In a summit for the horticultural and forestry industry at Highgrove the Prince warned that millions of Britain’s broadleaf trees could soon be ravaged by Xylella fastidiosa, which can kill over 350 different species of plants. The oak, elm, plane and sycamore, as well as popular garden plants including lavender, rosemary and oleander are all at risk as the disease restricts their ability to draw water from the soil. Some garden retailers are not stocking polygala and oleander, while others are avoiding importing lavender and rosemary this spring.
The summit for horticulture and forestry industry experts was held to plan how to tackle the bacterial disease, which covers leaves in brown ‘scorch’ marks. In an impassioned keynote speech, he likened the threat from Xylella, which has already wiped out over a million trees in southern Europe, to ash dieback, the fungus decimating Britain’s ash trees. But when gardening guru Alan Titchmarsh asked over 100 delegates who could identify the disease on a plant only one hand went up – that of UK chief plant health officer Professor Nicola Spence.
The shocking effect of Xylella Image: Matt Appleby
The private event earlier this month was sponsored by the Royal Horticultural Society, the National Trust, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Woodland Heritage and the Duchy of Cornwall.
Devastating plant disease
In December, the RHS said householders and garden centres should not buy plants grown abroad to prevent the disease reaching Britain. The discussion was chaired by RHS vice president Alan Titchmarsh and other speakers included Environment Secretary Michael Gove. According to the European Commission, Xylella, which has no known cure, is “one of the most dangerous” diseases in the world as it devastates so many different types of plants. The disease is transmitted by insects including leafhoppers and spittlebugs but infected plants show few or no symptoms, so that the bacteria can easily be mistaken for common problems like drought or frost damage.
Call to action
Head forester Geraint Richards manages 1,700 hectares of woodland for the prince’s Duchy of Cornwall. He said: “Xylella would be major worry for our countryside and gardens if it came here because it has a wide and relentless appetite for so many different species. “In his speech, the Prince of Wales referred to diseases he has witnessed in his lifetime from Dutch elm disease through to ash dieback. He has a long-standing track record of being passionate about the environment and he really does know his brief. He is obviously a country man who loves his gardening and his trees and is desperately concerned that we find a way to control this onslaught of disease. He has tremendous convening power and his speech was very much a call for collaborative action, looking to the people in that room. So many people said to me ‘wow, what a speech’ and the response was all about this meeting being a pivotal moment and turning point.”
Award-winning garden designer John Wyer was among the delegates at the prince’s Gloucestershire estate. He said: “Getting all the key players in one room was Prince Charles using his influence in a really positive, apolitical way. Nobody is going to turn down an invitation from Prince Charles at Highgrove. I was very impressed by the depth and breadth of his knowledge and his drive and there was a real sense in the room of impending action.”
Mr Gove told delegates that failure to act would be like “sawing off the branch on which we sit”. The European Commission has already agreed his call for more checks on high-risk plants as they are moved between countries to try and halt the march of the disease. Delegates recommended setting up a cross-industry body to monitor plant biosecurity strategy. Other suggestions included a certification scheme for nurseries, improved training to identify the disease and traceability of imported plants and every organisation represented having a dedicated plant health officer.
Another proposal was a public awareness campaign at airports and Professor Spence is urging the public to play their part in preventing an outbreak. She said: “We really want to discourage the public from bringing back any kind of plant materials, whether it is seeds or cuttings, particularly when they are on holiday in Europe this summer because we are concerned that unofficial pathway could result in Xylella arriving here.” The RHS is calling for householders and garden centres to buy UK-grown plants rather than foreign imports. RHS director general Sue Biggs warned: “Xylella is lurking on the continent and it could come to get us at any time.” And Chelsea Flower Show designers are having to take special measures with Sarah Price scrapping olive trees, rosemary and lavender bushes from her Mediterranean garden for M & G. An outbreak in the UK would trigger all host plants within 100 metres being destroyed and restrictions on movement of plants within a three-mile radius for five years.
The disease had never been seen in Europe until 2013, when it was first found in Puglia in southern Italy. It has since wiped out more than a million ancient Italian olive trees, forcing a 20 per cent rise in the cost of olive oil across the EU. A million almond trees are believed to be currently infected on the Spanish island of Majorca and the disease has also reached Corsica, mainland France, Spain and Germany.
The disease is thought to have arrived in Europe from the Americas, where it is endemic, periodically wiping out entire vineyards and orange groves.
Making memories in a garden is the very best way to connect children to nature and there are few better ways than a playful game or treasure hunt. With Easter school holidays upon us, check your local press for special events at a garden near you. There will be all kinds of spring family activities to keep the kids occupied and giving you some time to venture out into a beautiful space too.
Castle Ashby Gardens
Castle Ashby, Northampton NN7 1LQ
On Easter Sunday 1st April and until Tuesday 3rd April, 10.00am to 12.30pm, there’s a special Easter egg hunt at Castle Ashby Gardens. For £2.50 per child they can search for hidden eggs while the grown-ups can stroll through the beautiful gardens. Don’t miss the nature trail and the arboretum as well as the secret garden and the menagerie featuring a family of Meercats, some marmosets and chipmunks.
Borde Hill Easter egg hunt
Borde hill Garden
Borde Hill Lane, Haywards Heath West Sussex RH16 1XP
There are 200 acres of gardens, parkland and woodland to explore at Borde Hill. It’s a rich mixture of botanical delights, fabulous views and living garden rooms that surround an Elizabethan Tudor mansion. In spring the garden is alive with rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and magnolias.
There’s a great programme of Easter events included in the entrance ticket for kids. From March 30th to April 15th 2018 there’s a daily garden trail of clues that need to be solved before meeting the Bertram Bunny and receiving a chocolate egg, plus additional daily activities. For hungry tummies there will be delicious Easter themed treats at the new Gardener’s Retreat.
The Beth Chatto Gardens
Elmstead Market, Colchester, Essex CO7 7DB
Join the great Easter egg hunt at The Beth Chatto Gardnes between Saturday 24th March and Sunday 8th April 2018. Explore the gardens and enjoy the signs of spring as you search for the hidden eggs. Complete the hunt and collect your Easter treat. There’s a self-guided trail running every day throughout the Easter holidays.
Castle Kennedy Gardens
Stranraer, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. DG9 8SL
Come and enjoy the beautiful gardens with fabulous spring flowering magnolias and rhododendrons. Don’t miss the Monkey Puzzle avenue. Over the holidays bring the children to join the egg-stra special Easter Egg trail taking place in Castle Kennedy Gardens between Saturday 24th March and Sunday 15th April 2018. They’ll need to find clues around the gardens to win a chocolate Easter egg prize.
Peter Rabbit Lake District Easter Egg Hunt
Peter Rabbit Lake District Easter Egg Hunt
Not quite a garden, but this will get you and the family out and about in the great outdoors. The Lake District is once again set to play host to the North of England’s biggest Easter egg hunt. Children and adults will be able to join the search for 100 handcrafted limited-edition ceramic eggs from 10am on Wednesday 4th April 2018 until all the eggs are found (usually mid-afternoon). The annual egg hunt, now in its 11th year, covers 2,600 square miles. There are some great prizes to be won – including overnight stays in Lake District hotels – and tickets for the World of Beatrix Potter’s popular show, ‘Where is Peter Rabbit?’ – the Beatrix Potter musical adventure! Treasure seekers need to register online to receive an interactive digital Treasure Trail Map with clues to help them search for these lovely eggs. It goes live at 10am on April 4th and you need a mobile phone with 3G signal to access the map and find the egg locations. The eggs will be in open view in public areas, so no digging or delving is necessary. The challenge is to keep your eyes open and unravel the clues in order to find a prize.
Even though spring is in sight, there are still chilly days that leave us wanting comfort foods. What better way to satisfy the soul than sitting down to a steaming plate of Kale Colcannon? Popular in both Ireland and Scotland, Colcannon is a dish that has many regional variations, but the one featured here is an excellent example of how easy the dish is put together.
Eaten widely since the Roman times in Europe, Kale is packed with antioxidants, vitamins A, C and K as well as calcium and lutein – however, bear in mind if you are taking blood thinning medication be wary of your intake of this green leafy vegetable and take medical advice if in doubt.
Freshly picked kale. Image: Amanda Davies
Kale is sweeter after period of cold weather; it is hardier than some brassicas so seeds can be sown directly into the soil from March. From October onwards, the heads can be removed for eating, but if you leave the stems in the ground further side-shoots will develop and these can be harvested from February to May. For more information about this hardy garden crop check out Vicki Cooke’s feature on kale.
375g of Kale
375g of Potatoes
150ml of Milk
50g of Butter
Salt and Pepper
Peel the potatoes and boil until tender in lightly salted water.
Tear the kale from the stems, shred and wash thoroughly, place in fresh saucepan of boiled lightly salted water five minutes after the potatoes begin to boil.
While these are cooking, peel and dice the onion. Next place the onion in a third saucepan with the milk and bring to the boil. Turn off the heat, cover with a lid and leave to steep.
Drain and mash the potatoes, return to the saucepan, cover with a lid and put on a very low heat.
Drain the kale and combine it with the potatoes.
Gradually add the onion and milk, only using as much is as needed to be absorbed, so that the mixture is that of a creamy mash. Season to taste.
Place in a serving dish, make a well in the centre and add the butter, either in a slab or gently melted and poured into the well. Serve with meats such as bacon, gammon or haggis.
To reduce your salt intake try steaming the kale and potatoes and use unsalted butter instead.
During my time working in Japan, I have discovered a lot more about how to create mixed container displays, and have been surprised with what I have learnt!
As part of my work with Barakura English Garden, I hold lectures and demonstrations for their unique gardening school. This is a gardening school that educates Japanese ladies and gents on how to garden in an English style. Part of those lesson plans is the subject of container mixes, but unbeknown to me, I actually began to learn from them.
The Japanese approach their gardening and use of plants with a much different style to what we do in England. They do not expect months and months and months of colour from their container recipes, but were happy with short-term joy. Once you embrace this concept, expense aside, you can really open up how you work with plants and the combinations that are achievable.
When making up a display that’s only intended to look good for a few weeks, it’s almost as if you’re working with ‘living floristry’. Most of the rules are then out of the window; perennials can be mixed with annuals, shrubs with alpines, you could even add a small tree into the mix, depending on the size of your chosen container of course.
Getting the balance right
Short-term containers don’t have to represent money down the drain though. With the right balance of timing, the plants from the container can easily be moved on to spots in the garden afterwards. In Japan, this isn’t always easy as space is usually at a premium. But, when we copy this concept in the UK, we could certainly find permanent homes for the formerly featured plants, I’m sure.
So, here’s 5 of my favourite container mixes that the students and I created during the gardening school. We really enjoyed tearing up the rule book, all in the name of living floristry.
1. The Disco Mix
This high-energy blend was put together by student Mika, and is amazingly vibrant; being both full of colour and texture. Despite using a very traditional style of container, what’s about the rim of the pot is a total disco. The use of yellow is brave, but works with the adjacent purple as well as the scarlet red. The similar shapes of the pointed celosia, cyclamen and chill fruits echo that of the yellow-leaved plectranthus too. The repetition of the cyclamen also seems to stabilise the mix a bit more. I love this one, and it would be popular with millennials too, I’m sure.
The Disco Mix
2. Shady Lights Mix
This mix is planted into a rather daring, duck egg blue, terracotta container. I really enjoyed matching the colours to this container, and have celebrated the magic of blue and yellow together in one spot. Packed with plants for shade, this mix of leafy ferns and small-leaved lonicera is sneakily jazzed up by some liriope, stitching it all together with its purple shades.
Shady Lights Mix
3. Red Space Mix
This one is kind of modern, thanks to the slate grey container and use of edgy-looking plants. Annual zinnias have been blended with arching ruby grass (pennisetum) and the frothy pink sedum. Peeking through the back is then the very intriguing slender club rush (Isolepis cernua).
Red Space Mix
4. Small is beautiful
One of the advanced students created a mixed container I couldn’t get out of my mind! Her artful hands have created a blend of plants with miniature features; some of which are houseplants, and some of which are outdoor plants. Not only has she planted those plants side by side, but she has made an effort to blend the stems of adjacent plants too, which creates an enthralling tapestry of textures and colours.
Small is beautiful
5. Modern Meadow Mix
I made up this container as part of the live demonstrations, and really enjoyed pulling together its black planting look. I chose to use only 4 different plants; celosia, alternanthera, marigold and carex, and planted them informally, as if it was a meadowland. However, the mix of plants is certainly not meadowland, being a blend of sunset tones, against metallic purples. Probably my favourite creation of the show.
Over the next few months I will be guiding you through how to spruce up your own space, inject it with vigour and life, giving you a fail-safe recipe in creating a truly beautiful garden. It goes without saying that plants are undoubtably the most important ingredient of any garden; they are the key to creating that tranquil retreat you have always dreamt of.
Where to start
When planning your own space, it can be tricky to know where to start and what to plant first. Is there really a definitive beginning and end when creating a garden? The answer is yes. It is all to tempting to nip to the local garden centre, buying whatever happens to look good on the day of your visit, however with a little thought and creativity, you can create something much longer lasting and more inspiring.
The most important thing to consider first when planning what to plant in your garden is the structure. This will form the bare bones and the skeleton that will hold your garden together. You need to think about introducing height and adding an extra dimension, which the garden would be so flat without. Trees provide this in abundance and so this is the logical place to begin.
Trees are truly incredible, and we should all really be planting more. From small trees that will fit into the smallest of courtyards, to dominating specimen trees ideal for larger gardens, there really is a tree for every space. Trees produce oxygen, they take pollution out of the air, they reduce noise pollution, cool our cities and provide safe homes for millions of bugs, creatures and animals. They are simply the understated heroes of the modern world, and we should be growing more.
Below are my top five favourites trees for providing structure and interest to your garden throughout the year. Choosing the right tree is like choosing the right pet for you, there will be one to suit your specific requirements, style and taste, so it’s important to do your homework before rushing out and buying the wrong one.
Betula albosinensis ‘Red Panda’, the Chinese red birch
Most of you will have discovered the common silver birch before, widely grown as a garden favourite due its willingness to grow just about anywhere, grown for its peeling white bark. However, this birch is different, better, if a tree can be sexy, then this certainly is. With peeling orange-red, smooth bark, it’s truly irresistible and you can’t help but touch it. A reasonably small growing tree, so it’s a good choice for small to medium sized gardens.
Betula albosinensis ‘Red Panda’
Pinus ‘Sheffield Park’, Montezumas pine
This is a firm favourite of mine, a pine like no other. Boasting huge, impressively long needles that radiate and create evergreen structure that you will just want to run your fingers through. It doesn’t grow big enough to take over the world, as most pines you would instinctively picture may do, instead it’s well-behaved and would even grow well in a container.
Pinus ‘Sheffield Park’
Amelanchier lamarckii, the snowy mespilus tree
A truly special tree due to its versatility and ability to perform in all seasons, from its pure white flowers in the spring, contrasted against the emerging bronze leaves, right through to the incredible autumn foliage. It can be grown in a number of different shapes, from multi-stems to standards, making it a great option for the garden. My person preference is creating ‘legged up’ multi-stems, where the tree is branched out from the base and the canopy is raised slightly, creating a structure of branches that you can see through.
Cercidiphylum japonicum, the Katsura tree
This is the king of the autumnal foliage, this tree is a treat for the nose as well as the eyes. Often referred to as the candyfloss tree, because of the incredible sweet, burnt sugar smell it produces as the leaves fall and the starches in the leaves are converted to sugar. It can grow to a fairly large size, so is best used for medium to large sized gardens. The heart shaped leaves start out as a rich tinged bronze, before fading to an elegant yellowy orange in the autumn.
Acer griseum, the paperbark maple
Boasting beautiful, peeling bark, this small to medium sized tree really comes into its own in the winter months, as the rest of the garden falls asleep and the leaves drop its stunning structure and bark is truly revealed. Growing to around 4 to 6 metres and best positioned in full sun or partial shade. It would grow equally well in a container, if you’re limited on growing space.
During late winter and early spring, there are loads of trees and shrubs that need pruning. So, it’s time to rummage around in the shed to see if you can find your trusty secateurs. That is if you didn’t lose them in the compost heap or bury them in the garden last year.
Of all the essential pieces of gardening kit, secateurs seem to take the most abuse from gardeners. Also, when I give my talk on pruning to garden clubs, it seems they’re one of the most confusing. So, here’s my handy guide to secateurs.
There are two basic designs – and very few people seem to know why and what they’re used for.
Anvil secateurs have a flat metal plate – or anvil – that supports the plant stem while the sharp blade cuts through it. These secateurs have a tendency to crush live stems and, as a result, are designed to cut through already dead stems only. Some anvil secateurs have serrated anvils, which grip the stem more firmly.
Faithfull Tools Samurai Anvil Secateurs
Bypass secateurs cut with a scissor action, although – as with anvil secateurs – only one blade has a sharp cutting edge. They produce a very clean cut, providing the blade is sharp. As such cuts heal more quickly, bypass secateurs are designed for cutting through green, live growth. Don’t use anvils.
Bypass pruner from Darlac
If you have weak wrists, arthritis or similar condition and find using secateurs difficult or tiring, help is at hand. Ratchet secateurs have a ratchet mechanism that causes the secateurs to cut in several stages with little pressure needed on the handles. These reduce the strain and stress on your hands and wrists.
Burgon & Ball Ratchet Pruner
For bypass secateurs, you can buy models with rotating handles. These transfer anything from 20-30% more of your hand pressure through to the cutting blade. They also reduce calluses and blisters!
You can also buy manaresi secateurs, sometimes called grape pruning shears, or even sheep-shearing shears that have two cutting blades and are perfect for trimming over small-leaved plants – like box and lavender – and for shaping topiary.
And if you’re pruning prickly plants or plants with an irritant or toxic sap, cut and hold secateurs hold the stem in place, so you can drop it into your waste receptacle without having to touch it.
Tips for using
When it comes to pruning, there is some variation in the stem thickness that secateurs can cope with; always bear this in mind and don’t try and force them to cut through anything wider as it’s quite easy to damage the plant, the blades and the cutting mechanism.
Bigger secateurs have a wider cutting width – but the handle gape may be too wide for those with small hands to use comfortably – or at all. If you can try them for size before you buy them.
When using secateurs, unless cutting very soft material, always position the stem close to the middle or base of the blade; cutting with the tip can strain the blade, damage it and cause the blade to warp.
Always make a clean, straight cut and without twisting the secateurs or the plant. If the stems are too thick for secateurs to cut through cleanly and easily, move on to loppers or even a saw to complete your pruning job.
Hopefully, the last time you put your secateurs away, you gave them a good clean to remove all the debris and gunk and oiled them, so they’re in perfect working order and ready to attack all that overgrown growth. If you didn’t, then you’d better give them a really good overhaul now.
Sterilising the blade with household bleach or Jeyes Fluid is also a good idea if you’ve been pruning plants with disease; otherwise the disease could be transferred from plant to plant on the blade.
And, it’s essential to have a good, sharp blade to make clean cuts, which will also make cuts easier to achieve; blunt blades don’t cut through plants – they “hack” through them!
If you are a chef or a good cook, you’d never treat your best carving knife in the same way and use a blunt blade to hack off chunks of that gorgeous joint you’ve spent hours cooking to perfection. No, you want to slice through it with ease to produce deliciously thin slices. You should always treat your secateurs with the same reverence.
And the final part of my preaching sermon: remember that secateurs are a precision cutting tool and should only be used for pruning plants – don’t use them for cutting through sheet metal or digging out weeds from cracks in paving!
For me the month of March sets the scene for the start of the busy gardening year here at Driftwood. It’s the calm before the storm and usually the first month when the weather starts to improve, allowing me to get out and start to prepare the garden for opening in June. It’s usually a reasonably calm time, building up to the manic weeks in late April and May, when I am planting annuals and getting it looking good for the 1st of June.
March certainly hails the start of 12 weeks of hard graft. Some years I think I should open in the spring, as the garden does look lovely with all, the bulbs coming up. I was extremely fortunate to be given nearly 1000 bulbs last year by Bakker, which are really bringing the garden to life this year. So there are masses of spring flowering bulbs to see this month, from tulips to daffodils and narcissus and a few crocus, hyacinth, muscari too. There’s so much colour heralding the beginning of spring. At the front of the house in the beach garden there’s a large bergenia that’s looking wonderful too.
In March I remove all the fleece from the plants in the garden. They are not protected from the cold but from the wind. The gales we have had this winter have been the worst we have experienced since moving her in 2004. I invested £75 in a mammoth fleece to cover the jelly palm (Butia capitata) in the centre of the garden and amazingly it survived with just a few small tears. It is so refreshing to get the covers off and see the garden in all its glory again.
It’s time to take the covers off the plants
Inevitably though, March means the start of an annual regime, a week of deep cleaning all the hard surfaces throughout the garden. It always amazes me how much dirt builds up on the pathways and what an incredible difference pressure cleaning makes to the garden’s overall look. Some of the hardest areas to clean are the brick paths and steps, which have so much dirt ingrained in the gaps. It is always a job I hate, but well worth the effort when I see the final result.
The summerhouse, which is always crammed with garden ornaments, furniture and the like for the winter, has been emptied and cleaned ready for visitors. It is always a surprise to rediscover “old friends” each spring and place them out in the garden again. The same is true off the many agaves I have in pots. I over-winter them in an alley at the side of the house. They don’t mind the cold but they do not like getting wet, so undercover is a good plan to ensure they all survive the wet from November to March.
Emptying out the summerhouse always uncovers things I have forgotten about.
Finally, spring would not be spring in my garden without an appearance by Hector the tortoise. We inherited him back in 2004 from my aunt who had had him since the 1950’s. I’ve no idea how old he was then but he’s got to be at least 70 to 80 years old now. He’s quite an attraction for garden visitors too and it’s always a relief when he emerges in spring from his winter slumber.
Crocuses are sometimes underrated garden gems, bringing a welcome splash of colour to gardens, heralding the end of winter and the start of the much-awaited longer days and warmer weather ahead.
The funnel-shaped flowers grow on short stems low down to the ground, from 10-15cm (4-6in) high, and open and close with sunlight. They often have delightful colour contrast between the inner and outer petals, sometimes with contrasting markings.
Like other spring and winter-flowering bulbs (crocus actually grow from corms, not bulbs) crocus should be planted in autumn. But the autumn-flowering crocus should be planted in late July or August.
You may find that some garden centres and nurseries sell potted crocus plants in February/March already in leaf, which can be planted immediately and will flower in-situ. Otherwise, if you don’t already have any crocus in your garden, you’ll have to plant this autumn and then wait until next year to brighten the gloom with these gorgeous jewels.
To see the full range of crocus, and all the other bulbs available, visit the de Jager website or call 01622 840229 for a catalogue. Online orders receive a 10% discount on the catalogue prices.
Here are five fabulous crocus to grow in your garden.
This is often called the woodland crocus or Tommasini’s crocus, after the botanist that named it. ‘Tommies’ produce flowers that can vary from slivery lilac to reddish purple and are usually paler on the outside. These are a very welcome sight in February and March, flowering at the same time as the narrow foliage emerges. It is a species that is more tolerant of shade than many of its cousins, making it a great choice for woodland areas or around trees. It is also one of the finest for naturalising in lawns, as it freely self seeds, and is also a good companion for dwarf grasses.
Crocus ‘Snow Bunting’
This is one of the best chrysanthus crocus varieties, flowering from February to March. As its name suggests, it bears masses of white flowers, with a faint feathering of indigo on the outer petals. These contract beautifully with, and are set off by, the greenish-yellow petal bases and orange stigmas. The flowers produce the characteristic sweet crocus scent. It looks lovely with snowdrops, Cyclamen coum and Chionodoxa in a rock garden, at the front of borders and in pots. It easily naturalises in grass.
Crocus ‘Snow Bunting’
This is another gorgeous chrysanthus crocus, this time producing delightful deep golden yellow, fragrant flowers, purple-brown at the base and orange central stigma. Plant them in clumps for the best effect, or in pots that you can move around for a sunny, bright instant glow in the garden.
‘Vanguard’ is usually the earliest of the large-flowered crocus cultivars to bloom, starting in February. Sometimes described as a bicolour, the outer petals have greyish backs, contrasting with the lilac-mauve inner and orange stigma. Even the closed flower buds are attractive, with their silvery-grey colouring. Plant it in bold swathes and leave undisturbed, and it will increase in numbers each year to produce a great garden feature.
While most crocus produce their colourful blooms at the end of winter, Crocus sativus brings autumn gardens to life, flowering in September and October. The large, goblet-shaped flowers are rich lilac with distinctive purple veins and a colourful red stigma. This plant is very special in another way. It’s the saffron crocus, from which the very much sought after spice is made from. So, yes, you can grow your own saffron – ounce for ounce the world’s most expensive spice and more expensive than gold – at home! Just pick and dry the stigmas. It needs a warm, sunny, free-draining site in the border or grow it in pots. And make sure you can identify the plants without question before harvesting and using this precious spice.
Few would announce the month of February as their favourite in the gardening calendar. However, it is a time when some very special plants appear in our gardens. There’s no denying that the plant of the month is the snowdrop with enthusiastic galanthophiles heading out to admire the subtle differences between each variety. A few years ago, I was invited to join a group of galanthophiles as they wandered around a garden on a chilly February day. For ever more I will describe February as the month in which people look at a garden with their bottoms in the air – with most of the interest so low to ground that honestly this is the only way to enjoy the plants properly!
First to flower
It’s the woodland plants that flower before the deciduous trees come into leaf that are of such value now. The bright yellow flowers of the winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) are always the first to catch my eye. I’m a great believer in cutting herbaceous borders back in autumn if you have plants such as this in the border. Leave your borders uncut until now and you might miss these ground huggers or event worse, tread on them as you work.
In the borders at Stockton Bury garden where I garden I’m always pleased to discover Viola odorata and Hepatica nobilis in the borders. Both seem to thrive in a shady and very cold spot in the garden where little else copes. I have the pink form of Hepatica nobilis that displays its single flowers at the end of the month about 5cm from the ground. This is an excellent hardy plants and if you’ve shied away from hepaticas in the past this is a great starter plant for your collection. It’s also one that you can safely grow without an alpine house.
Hellebores are a wonderful addition to any garden. The best place to plant these is in a raised bed and then partner them with snowdrops. At Stockton Bury we have the perfect spot. There is a raised garden that is viewed from a path below allowing you to look right into the eye of the hellebores and snowdrops. There’s no need to go bottoms up when these stunning plants are planted in raised beds. With the details on both snowdrops and hellebores being so intricate you really should take time to look closely at the flowers. To help with this closer inspection I choose to remove the leaves of the hellebores in the winter to allow the view of the flowers to be unhindered.
Fairy light flowers
My favourite of the flowers of February are the anemones. Anemone nemorosa ‘Vestal’ litters the banks of our dingle garden at the end of the month. Its pure white, double flowers sparkle like fairy lights along the grassy banks. This plant requires little if no care when planted in dappled shade, yet its offering is so rich.
All these small but important plants are of such great value and yet so many ‘summer’ gardeners miss them. If you are guilt of only stepping foot in a garden centre, nursery, or open garden after Easter, look what you’ve missed. Go and seek out these low growing companions and February will soon become a month to celebrate in the garden – you might even raise a glass to these triumphant plants. Bottoms up!