardener I'm becoming. I definitely can't do wind even well wrapped up. However even on the foul days I've been able to get a daily flower fix from my special snowdrops in the greenhouse and here are just a couple more for the record. Not newcomers but old favourites in the shape of glanthus nivalis 'Greenish' and galanthus plicatus 'Percy Picton' :

Galanthus plicatus 'Percy Picton'

Whilst the former is probably just past its peak the latter is just getting there. It's a late flowering 'drop and unlike a lot of virescent snowdrops it's relatively easy to grow.
Galanthus nivalis 'Greenish'
Elsewhere in the garden the usual suspects are in flower - snowdrops, little irises, hellebores, crocuses, primroses and the pulmonarias are just joining in with the exception of pulmonaria rubra 'Redstart' which came into bloom in early December. Most of my crocuses are in pots and there are some that I think will be heading for the compost heap. They do not seem to be able to cope with the vagaries of the winter elements and have croaked before they have even got going. It's almost as somebody with big feet has stood on them flattening the flowers. I wonder if this has anything to do with the height of the crocus concerned and whether it's the taller varieties that suffer. More research is required but any suggestions of sturdy varieties would be appreciated. Another disappointment in the crocus stakes has been the hundred or so crocus tommasinianus bulbs that were planted in the lawn last autumn. To date there are a grand total of two flowers - it must be those pesky squirrels again. I've bought the odd clump or two ready made flowering bulbs in the hope that such a planting might thwart them.

The allotment has been sadly neglected. Where have I heard these word before? Just getting about the site during the winter months remains a challenge as the main paths are so waterlogged. I'm anxious to avoid a repeat of the experience of a fall I had a couple of years ago. Perhaps I'm being over cautious but the plan is to wait until the days are slightly warmer when the standing water starts to evaporate. There will be much to do when I do get there.

Seed sowing has not got off the ground yet but that is a deliberate decision which I will come on to in a future post. At the moment the greenhouse space is occupied by the special snowdrops, a few overwintering cuttings and autumn sown seedlings as well as pots of dahlia tubers which will be kick-started into action come April. I've planted 'Red Sun' and 'Golden Gourmet' shallots in cells this morning and they will head to the allotment in due course. Next job on the list is to make a start on dividing and replanting some of the clumps of snowdrops which are now partially obscured by the gabion wall. Meanwhile it never ceases to surprise me just how well the snowdrops on the other side of the stream continue to flourish without any attention. The stream borders the garden and dotted along its banks are clumps of snowdrops.

Divide Me!
Plant purchases this month have been more named snowdrops (surprise, surprise), the afore-mentioned crocus clumps, helleborus 'Anna's Red' and chaemoneles speciosa 'Yukigoten' which promises creamy double flowers followed by yellow quinces later in the year. I can't wait! I've also been the fortunate recipient of several snowdrops from a fellow snowdrop lover and good friend who reads this blog. Thank you :)

Meanwhile going back to that word anticipation my attention is on the daffies that you can see in the top photo. Starter for St. David's Day or not? Only one more day to find out!

As always a big thank you to Helen over at the 'The Patient Gardener's Weblog' who came up with the inspirational idea of sharing our end of month views. 

Monday, 23 February 2015

In A Vase On Monday ~ On Cloud Nine

After a thoroughly turbulent and testing Sunday weather wise Monday has dawned here bright and sunny albeit on the cold side. There has been a chance to whizz round the estate for a quick recce and to bring in a few hellebore flowers to float on a cloud.

Apart from the recently purchased 'Anna's Red' - left hand bottom, the others all come from unnamed plants which have crept into the garden over the years.  One or two I think have been grown from seed. Next to 'Anna's Red' is a favourite speckled white, which was a gift many years ago from the owner of an excellent local nursery now sadly closed. The deeper plum coloured one is the first hellebore I planted in the garden so I have a soft spot for that too. We had to dig up the original plant but this a flower from one of the divisions it mase.

The cloud was a present made by a talented artist friend and is resting temporarily on a scarf/shawl thingy which always reminds me of the night sky.

Thanks as always to Cathy over at 'Rambling In The Garden' for  enabling us to share our flowers and foragings every Monday. Do visit and enjoy the other winter 'vases' that other bloggers will be posting about today.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day ~ February 2015

"You can't say that you can't grow a plant until you have killed it at least three times" was a memorable maxim from a formidable plantswoman Thelma Kay, who spoke at a Hardy Plant Society meeting I attended many moons ago. Thelma managed to cajole many tender plants to grow in her north Manchester garden and no doubt had more than a few casualties on the way. So as it's February, peak time for snowdrops, here are a couple more, both of which have recently returned to the fold for a second attempt.

Above is galanthus 'Cowhouse Green' which apparently can be miffy and difficult to establish. There are conflicting stories about its origin including one that the bulb was found near a cowhouse hence the name. Would it have withstood the heavy trampling of hooves if that was so? Still it's a most appealing tale. I'm not sure how long my first 'Cowhouse Green' survived but think it was a couple of years. In that short period of time it became one of my favourites.

The second which you can see above is galanthus plicatus 'Trym', which I know I had as long ago as 2009 possibly before. It was one of the casualties of the cold 2010/2011 winter and I've hankered for a replacement since. My potted collection of snowdrops was outside that year rather than under cover which resulted in major losses and much wailing from me. Now I bring them in to the greenhouse for the colder months of the year, although they will have to be turfed out soon so seed sowing can commence in earnest. You can see that 'Trym' has decidedly different shaped petals to most other snowdrops. It has been a significant breeding plant because of this feature.

Both replacement bulbs came as dormant bulbs last summer from Avon Bulbs. Fingers crossed that I will be able to feature them again this time next year. If not they will be on their final warning!

Thanks as always to Carol over at May Dreams Gardens who kindly hosts this monthly meme, so we can share what's blooming in our gardens or in my case this month in my greenhouse. 

Saturday, 7 February 2015

She Who Dithers

Shrieks of delight pierced the tranquility of our local garden centre last Sunday morning as my eyes alighted on helleborus 'Anna's Red'. Fortunately we were the only hardy perennials who had the bitingly cold outdoors area so no damage was done to anybody's hearing. Oh joy of joys - this plant had been way up on my wish list for a couple of years! Not only because of its name but also because of all that I had read about this beautiful comparatively new introduction. Named after the gardening writer Anna Pavord, this hellebore has huge flowers, deep red stems and attractive marbled foliage. I was so pleased to find her, not only so close to home but also at what I thought the most reasonable price of  £11.99. Like all feted newcomers the initial higher prices such gems command does come down after a while.

True to form I was not sure about the first plant I picked up so rummaged amongst the few other specimens for comparison purpose, whilst himself patiently stood on hand to offer his considered opinion. Back and forth I went until having satisfied myself after much dithering that I had picked the best specimen we made our way to the check out. Visions of a planting scheme to highlight my new purchase were floating around my head as we made our way home, which concluded in a petticoat of snowdrops and cyclamens. Back to base garden centre purchases (yes there were others) were removed from the car boot and lunch preparations took over.

It was only later in the afternoon when mindful that a hard frost was predicted that I realised the error of my ways. As I was about to place 'Anna's Red' under the shelter of the cold frame a close inspection of the label revealed that I had come home with the wrong plant! What I had was Anna's sister, helleborus 'Penny's Pink'. I went back inside to break the news to himself whose attention was focused on the television and a football match. His initial response was one of disbelief as to how this could have happened but an offer of a return trip to the garden centre the next day was eventually forthcoming. At times such as these being a non driver certainly has its disadvantages but I tried not to sulk or to think too much about the fact that there had not been a vast number of 'Anna's Red' for sale.

However my face must have registered as crestfallen because ten minutes or so a return journey to the garden centre became a now rather than tomorrow offer. Off we went again clutching a box containing 'Penny's Pink' (she's lovely but I already have her) and a receipt. The garden centre was much busier at this stage so it took some minutes to explain what had happened. On getting an affirmative that we could exchange plants himself volunteered to get a replacement from the back of beyond and legged it before I could protest. At this point I'm sure he was worrying whether we would get back home for the next football match. What can I say but the plant he bought back with him was not the best of the bunch but what could I say in this situation other than profess my heartfelt gratitude. I'm sure that it will flourish in the future though which is the main consideration.

I'm still pondering where to plant her. She might even be planted in a container as Michelle over at Veg Plotting is growing her 'Anna's Red'. Wherever she ends up though I'm sure I will remember both the excitement and trauma of her purchase. Have you ever come home with the wrong plant?

N.B. The moral of this tale must be always to check the label before you get to the till.

P.S. I've only just realised after taking a photo what a big label it was - I really did not have any excuse, did I?

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

A Muse For February

"What excitement we feel on looking out on to the garden in snow. It is one of the only sensations of our childhood that is not blunted by maturity. Still we want to leave our mark on any smooth expanse of snow, to ruffle it, to jump about on it. However sedate we may grow, we never emerge from the childish longing to write our names on the whitened lawn with a stick, as though it were sand by the seashore. It is a pity that we have so little snow".

~ an extract from "Four Hedges - A Gardener's Chronicle' by Clare Leighton, 1898 -1989.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

On The Scent

Just before January morphs into February a chance to join in Wellywoman's new meme being run together with Sue over at 'Backlane Notebook', on the subject of 'Scent In The Garden'. This is a theme that I find fascinating and I've always tried to bear scent in my mind when thinking about what to grow. It's much too cold here at the moment to stick my nose out in search of scent. So for this month, here is a brief run through of three books lurking in my bookshelves, which have provided me with suggestions for scent in the garden over the years.

The first of these is Eleanor Sinclair Rohde's book 'The Scented Garden' which was first published in 1931 by the Medici Society and then republished in 1989. The author's premise that "Fragrance in flowers may, indeed, be described as their music, and it is non the less beautiful because it is silent" is an appealing one. The book starts with some general thoughts on the scented garden which is punctuated with references to history and literature including old gardening essays and books. Just reading this first chapter makes my nose start to twitch. The introduction is followed by chapters on :
  • January and February in the scented garden
  • Violets, primroses and wallflowers
  • Spring Flowering Bulbs and Shrubs
  • The Scents of Early Summer 
  • The Old Roses
  • The Aromatic Herbs
  • The Afternoon of the Year
  • Sweet Bag, Pot - Pourri and Other Recipes
  • Plant Lists
There are beautiful illustrations throughout by the botanical artist Patricia Dale, although I confess to wishing that there were more of them. Sadly from what I can gather the book is no longer in print but it's possible to track down second hand copies.

The second book of the trio is Rosemary Verey's 'The Scented Garden,' which was first published in 1981. An introduction is followed by chapters on :
  • Roses 
  • Annuals, biennials and perennials
  • Bulbs, corms and tubers
  • Herbs
  • Shrubs, trees and climbers
  • Fragrant exotica 
An appendix has useful lists of plants with scented leaves, plants with scented flowers, scented plants for each of the seasons, scented plants for evening and night, scented plants for cutting, scented plants for indoors and scented plants for outdoor tubs. The book is well illustrated throughout with plates of paintings, photographs as well as line drawings. Again this book is no longer in publication but second hand copies can be obtained from second hand bookshops and online sources. It is this book where I first came across the concept of forcing winter bouquets so that you could enjoy both scent and colour at close quarters indoors. Magic!

The third book is Jenny Joseph's 'Led By The Nose'. The author is better known for her poetry especially the brilliant 'When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple'. The day draws ever closer for my wardrobe! This little book takes you through the calendar year in terms of not only scents that you might encounter in the garden but also the various cyclical activities that goes on in most gardens. There are various lists at the end of the book, including what you might be able to smell each month. The list for January is thinner than it is for many other months but there is still a surprising number of scented pleasures to be savoured. The book concludes with various lists including a most comprehensive list on scented roses as well as an essay on smell. This book is perhaps easier to get hold of than the others and is also available on a Kindle or ebook format.

I'm hoping to pick up more delightful fragrant suggestions as the year goes on thanks to Louise and Sue.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Totally Tropical

Galanthus 'Augustus'

Well the temperature soared to the dizzy heights of 12 degrees centigrade in the greenhouse today and my special snowdrops in the greenhouse were singing. It was the ideal day to inspect all the pots of 'drops that are open as well as those about to open and a chance to take a few more photos. Thanks for all the lovely comments and encouragement that have come my way recently about my snowdrop photos. I still think that there is room for improvement so was pleased to get hold a thin piece of black foam from an art shop on Friday which I can now use as a backdrop. Before then I had been using black card, pegged on to some stiffer cardboard, which occasionally toppled over threatening to behead snowdrops as it did so. The black foam can be propped up without anything behind it and has so far been reassuringly stable. It also seems to photograph as black rather than a murky shade of charcoal grey as the card sometimes did.

Galanthus 'Angelique'
Galanthus 'Lost Labellus'

Galanthus 'John Grey'
Galanthus ' Lady Beatrix Stanley
I've also been asked if I have favourites. This is a hard question to answer but probably my favourite is 'Diggory' (not pictured here) although most of the above would be close runners up if it came to a competition. Morever three of them - 'Augustus', 'John Gray' and 'Lady Beatrix Stanley' can all be obtained at prices that will not break the bank. 'Augustus' is not quite open yet but I so love the dimpled petal exteriors. I'm also waiting with anticipation for a couple of new purchases to flower for the very first time so who knows my favourite may yet be usurped in a few days time. Watch this space!

Back in the greenhouse on Monday afternoon where it is definitely cooler than yesterday. I snipped a trio of flowers from Galanthus 'George Elwes' as they have been rather floppy for a couple of days. To this a few sprigs of ivy, some cornus or dogwood twigs and a flower from helleborus 'Christmas Carol'. This turned out to be a work in progress as I've returned to it to insert a few twiggly bits of a pink tinged winter heather. However it is too gloomy out there now for another photo as well as being perishingly cold. You can see many more vases today over at 'Rambling In The Garden' hosted by the lovely Cathy. A great way to dispel the winter blues!