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.
Last autumn we were inspired by Lia Leendertz’s book Twilight Garden¹ and we undertook to increase the number of plants and flowers that come into their own in the evening light. Our aim was to increase the impact of the garden as the sun goes down adding walk ways of light and scented flowers around the garden and, in particular, in areas where we sit of an evening.
This summer has proved to be perfect – hot and dry and ideal for sitting out on those long balmy evenings.
There are a number of plants listed in Lia’s book that we have not come across before. One of these is Zaluzianskya or Night Phlox. It is a rather uninspiring plant during the heat of the day as all the flowers close up showing only the maroon undersides of the petals. Come the evening however, the flowers open into a myriad of shining white stars that seem to glow in the fading light. Their wonderful scent begins to hang in the air. Scents are often difficult to describe but we both feel the scent of Zaluzianskya is interestingly different from many other flowers. To my mind it is a complex aroma of honey and sweets with a spicy edge.
The species that we have grown from seed is Zaluzianskya capensis ‘Midnight Candy’ ( available from Chiltern Seeds ). Lia’s book talks also of a different species Zaluzianskya ovata which we may well try next year having had so much success with Z. capensis this year.
If you are looking to bring a new dimension to your garden in the evening this is something fun to try. It will certainly be a talking point if you use your garden for sitting out and entertaining.
On using Zaluzianskya as a cut flower the jury is still out. It does cut and we have placed it in water in small ‘jam-jar’ arrangements. The flowers do seem to open in the evening for a dinner party but we have found that the scent does not seem to be as intense as from those flowers opening in the fresh air on the patio. Why we are not yet sure. Our conclusion so far is therefore to grow it in small pots so that you can bring out the potted plants and place them strategically where you want them.
Well worth having a try if you have not grown this before.
Latin name:Zaluzianskya capensis
Common name: Night Phlox
Native origins: South Africa
¹ “Twilight garden – a guide to enjoying your garden in the evening hours” by Lia Leendertz (ISBN 9781862059115)
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.
Rather like old friends our clematis return each year and delight us. They have increased in number and size over the years and these long-lived plants quietly creep around the trees and shrubs and emerge reliably each year. We love collecting new varieties and luckily many have enjoyed the conditions in our garden.
It is a pure joy to suddenly come across that first bloom of the year from a clematis that has been quietly surviving over the winter. The large buds develop and then, there it is, the first perfect flower.
For other smaller flower varieties like C. montana it is the spectacular show provided by a large cloak of thousands of flowers in delicate pink that sit wonderfully amongst the white lilac tree and our purple leaved Prunus padus. You don’t seem to notice how far it has spread until it blooms. There is a danger that a strong clematis might well overwhelm a smaller tree but there is no doubt the effect is dramatic.
Distribution in nature
Britain has only one native species of clematis (C. vitalba (Old Man’s Beard)) but there are over 250 species¹ distributed mainly in tropical or temperate regions. Most are natives of the northern hemisphere with several native to Europe. As well as the very familiar large flowered hybrids that grace the garden centres there are a number of smaller flowered species that make highly desirable garden plants.
A member of the Ranunculaceae (the buttercup family), clematis come in a wide range of blue mauves to purples but also white through pink to shades of red, burgundy and also yellow. The petals of Clematis have been replaced by colourful sepals. Typically these are in fours or eight but some (eg. Clematis ‘Niobe’) have six. Through a careful choice of cultivars and species you can have clematis flowering in your garden from spring through to autumn.
Clematis are not commonly grown for their scent but we would not be without our C. x aromatica which climbs over our rope rose arches and provides a lovely waft of ‘vanilla’ scent across the garden in the evening. A strategically placed seat and a glass of wine are all you need to enjoy the experience to the full.
Clematis in the garden
One of the essential benefits of clematis is that they exploit the vertical dimension of the garden. They climb over their hosts by using their leaf stems. Given an appropriate support, they can rapidly cover a trellis or other structural feature. Variety ‘Nelly Moser’ with its large pink flowers is also very comfortable growing against a north facing wall.
Most of the clematis we have growing here at Waverley are deciduous however there is one, C. armandii, which is evergreen. This is a tough old plant and wants to survive. Its supporting tree was felled over ten years ago but even after a ruthless prune it still flowers every year and clambers through the remaining lower shrubs.
The most successful of our clematis are growing amongst other mature trees or shrubs and they climb their way up to the light. They don’t seem to mind the competition and many books indicate that the roots need to be kept shaded and cool. Where we have clematis growing up supports in more formal flower beds we make sure they are planted amongst herbaceous perennials to ensure that the root area and base of the plant is kept in the shade during the summer months.
The general advice is to plant pot grown clematis deep² so that if the plant is damaged or contracts wilt it will regrow new shoots again from under the surface. When preparing the planting hole for a new clematis you should include plenty of organic matter.
There is a lot written about pruning clematis. For us the simple and easy to remember phrase “if it flowers before June do not prune” works well for us.
Cutting and conditioning
Clematis can make a wonderful addition to any floral design. Its trailing habit adds something not offered by many flowering plants suitable for cutting. Growing a stem that trails effectively does require some forward thinking otherwise you end up with a tangled mess to unravel. Some of our clematis grow across a rope arch and individual strands are allowed (encouraged) to hang down naturally in preparation for cutting.
As with most flowers they are best cut in the cool of the early morning and placed into cool water to condition for at least 24 hours. To get the best vase life cut into older wood.
The stems last well and can be effectively added to long table arrangements to trail down the front of a top table. We probably use the smaller C. montana more often for this kind of arrangement.
There is no doubt that Clematis add something very special and different to the garden. Many look delicate but they are really very tough and resilient plants if you give them conditions that they can thrive in. Choosing your varieties carefully can provide on-going interest throughout late spring and summer and into autumn.
¹ “A comprehensive guide to Clematis” by Barry Fretwell (ISBN 0 00 414017 6)
² “Growing Clematis” by Nicholas Hall, Jane Newdick and Neil Sutherland (ISBN 1-85833-163-3)
Perhaps it is because Narcissus (Daffodils) are so common and easy to grow that we tend to overlook how interesting and different they are from many other plants. Spring would certainly not be spring without them and their happy colours bring a breath of fresh air after a long grey, cold winter.
In researching for this article I was surprised to see just how many different species of Narcissus there are. Anna Pavord ¹ indicates that there are over 50. It has been equally fascinating to see how the different varieties that we have put in the garden over the years relate to each of these species.
Although we have our own native wild daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) in Britain, many of the species we grow in our gardens have a distribution centred on the Iberian peninsula with others stretching across France and into Italy and Greece. They are very easy to establish in the English garden and come back reliably year after year. Any investment in Narcissus bulbs will give you years of pleasure with very little trouble.
The majority of Narcissus are fully hardy and grow well in full sun or dappled shade. Most daffodils like soil that is well drained but not too dry in the summer. Although they look lovely in borders and large tubs they look particularly effective naturalised in grass. One of my favourite parts of our garden in spring is the orchard where the daffodils have established themselves well at the base of each of the apple, plum, cherry and pear trees. We have written previously about the orchard in an earlier blog (The Orchard – beautiful in spring, productive in autumn).
Luckily for us Narcissus have their own inbuilt protection against the common pests in the garden. Due to the thick, unpleasant and toxic sap most wild animals do not eat Narcissus. They are rarely eaten by slugs and snails although we do sometimes see damage on the open flowers.
Cutting and conditioning
Whereas Narcissus make excellent cut flowers it is important to recognise that if placed, freshly cut, in a vase of mixed flowers the sap will make the other flowers wilt prematurely.
When cutting Narcissus we always cut into a separate bucket of cool, fresh water away from other flowers. Every 20 minutes we change the water until the sticky sap stops running from the cut stems. Once the sap stops running we leave the flowers to condition for a couple of hours in a cool place. At this point it is safe to incorporate the Narcissus with other mixed flowers in a bouquet or arrangement. Don’t cut the stems again otherwise the sap will start to run again and contaminate your vase water and affect the other flowers.
Narcissus should be picked when the flowers are still tight and fairly green but their necks have turned towards 90 degrees rather than facing straight up. They will have a long vase life of up to 10 days if cut at the right stage and properly conditioned.
Varieties across the garden
Over nearly 25 years we have planted a huge range of Narcissus throughout the garden and I am afraid that the names of many have been lost in the mists of time. Carol and I tend to disagree on which we like best but luckily there is a place for all of them.
Some of the more miniature daffodils such as ‘Jenny ‘ and the ever popular ‘Tête-à-tête’ (both Cyclamineus types showing the characteristics of Narcissus cyclamineus) are establishing themselves beautifully in the front of the borders. As mentioned earlier, the larger trumpet varieties look wonderful in the orchard and woodland.
Later in the spring the Pheasant Eye’s begin to emerge (Narcissus poeticus). These have smaller and more delicate flowers and we find these particularly useful for cut flower arrangements.
Although we like them all, one of our favourites has to be ‘Thalia’. This is a multi-headed white Narcissus of the Triandrus type which show the characteristics of Narcissus triandrus.
More recently we have started to introduce ‘Bridal Crown’ and ‘Avalanche’ which both have small fragrant flowers and are of the Tazetta type (related to Narcissus tazetta). As well as growing well in pots amongst the tulips and violas we have also planted some amongst newly planted roses giving a lovely spring show as the rose bushes begin to break (see: New additions to our garden of Roses and 3 fragrant roses for Autumn).
Floriography (the language of flowers): Self-love ²
And finally a little poetry…
I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o’er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine And twinkle on the milky way, They stretched in never-ending line Along the margin of a bay: Ten thousand saw I at a glance, Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: A poet could not but be gay, In such a jocund company: I gazed—and gazed—but little thought What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.
William Wordsworth (1815)
¹ “Bulb” by Anna Pavord (ISBN 978-1-84533-415-4)
² “The language of flowers” by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (ISBN 978-0-230-75258-0)
Honey Pot Flowers are 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.
The garden here at Honey Pot Flowers may appear cold and quiet but the new year is coming upon us quickly and there is plenty to do and much to see.
Despite the low temperatures here in Warwickshire, bulbs and flowers are beginning to emerge. The snowdrops are now in full swing complemented by the pinks and purples of the cyclamen and hellebores. The first of the primroses and yellow crocuses are beginning to flower and the air is filled with the scent of Daphne odora and Sarcococca. And, what is more, the sun has started to shine!
The garden birds are extremely busy foraging for food across the garden. Great Tits, Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Long-tailed Tits, Nuthatchs, Chaffinchs, Dunnocks, Blackbirds and Great Spotted Woodpeckers are all regular visitors to the garden now with Buzzards mewing and flying overhead trying to catch any weak thermals that might come their way.
With time marching on we are also trying to get all our pruning jobs completed before we get into seed sowing in earnest. A few days bright and dry weather has allowed us to start pruning back the bush and climbing roses. Ideally the climbing roses should have been done in November but better late than never! With the climbers we are untying all last years growth, cutting out some of the old stems to shoot afresh this year, cutting off the side shoots to a couple of buds and then tying in three or four strong new stems to flower this year. In March we will give them a good feed to set them on their way.
In the orchard we are also starting to prune the apple and pear trees. There are three main tasks to perform here on each spur fruiting tree:
remove any dead or diseased branches
improve and open up the structure of the tree by removing crossing or unwanted branches (this also increases air flow and helps minimise issues with disease)
prune back any of the new leaf shoots from last year to three or four buds leaving the flower buds on the spurs to develop.
With partial tip bearing trees, such as the Bramley, remember that some of the flower buds are on the end of the stem and removing these when pruning will obviously reduce your crop. The wood, or growth buds are much smaller than the flower buds that will eventually provide you with your fruit.
One thing to remember when pruning fruit trees is that if you prune hard the tree will grow back vigorously producing a rash of long ‘water’ shoots. This will make pruning next year much more difficult. Ideally you need to achieve a balance, just enough pruning to improve the health and structure of the tree and encourage the tree to put effort into fruiting and not too much that the tree produces excessive vegetative growth.
It really is such a pleasure to be out in the garden again at the start of a new gardening year. There is much to do and seed sowing is just around the corner.
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))