In spite of the rather uninspiring grey (but mild) weather after Christmas we have been out and about in the garden cutting back and pruning ready for spring. We have just about finished the winter pruning of the orchard, made much easier this year by the purchase of a new Niwaki tripod ladder. Just the clearing up and shredding of the resulting pile of prunings is left to be completed.
Winter is not devoid of flowers and many of the shrubs in bloom at this time of year give off a strong fragrance to attract the few pollinating insects that are out and about. In January you get the chance to stop and appreciate the few plants that are braving the weather. Many are exquisite and well worth a closer look.
Here are my six for this week.
This small evergreen shrub, a native of western china, is producing a lovely honey scent that hangs in the air around the patio by the kitchen.
Again in full bloom at the moment, this slow growing shrub was originally a rooted sucker that we obtained from a relative in Cornwall. It is now establishing well and flowers profusely every year giving a wonderful fragrance in the winter months. Many of the plants we have collected together over the years remind us of friends and family, holidays and special garden visits. A subject of a blog in its own right perhaps.
We really associate snowdrops with February in our garden but the first few that emerge are a real pleasure and herald the beginning of the new year. They are such charming, perfectly formed flowers. See last year’s more in-depth blog on snowdrops for more background and their associated folk-lore.
Winter flowering cherry
A number of the trees around the garden mark certain events. This particular tree was planted in memory of our very first German Shepherd Dog, Lenka. It is a lovely reminder of her each spring.
Just budding up and starting to emerge throughout the garden are our hellebores. We love them and they seem to love it here in the garden. We are quite happy to see them seeding new plants all over the garden and never quite know what hybrids and colours are likely to result. (See last years blog for more background)
Viburnum x bodnantense
Another highly reliably plant that flowers consistently year after year in the winter months and produces a lovely scent. Yet another hardwood cutting from someone’s garden over 20 years ago (Carol and I can’t recall quite where it came from but thank you anyway if it was you!). This now substantial shrub (nearly 8 feet in height) is situated just near the path and we enjoy its fragrance whenever we walk out into the garden at this time of year.
The weather this year has certainly suited the roses. The lack of rain has meant that the flowers have lasted well. Roses are notorious for petal damage and mummification of unopened buds if there is too much rain.
I have been rather spoilt for choice in selecting this week’s Six on Saturday roses from the garden so have limited my choice to “Rambling” roses this week (There is a strong possibility that it might be the “climbers” next week!). I have to say that I am not always that clear on whether a rose is a”rambler” or a “climber” so have turned to the David Austin roses catalogue as reference.
According to David Austin Roses, climbers generally have larger blooms and are not as vigorous as ramblers. Whereas most climbers repeat flower most ramblers do not. However, as with everything there are exceptions to the rule!
Honey Pot Flowersare wedding and celebration florists based in Warwickshire in the United Kingdom specialising in natural, locally grown seasonal flowers. We grow many of our own flowers allowing us to offer something very different and uniquely personal.
It is such a shame that a written blog like this cannot properly portray the rich fragrance that some plants yield. Daphne odora certainly packs a punch. A small, slow growing shrub with pink flowers, it is perhaps rather insignificant for most of the year. However, it is worth its weight in gold in the garden in January and February. Its rich perfume hangs in the air of a winter morning. Such a pleasure.
A native of China, Daphne ordora is an evergreen shrub that will grow in either full sun or partial shade. We have ours close to the path near to the back door so we get the chance to take in and enjoy the fragrance every time we pass by. It likes fertile, humus rich soil that is well drained.
Because it is so slow growing we have not found it valuable for flower arranging. In fact, the fragrance is so powerful when in an enclosed room that many might find it too intense.
Why do some plants flower in the depth of the winter when most days are far too cold for pollinating insects to fly? I am glad they do. Experience here (Warwickshire UK) suggests that it only takes a short period of winter sunshine and the bees are duly summoned by the perfume (evidence below). Because there are so few plants flowering there will be less competition for the attention of the pollinating insects that do brave the weather.
If you don’t currently have one of these in your garden it is certainly worth having a go.
Hardiness: RHS hardiness rating H4 (Hardy through most of the UK (-10 to -5))
Our large Madame Alfred Carrière rose is at least 15 years old and may be approaching 20. It is a truly beautiful rose with large white flowers with a blush of pink and a sweet delicious fragrance. It is a repeat flowering rose starting in June with a tremendous flush of flowers and continuing throughout the summer until October if the weather is kind.
Popular since Victorian times, Madame Alfred Carrière is a rose from the Noisette group which have virtually thornless stems and fragrant double flowers. It seems to be very healthy and copes very well with its exposed location with virtually no protection from south-westerly winds.
Originally we planted this rose to climb up a pink cherry tree and provide a continuity of flowers after the spring cherry blossom had faded. The cherry tree is alas long gone having died and rotted away. We so love the Madame Alfred Carrière that we really wanted to find a way of allowing it to continue even though its support had gone.
The rose now grows up within a metal frame and its long arching branches cascade from the top. However, this climber certainly grows strongly each year and the metal tubular frame is really not man enough for the job. To help provide greater strength we have placed a large chestnut stake in the centre to give it greater strength and depth into the soil.
When in full leaf the structure has to carry a huge weight and the winds in late October have taken their toll.
Left to its own devices I think it would not have lasted the winter in this exposed part of the garden. Drastic action therefore had to be taken to release the weight of the top foliage and straighten up the metal frame.
It doesn’t look pretty I admit but this severe pruning is really the only way to give it a chance over winter. From experience it is a really tough plant and has bounced back in previous years. Next spring new fresh shoots will emerge and in no time it will be growing strongly again with bright green, clean foliage.
Madame Alfred Carrière is a wonderful garden rose and a much admired treasure in the here at Waverley. We don’t find it a useful cut flower because it drops its petals too quickly and has flimsy stems but it would make good petal confetti.
Looking out across the garden in the autumn sunshine on this November morning it is the Cotoneasters and Pyracantha that are some of the star plants of the moment. Their red and orange berries give a spark of colour to the yellow autumn hues of the hedgerow trees.
Perhaps rather over used in municipal planting, especially Cotoneaster, there are many interesting cultivars and species to choose from both to add interest in the garden and for use in floral arrangements.
For an added bonus these shrubs bring the garden wildlife right up to the house windows. It is such a pleasure watching the birds feeding on the Pyracantha. This morning in just a few minutes we saw a pair of the most beautiful Bullfinches (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) in their red plumage, a Dunnock (Prunella modularis) and a Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) all feeding together. Blackbirds (Turdus merula) and Redwings (Turdus iliacus) are also regular visitors whilst the Blue Tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) shelter on the branches whilst busily feeding on the insects on the window panes and under the roof tiles.
Varieties in the garden at Waverley
We are not entirely sure of the species and varieties we have here at Honey Pot Flowers so please feel free to comment if you think we have got the identification wrong.
Cotoneaster Cornubia (Cotoneaster X watereri ‘Cornubia’)
This is quite a large fast growing shrub with dramatic arching branches and long willow like leaves. It has large showy clusters of red berries that stay on the plant much later than the ‘wild’ types of Cotoneaster that we have around the garden. It is semi-evergreen and has glossy dark green lanceolate shaped leaves which are clean and free from disease.
Very similar in habit to Cornubia but has creamy-yellow berries. It is semi-evergreen in our garden with a lovely arching habit. The berries hold well.
Related to the Cotoneasters, these plants come in a wide range of colours and the name of our variety is lost in the mists of time. Ours has orange/red berries and masses of white flowers in early June. By pure luck we have a dog rose climbing up amongst it and the pretty pink flowers of the rose complement the Pyracantha flowers wonderfully. It is a big plant and needs regular cutting back (probably more cutting back than we actually get around to) but it has vicious spikes and needs carefully handling. It is not something that you can put through the shredder and spread on the flower beds as mulch as the thorns remain and get in the dogs’ feet.
Cotonesters are very useful as foliage throughout the year and can add that additional Christmas feel in November and December. Their long arching habit and well behaved upward facing foliage make them extremely useful in large floral arrangements for large table centrepieces, door wreaths, church archways and pedestal arrangements.
Ideally the stems should be cut fresh in the morning. You should slit the stem (about 1 inch) before conditioning for 24-48 hours in clean fresh water with flower food if you have it. Slitting the stem helps the water uptake. Even if the stem tips drop at first they will soon perk up over a 24 hour period. Refresh the water every 24 hours if you are not using immediately.
Unlike Pyracantha and Berberis, which are very spikey and need to have the spines removed before using, Cotoneaster stems are thornless and therefore much less time consuming (and painful) to work with.
If you want to get to the berries before the birds you can pick them and keep them in water for a good few weeks in a cool place. Remember to keep changing the water every few days.
Origin: According to Wikipedia Pyrancantha coccinae ranges from North Eastern Spain to Northern Iran whilst the Cotoneasters originate from areas across temperate Asia, Europe and North Africa.
Hardiness: According to the RHS, Cotoneaster ‘Cornubia’ and Pyracantha are graded as H6 (Hardy in all of UK and northern europe -20 °C to -15 °C)
We have always had great success in propagating Cotoneasters by taking hardwood cutting in the Autumn. Take about a 9 inch cutting (about a pencil thinkness) from mature wood, cutting cleanly just above a node at the top and just below a node at the bottom. Cut the stem at an angle at the top to help you remember which way up the cutting needs to be planted.
Put the cutting(s) the right way up either into a nursery bed in the ground or into a deep pot filled with a well drained, loam based compost (the deep rose flowerpots are ideal for this). You can put a number of cuttings into a single pot. The cuttings should be at least two-thirds of their length under the soil.
Water in well and place them outside where you can look after them. They will stay in the pot or ground for about 12 months before you pot them on. Just let them grow leaves and roots during the summer, watering as necessary, and then pot up in the autumn into individual pots or if the roots are big enough into the garden.
Offer any spare ones to your friends! You will have many more than you need.
Pruning in the right way at the right time is critical to maintaining the flowers and ultimately the berries.
With Pyracantha the flowers (and subsequently the berries) are formed on short spur growths on the previous year’s growth. Any new growth in mid to late summer will need to be left to mature in order to produce the next seasons flowers and berries.
With Cotoneaster ‘Cornubia’ it is the open branching structure that is so attractive and it is probably best to avoid pruning excessively other than to remove wayward or damaged branches that look out of place. If you want to reduce the size or thin out the tree we typically use the ‘one-third’ technique on many shrubs. Each year you remove one-third of the older stems leaving the majority intact. The next year you remove another one-third of the old stems (leaving any new ones) and the same again in the third year. In this way you slow reduce the size of the shrub each year but it will still flower and look good in the garden.
We haven’t managed to capture footage of the male bullfinch yet but here are a couple of clips of a female Bullfinch and Redwing enjoying the Pyracantha berries in mid-November.
RHS “Pruning” by Christopher Bricknell (ISBN 1-85732-902-3)