Purple Wellies

One woman's musings of plant lust for intoxicating blooms

All Together Under a Big Blue Sky

I should think myself lucky. I’ve toyed with the idea of moving to a bigger garden in the past (and I do mean just that – garden not house) the dream of what could be, but then realism set in. Are you ever going to get this lucky again and do you really want the ominous task of moving half a garden or abandoning all treasures and starting again? I should count my chickens and be grateful for what I have. Sometimes I don’t appreciate how sheltered my garden is. It’s a cross between a naughty teenager that refuses to go to bed late in the year, mixed with a toddler that wants to get up at the crack of dawn and starts growing too early. Shelter from the trees, high hedge and neighbouring buildings and being halfway down two different slopes makes us neither a frost pocket nor a regular at Snow+Rock.

Winter, well if you can call it that these days, has been mild here for the last few years. I find myself offering less protection to plants year upon year. Granted, it’s not like growing in Cornwall, but we can certainly give them a run for their money with our free draining soil, which keeps many plants tickety boo. I have to say, I do kind of like it and I’m sure now I have said it we will have the mother of all winters to put paid to things. I’d like just enough cold snaps to keep the pests managed, but mild enough for the plants not to suffer please.

There is much on the go outside here and it will continue to be so for a while as everything frantically tries to outshine one another in the run up to and into spring - a race against the tree canopies covering over and blocking out the big blue sky. I do so love spring, but then I love every season – embracing it as it comes and then waiting for the next. Woodland perennials such as Erythorniums enjoy our well-drained soil as they like to dry out in summer and always put on a good show. If you are a novice at growing these, a good one to start with is Erythronium ‘Pagoda’ producing up to 10 yellow flowers per stem. I can hear the connoisseur amongst you scoffing. Yes I grow the supermodels E. californicum ‘White Beauty’ with its marbled foliage, E. dens-canis, all pretty in pink and later flowering E. ‘Harvington Snowgoose’, but there is nothing like the ease and reliability of E. ‘Pagoda’. An ideal setting for them is dappled shade beneath deciduous trees and shrubs meaning they get the moisture and light they need whilst in growth before their summer dormancy. The longer you can keep them in leaf then the quicker they will bulk up.

I planted Anemone nemerosa ‘Virescens’ last year and am very much looking forward to seeing this emerging in spring. To be honest you could very easily walk past this without thinking it was in flower. Green tepals and sepals add some texture at ground level and with close inspection flowers can be deciphered and last for about eight weeks. It does have an AGM so I can’t be the only one that is drawn to its quirky appearance.

If I said Lathyrus to you, would you think of a lower growing perennial or sweet peas grown for scent. Lathyrus vernus flowers through March to May with its bluey-purple pea shaped blooms and makes for a good clump-forming ground cover to about 30cm high in partial shade. I noticed this pushing up through the soil this morning whilst having a tidy up. The text books will tell you it starts to die back after the flowers in midsummer, but that is not the case here. Foliage is still hanging on in September when it starts to take on a scrappy appearance and I bite the bullet and cut it back. Just goes to prove you can’t believe everything you read and I’m inclined to think if I grew this in full sun it wouldn’t hang around for so long.

Not too far from where I grow the Lathyrus is Fuschia microphylla. Now normally this has got nothing to do with spring as it flowers in the summer. Coming from Mexico and Central America it is borderline hardy. I have had a clump of three for quite a few years now and I love them so much I took some cuttings and these too are bulking up. They behave like evergreens here. Amazingly the mother plants haven’t stopped flowering since the summer. It’s the end of January now and they are still going strong with more buds to open unscathed by weather. I don’t have the heart to cut them back when I do all of the others in a few weeks’ time. Never in a million years did I think I would have Fuschia flowering closeby to snowdrops – not a planned combination, nor one probably found in any book.

This plant is not alone in its strange behaviour. Shrubby germander, Teucrium fruticans sits in the front garden and is supposedly another summer flowerer. It started opening its blue rosemary-like flowers in autumn and is again doing all it can at the moment to draw attention to itself by continually flowering. 

Now every year it is a race to see which blooms first of Cornus mas, Stachyurus praecox and Edgeworthia chrysantha ‘Grandiflora’. The Edgeworthia has just scraped ahead by my judging as the flowers against the wall are already opening. That leaves the other two to fight it out between themselves. Cornus mas is a small tree with beautiful yellow flowers in late winter into spring and colourful autumn foliage tints of purple. Glossy red oval fruits, ripening to black, follow on from the flowers which can be used in jams, jellies, sauces or even dried. Mine fruits very well, but every year I have to beat the birds or else they leave me with a measly handful not worth getting a saucepan out for!  I can hear its buds fattening up as I write!  Stachyurus praecox tends to be wider than tall and has beautiful creamy flowers in racemes February to April. Currently it looks like it will be last this year, but certainly not least.

I’ve been looking back through photos of the garden, as I always do when looking for pictures for my blogs, and I see one of Uvularia grandiflora in the snow from April 2008. I guess we did use to have real winters. Doesn’t the snow set some plants off to a tee?

Well I think whatever the garden wants to throw at me, be it snow or crazy Fuschias and Teuchriums still singing their song long after they are supposed to, I’ll still be here to try to put you to bed and if you refuse I’ll be on standby to tuck you under a nice warm duvet should the weather turn. For the meantime I will admire you for what you are and for whatever you want to do at any time of the year.
Posted: 29/01/2018 16:41:48 by Pamela Barden