It’s the time of year when the garden has something new to offer on an almost daily basis.
Rhododendron ‘Christmas Cheer’ is fully out now and dominates the northern end of the ‘Christo Border’ with its pinker than pink trusses.
A great display, but not nearly as exciting as a first ever flowering. This year it’s Erythronium sibiricum. This charming little plant is more closely related to the European than the American trout lily species, and as the former don’t flower for me, I was delighted to find their Siberian relative in full, glorious bloom.
Sadly, spring didn’t last. Sunday, the 27th was bitter cold and the gardeners were pelted with hail several times. Still, making the best of Anna’s all too rare gardening moods, mother and daughter set about giving the damp borders north of the pond a much needed make-over.
They are usually left until last, mainly because there’s no incentive to clear winter debris in a part of the garden completely devoid of new plant life and colour until the end of April.
remember to take some “before” photographs to chronicle the transformation brought about in less than a day.
First all the winter debris was cleared and carted away to be shredded, and all perennial weeds were removed – buttercups, creeping or otherwise, love the damp beds.
There’s a large expanse of bare soil in this border by necessity. It marks the summer circumference of Gunnera tinctoria, not quite as expansive as the giant gunnera, but a close second and much more handsome in flower than its huge relative.
Early spring bulbs manage to put out green shoots, flower, and complete their growing cycle just before the gunnera has expanded to its full girth. What an opportunity.
And, as usual, the bulb frames south of the salad garden came up trumps. They hold a vast array of “rejects”, potted bulbs that didn’t come up to scratch, but have since – fed in spring, and kept bone-dry during the summer resting period – redeemed themselves. They are the ghosts of seasons past.
Narcissus Tête-à-Tête, mentioned last week, was one of the ideal candidates. Combined with Chionodoxa forbesii and a sprinkling of Crocus tommasinianus ‘Purple Giant’ it has transformed the pond bed in a trice. And there’s much more to come. A large tray of Primula poissonii, a fabulous candelabra primula with wickedly dark, yellow-eyed purple flowers has found a home in the deep, damp soil, inter-planted with shallow-rooted Viola cornuta, the horned violet.
My Shetland spade, a late Christmas present from Carl, our friend who helps look after Sparkle, our Shetland pony, came in handy for lifting and dividing the asters and astrantias in the pond border and its narrow blade was indispensible when it came to digging up three fat clumps of snakeshead fritillaries in a very confined space.
They revel in damp, even boggy soil but are, in my experience, one of the most difficult plants to establish from dry bulbs. Once growing, they increase rapidly and by far the most satisfactory way of spreading them around the garden is to lift a clump in March, or as soon as they announce their presence, gently shake off the soil and extract the individual bulbs for immediate re-planting.
So, apart from the miniature daffodils, blue glory-of-the-snow, and purple crocus, the pond bed has an extensive planting of fritillaries and – for good measure – a few clumps of yellow Erythronium ‘Kondo’. What a difference a day makes…