If you wish to find a nursery which supplies any of the plants listed, try searching here
Dark Days and Heavenly Scents
I’m writing this at 4.15pm and it’s dark. Just as well that I’m hibernating from the garden. I have made it a policy to do nothing, or at least the bare minimum, in January and February. I find that this leaves me refreshed and recharged to go again in March. First job always to cut back the winter grasses and prune the Hydrangeas. This doesn’t mean that we don’t walk the garden in the first two months, we do of course, at least once a day, because there is plenty to enjoy.
When we get a fine day, I will photograph new plants as they emerge.
This delicate, evergreen, winter-flowering Clematis, climbing over a fence or wall is a real treat on a sombre January day. It will grow to about 3m but is only marginally hardy, H3 to -5C, so grow on a south-facing aspect.
These witch hazels are sweet scented and a welcome addition to the winter garden. The flowers appear before the leaves and the plant often takes on a shuttlecock profile. Amusingly, the plant has nothing to do with witches. The name comes from old English word ‘wych’ or ‘wice’ meaning bendy. An extract from the plant, also called Witch-hazel, is used in ointments for topical use eg treatment of hemorrhoids and nappy rash.
These plants originated both in North America or Japan and China. These varieties are hybrids of H. japonica and H. mollis. They grow in acid to neutral soil, happily in part shade, in a woodland setting, and are hardy to -15C (H5).
However, if you want intoxicating perfume near your door, plant Sarcococca.
Cut a few stems, place in a vase of water in any room and it will fill with this sweet perfume for days. This ‘Sweet Box’ is a compact, fully hardy (H5 to -15C), evergreen shrub that can be clipped to form a hedge. It is soil agnostic and will grow in partial shade.
November – December
It’s been a great year for the garden but it has left plants totally confused about their seasons with flowering times early, prolonged, repeated, late. However, it does mean that as we enter the dog days of winter the garden is still rich with colour.
Hellebores are emerging with their sometimes shy, nodding flowers. It helps to see them at their best if you cut away any dead or damaged leaves. They are part of the buttercup family and there are some 20 species. They occur naturally in an arc from eastern France to central China, with a concentration in the Balkans. The visible flowers are in fact made up of 5 sepals not petals, with the small, true petals at the centre of the inflorescence. Hellebore comes from the Greek meaning ‘food that injures’ – ie it’s poisonous. Its roots were once used as an emetic for those who had swallowed poisons – oh-oh!
The image has been used to symbolise serenity, tranquility and peace, or, at other times, scandal and anxiety. According to Greek mythology, the daughters of the King of Argos suffered from a form of madness that caused them to run naked, crying and mooing like cows through the city streets. As time passed, their madness increased and even spread to other women in the area. Melampus of Pylos, a legendary soothsayer and healer, used Hellebore to save the daughters from a madness. Yes, a remedy made of Hellebores cured women’s madness. It is the logo of the Hardy Plant Society!
There has been an explosion of new varieties and cultivars in recent years, produced either by hand pollination, like the super plants offered by John Massey at Ashwood nursery if you have a bob or two, or by micro propagated interspecies.
A particular favourite is the series of Helleborus x hybridous doubles, bred by Ellen Akerboom of Nachtvlinder nursery , Holland
It is 1st December and we have 14 different roses flowering in the garden.
This morning’s harvest – Rosa Brother Cadfael, Emma Hamilton, The Lady Gardener, Tottering by Gently, Kew Gardens, Jacqueline du Pre, Simple Life, Lady Marmalade, Lady of Shallot, Eye of the Tiger.
Abelia x grandiflora has been renamed in some places as Linnaea x grandiflora. It’s a hybrid first raised by a nursery on Lake Maggiore in 1886. It has dainty glossy leaves and is almost evergreen and grows to about 1.5m. However, its real appeal is that it flowers in late autumn with a multitude of lightly fragrant, pink-blushed white flowers, with conspicuous colourful calyces on soft arching branches. It responds well to pruning to shape. It’s soil agnostic and hardy to -15C (H5), but thrives in a sheltered sunny position
Another glossy evergreen which flowers in the Autumn, Arbutus unedo, this one from the Mediterranean. It bears rosy pink, urn-shaped flowers in panicles but is celebrated for its red, strawberry-like fruits, which are edible and made into jams and fruit juices. Hence the name Strawberry Tree. It is found in the Madrid Coat of Arms and even depicted in the central panel of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights (see if you can find it). It is hardy to -15C, soil independent and is best grown in full sun in a sheltered site. Can get quite large.
July – October
Late summer to early autumn is the time when we think of Asters. Asters are obviously members of the Asteraceae (Compositae – ‘daisies’) which is the largest plant family on Earth with over 32000 species, which range from Artichokes to Zinnias. They are found from sea level to the highest mountains and they flower throughout the year.
Some of what are commonly known as Asters these days have been renamed Symphotrichum and others Eurybia and there are various Genera within the Asteracea which share the name Coneflower – Rudbeckias, Echinacea, Ratibida, Dracopis . Rudbeckias are also known as Black-eyed Susan or Brown-eyed Susan – but then again, so is Thunbergia alata! Confusing isn’t it.
It’s that time of year when serious plants people make the pilgrimage up to Old Court Nurseries on the lower slopes of the Malvern Hills, just outside Ledbury, to meet Helen Picton and to discuss and purchase Michaelmas daisies – Asters! Helen and Ross’s nursery houses the Plant Heritage National Collection of autumn flowering asters and related Genera, with more than 430 varieties. It is a treasure trove. These plants have had a well-deserved resurgence of late and they form beautiful combinations with late summer grasses.
In general, the European Asters (Italian Asters) have retained the Aster name eg the popular Aster x frikartii ‘Mönch’ but, one of my favourites, Aster ‘Twilight’ is now Eurybia x herveyi. Michaelmas daisies are now pretty universally called Symphotrychum. We have –
New York Asters – Symphyotrichum novi-belgii (syn. Aster novi-belgii) – A North American native; susceptible to powdery mildew!! No thanks
New England Asters – Sympyotrichum novae-angliae (syn. Aster novae-angliae) – also native to North America and Canada. Some of these reach 2m and are rarely subject to powdery mildew. Yes please.
This Genus was named after Olof Rudbeck the Elder (1630-1702), a distinguished Naturalist, Philologist, and Doctor of Medicine (he had discovered the lymphatic system), and was the founder of Sweden’s first botanic garden
This is perhaps my favourite Rudbeckia. Sadly, it’s a short-lived perennial but will self-seed lightly. I replenish, either by growing from seed, or purchase each year. It’s triloba because the basal leaves have 3 lobes but the plant reaches 5 feet with airy sprays of flowers. We grow it in combination with grasses, particularly the beautiful Calamagrostis brachytricha, and Persicaria ‘Fat Domino’. It’s perfectly hardy, H6 down to -20C, grows best in full sun and is soil independent. There is a beautiful orange-red flowered variety called Prairie Glow. It failed with us this year however.
This is a great plant. More floriferous than the familiar ‘Goldsturm’ and slightly taller. It’s eye may not be quite as dark but it has a longer season, flowering well into November. Again, it’s fully hardy, non-discriminating and will grow in partial shade. A must have in my book.
This is one imposing plant. With it’s distinctive glaucous basal leaves, it produces these very tall , 2 metres high, flowering spikes which sway gracefully in the wind and are a great compliment to airy grasses like Stipa gigantea. In the autumn, the petals drop but the large black cones survive to give excellent winter structure.
I love Kniphofias. With selection you can have them flowering from April to November. These two are late varieties. Caulescens has this glaucous grey-blue foliage and dusky salmon flowers, whilst rooperi has bold, strong orange and yellow flowers to 1.2m. Both are from South Africa, are evergreen but need to be kept tidy, and both are H5 hardy to -15C. Grow in sun for maximum flowering.
This is a sub-shrub, a legume, which dies back completely in the winter. It is a native of China and Japan and was brought back in the 18th Century by Swedish botanist Carl Peter Thunberg. It’s a cascading plant and in our garden needs some vertical support. It is very floriferous from September well into October and a stunning addition to the late season garden. It is generally disease free, soil independent, prefers a sunny position and at H5 is hardy down to -15C.
Look out, it’s Hydrangeas for the following months and I’m a bit obsessive. So I will build a gallery of the various different types as they come into their glory. We have acid soil so are lucky to have a full range of colours. Hydrangea breeders are busy souls and the selection of new cultivars that are launched each year is mind-boggling.
There is some dispute about the derivation of the name Hydrangea. I had always thought that the hydra meant water-needing, but other say that the seedpod has a similar shape to the Hydra – a Greek water vessel, or looks like the head of the mythical monster the Hydra. Who knows!
Hydrangeas occur naturally in East Asia – Tibet, China, Japan, Phillippines, Java, Sumatra, and in North America and the western coastal regions of Central and South American in temperate growing conditions So they are very happy in our climate.
The true flowers are tiny and the delicate and showy parts of the sterile flowers are in fact sepals. Hydrangeas are unusual in that the colour of their flowers can change – particularly the mopheads and lace caps. The colour depends on several factors
- soil acidity, an acid pH of 6.5 and below is sufficient to allow blue flowers. The lower the pH, the more intense the blue
- aluminium. The plant must be able to absorb aluminium to establish blue flowers. Blue flowers contain 10 times more aluminium than pink flowers. Aluminium can only be absorbed from soils if they are acid.
- but it’s not a hard fast rule eg Hydrangea serrata Preziosa remains bubble-gum pink in acid soils
This delicate beauty from there mountains in Japan is late flowering and together with another involucrata ‘ Takado Yama’, below, extends the season into October
Another tree Hydrangea from North America. It is quite compact and flowers from early summer to early autumn, with dense, rounded clusters of double, pale green flowers turning white with age.
This plant is quite simply gorgeous. Introduced to nurseries as recently as 2012, this cultivar was bred by Maurice Foster in Sevenoaks, Kent, my Hydrangea hero. If you ever get a chance go and visit. With its coarse, velvety leaves, big lace caps and peeling bark, this one is distinguished by its red wine reverse on the leaves. Go on, go out and buy one.
This is a Oak-leafed Hydrangea from North America, easily recognised by its boldly lobed leaves and superb, long lasting double flowers. As autumn approaches these leaves change from green to crimson and then burgundy. A superb, fully hardy, specimen.
This distinctive cultivar from Japan. The cup-shaped sepals make it look a little like lilac and it’s slightly scented (unusual for Hydrangeas) It has this pale lilac colour in the garden but cuttings we’ve taken are pink (should have used an ericaceous compost) but beautiful nonetheless.
This delicate beauty is also from the mountains of Japan. A little more tricky to cultivate but we love the contrast with the muscular macrophylla types.
Now this serrata is a different kettle of fish. Robust, showy, prolific flowering with sepals changing from pale pink through bubblegum and candy floss pink to dark red as they age. A truly gorgeous plant.
This is one of the lacecap Teller hybrids bred in Switzerland. We give it some shade and it rewards us with this startlingly red colour.
This beauty, with its enormous propeller sterile flowers, was first isolated in 2012 in Vasterival, the garden of Princess Greta Sturdza, in Varengeville sur Mer, Normandy. These flowers can reach 3.5 inches across.
June is the month of roses. Until recently I have never really considered roses in the garden. I think that this stems from my grandfather’s obsession with hybrid tea roses , planted in a thorn-dense rose bed, where my football inevitably ended up, irretrievable! How things change. Driven by Jenny’s obsession and ably assisted by David Austin and Peter Beale, we now have 50 or more at Highfields Farm, and they have been fabulous this year (at least until the recent storm shattered a few). Here are some examples-
Virtual Garden Tours
Guin Vaughn introduces us to her garden at Trengrove House
Melanie Molyneux introduces us to her garden at Rockfield Park
Sarah Clay introduces us to her garden at Wyndcliffe Court
Arne Maynard’s latest Allt y Bela posting
Virtual Garden Tours
A quick look at some of the shrubs in the “Collection” area
Hilary Gerrish of High Glanau was, of course, unable to open her beautiful garden for the NGS this month so has published a collection of virtual tours and photographs on her Instagram page. Here’s the connection –
Nant y Bedd
Similarly, Members Sue and Ian Mabberley’s magical garden up in the Black Mountains, Nant y Bedd, has been included in the NGS Vitual tour series. Here is the link
Sue has also posted her advice on compost making
Arne Maynard has published a magical series of walks through his magnificent garden at Ally-y-bela on Instagram. Here is the first as a gateway to the series. Tap on ‘Arnemaynardgardendesign’ in top left corner for the complete series.
Virtual Garden tours
Some short films of gardens in our County
The weather has been glorious & we have spent hours outside. Everything is growing well.
This cold snap this week has meant the potatoes needed covering at night. We have planted 16 varieties of potatoes this year as we went to a potato seed fair this year in the Forest of Dean. It will be interesting to see what the different ones taste like, and see the different colours; one variety is purple! Our local garden centre also sells loose seed potatoes so we have 5 or 6 of each (a row).
The yellow phlomis is from a cutting from my niece’s wedding 19 years ago. It brings back lots of happy memories of the day.
Time to go & open tunnel.
This plant is sometimes called jet bead because it forms shiny black berries after flowering, but it appears to flower all year. The simple flowers have four white petals and conspicuous stamens and the leaves are deeply pleated with serrated edges. There is only one plant in this genus but it’s a really good performer. Originally from China and Japan, it will grow in sun and partial shade and is independent of soil type. It grows to 4-5ft and is hardy to -15C (H5).
This is the ‘spurge’ family, really diverse in size, form, colour and includes plants like Poinsettias and others which look like cacti and succulents. They are found all over the world in tropical and temperate settings. The name spurge comes from the mediaeval practice of using certain varieties of Euphorbia as purgatives and laxatives. BUT DO NOT TRY THIS! The milky sap or latex of the common garden varieties ( which evolved to deter vegetarians – grazing animals I mean!) is a strong irritant and can cause serious inflammation. So wear gloves when pruning, splitting or transplanting.
The range available to the gardener is immense. The RHS lists over 1600 varieties. There are varieties which will grow in pots, in full sun, in dry gardens, in woodland, in dry shade and even in bog gardens. We love them and our collection is ever growing. Some examples are shown here.
The Euphorbia x pasteurii is an interesting plant. Ours is now 7ft high and covered with highly scented flowers which fill the air with a honey perfume. It is a E. mellifera x E.stygiana, looks tropical and is very robust. Laid low and beaten up by snow two years ago, I cut off the damaged branches and the plant quickly broke into new growth. If anything it is a bit of a thug but I love it.
Epimediums are commonly known as barronwort, bishop’s hats, fairy wings or horny goat weed. Most varieties originated in China and Japan but there has been an extensive programme of propagation, so the varieties available to the gardener is ever growing and increasingly bewildering. Nevertheless, these are magical little plants and, as they originated on the forest floor, they do well in moist shade where they will form a gorgeous haze of colour from their multiple flower heads. Their new leaves are usually bronze or copper coloured, sometimes decoratively veined, and will turn red in autumn. Flower colour will range from white through yellow, orange, pink to purple.
They are fully hardy(H5 down to -20C) and some varieties can reach 0.5m. These are delicate beauties for the woodland garden and shaded borders.
Pauline’s Daily Pick
Pauline Faraday, a Member who gardens in Glascoed, is picking collections of flowers from her garden to share with us.
Another glorious week in the garden. Mind you we now need some rain but not too much. Days seem to be busy.
A lady in the village is making laundry bags & face masks & I have managed to find her lots of material which is suitable to use. She is using the chapel hall so she has lots of space to work.
We are very lucky to have the outdoor space. Of course we miss seeing the grandchildren running round the paddock but hopefully later in the summer they will be able to come over. I’m hoping it won’t be too long before we can go to Scotland.
It is so hard for friends & family who have relatives abroad. It is a bonus to have FaceTime etc.
Lovely cowslips out & I can see the early purple orchids coming up. Lots of things seem to be early this year. The bluebells look good as well.
A lovely quiet Easter. The insect bites have caused a bit of a problem. They were probably very hungry & thirsty with this dry weather. Everything is growing so fast. The apple & pear blossom is plentiful so hopefully lots of fruit later in the year.
Lovely asparagus to eat.
Happy Easter to everyone. Hoping you all have a quiet & peaceful weekend.
2 types of flowers today as I didn’t do one yesterday.
We have been so busy outside that we are tired when we come in. The birds are happily singing & the robin is coming to the fat balls that are about 2 feet from Michael’s head. We don’t normally grow tulips but have a few this year. I’m meant to be clearing & cleaning back patio but it is 21° and sunny.
The primroses are lovely & luckily the rabbits aren’t eating them
Have a lovely quiet Easter everyone.
We have had our weekly shop from Sarah so we are set up for a week.
Today we have daffodils & narcissi as with the warmth they are gradually going. We have been picking for about 6 weeks. These last ones have lots of scent & several have come from Scotland. The parks department in Edinburgh has a nursery shop where they sell plants & bulbs etc to raise extra funds & use up extra plants grown; we have found the quality of bulbs and plants to be excellent. Hopefully we will get to Edinburgh again soon
A bit of a rarity this one. This is one of the Star Anises ( a poisonous one), and like everything else, it is flowering early this year. We bought it from Bleddyn and Sue Wynn-Jones up at Crug Farm Plants outside Caernarvon. These two intrepid plant hunters have introduced over 4000 new cultivars into the UK from their 25 years of visits to China, Taiwan Korea, Vietnam, Philippines, the Himalayas and recently South America. This place is a Mecca for we plantaholics.
The Illicium family first appeared over 100 million years ago (when Dinosaurs roamed the Usk valley – well perhaps!) and they are now found in North America, the Caribbean and Asia. Bleddyn collected our particular aromatic cultivar in Szechuan, China from a 3,000m (10,000ft) elevation. It has remained hardy in our garden over several winters now. It prefers acid soil and reasonable light.
We have another, Illicium griffithii, which has red flowers and will be featured later.
Read about this lovely couple in a recent Country Living article. https://www.crug-farm.co.uk/content/uploads/CrugFarmPlants_Aug17final.pdf
Sophora microphylla Sun King
This beautiful small tree is from New Zealand and a member of the pea family. It is widely available, evergreen, easy to grow, hardy to-10C (H4), indifferent to soil pH and a delight on a bright March day. It prefers full sun and will grow to 2-3 metres.
If you have ever had the good fortune to visit Japan, you will recognise the dining ritual of having fresh wasabi rhizome grated for you, and you’ll know that it tastes fundamentally different from the tubes of green stuff you buy in the UK – a little less fiery and much more complex in its flavour, and you have to eat it fresh! If you haven’t had it grated for you, you’ve never eaten wasabi. Our tubes of ‘Western Wasabi’, in fact, contains little or no actual wasabi – it is mostly horseradish, mustard and green colouring.
In order to reclaim this fabulous condiment, we have been growing our own. It takes a few years to get the thickened stem/rhizome, but on the way it produces lots of these beautiful clusters of white flowers. It is only hardy to -5C. We could fleece them, but we prefer to grow in the greenhouse. You can eat the leaves and flowers in salad or fry them tempura-style.
For the impatient amongst us, you can buy fresh wasabi rhizome from Jon Old at The Wasabi Company https://www.thewasabicompany.co.uk
Ribes sanguine ‘Elkington’s White’
This flowering currant was recently introduced and is still quite a rare variety. It produces very showy, pendent clusters of pure white flowers in spring. After these have faded, rounded, blue-black fruits form, creating further interest. This deciduous shrub has thornless stems, and can be used as an informal, flowering hedge, as well as adding interest to the shrub border early in the year. The rich green leaves have a hairy, white reverse and are slightly aromatic.
Ribes sanguineum was originally found in USA and this lovely new introduction is fully hardy to -15C (H6), will grow in sun or partial shade and is unfussy about soil type. It can reach 6ft but prune regularly to establish the desired look and to improve flowering on strong healthy growth.
Prunus x subhirtella Autumnalis Rosea
This is winter-flowering, ‘rosebud’ cherry. It has been in flower since Late November but is now coming into its own. It is an elegant, small, spreading deciduous tree with these semi-double, pink-blush flowers emerging from pink buds. Expect it slowly to reach 4-5 metres in time. It is robustly hardy to -20C (H6). The leaves progress from bronze in spring, to green in summer and gold in autumn. Looks good underplanted with Cyclamen coums.
Cyclamen coum pallidum
This delicate beauty hails from the Black Sea and Caucasus mountains, from Bulgaria through northern Turkey to the Crimea. This Cyclamen has reflexed, twisted, almost circular petals. It flowers through winter into spring and is fully hardy to -15C (H5). Naturalise in semi-shade under trees and amongst ferns, but keep separate from its rather more vigorous autumn-flowering cousin, Cyclamen hederifolium which can overwhelm this delicate soul.
The Buttercup Witch Hazel is indeed a member of the Hamamelis family and native of Japan and Taiwan . It is a deciduous spreading shrub, growing to 1.5 m tall by 2.5 m wide. It produces masses of primrose yellow flowers with a Cowslip-like perfume, in pendent racemes on bare stems in early spring, followed by leaves opening bronze and turning to rich green. It is happy in partial shade and hardy to -15C (H5). If you have the space, this is a must-have plant for early spring colour.
Sarcococca hookeriana Purple Stem
Plant this Himalayan sweet box near your door and be rewarded with its deep, sweet perfume throughout those dog days of winter. It is a low growing, gently suckering, evergreen, native to China, North India and Nepal. We particularly like this variety for its finer leaves and dark purple stems which perfectly compliment the light pink, perfumed flowers followed by black berries. It can grow up to 3-4ft and we clip ours after flowering into a loose hedge. It is hardy down to -15C (H5) and prefers light shade.
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’
These hybrid Witch-hazels are a cross between the Chinese (H. mollis) and Japanaese (H. japonica) varieties and are must for the winter garden, underplanted with Hellebores, snowdrops and aconites. We have them in a variety of colours – red, yellow and orange, and they have a light fragrance. They provide excellent, exotic cut flowers. They prefer acid soils in light shade. They are fully hardy to -15C (H5) and grow slowly to 3- 4m, often forming an attractive shuttlecock form. Prune to shape in late winter, after flowering.
Helleborus x hybridus ‘Double Ellen White’
These hybrid Lenten Roses are not roses but are part of the buttercup family. They are semi-evergreen, extremely hardy (H7), prefer light shade and are a delight in the winter garden as their flowers are outward facing. They grow to 0.5m and will flower for 3 months. Grow them below deciduous shrubs amongst early bulbs. One boon, rabbits leave them alone. This variety has numerous gorgeous loose double flowers.
Salix gracilistyla ‘Mount Aso’
This Japanese Pink Pussy Willow is a bushy deciduous shrub with a profusion of fuzzy, rose pink catkins, which are even more beautiful when touched with light frost. It prefers sun and will grow to a height of 2m. Typically upright in form, ours is pleasingly more spreading. It is hardy to -15C (H5). Prune to shape after the catkins fade (April). The leaves have slivery grey reverse.
Out of interest, Mount Aso is Japan’s largest active volcano and one of the largest in the world. Last eruption 2016. It is at the centre of the westernmost of the main islands, Kyushu. It is surrounded by hot springs. So, if you have the good fortune to be close by on a pilgrimage to Nagasaki or sampling the delights and canals full of sacred Lotus Blossoms of Fukuoka, why not try a visit to an onsen, a thermal spring bath. All your gardening aches will dissolve away.
Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’
Nepalese paper plant from the Himalayas. This is a semi-evergreen shrub with tight clusters of sweetly scented pink flowers which can be a little capricious in its early stages, but persevere because its intense perfume is heavenly. She is hardy to -10C (H4) but give her some protection. Will grow to 2m in an upright habit and prune to shape immediately after flowering. We adore this plant.