First Frost

We had warnings about snow before the end of October, but last night was the first time that the frost was even hard enough to crisp the grass. Where the sun hit it, it rapidly turned to heavy dew, leaving the mown part of the garden silver. At this time of year it never evaporates – I won’t be able to walk down the garden again without wellies until late MarchThe lack of frost means that Viburnum fragrans is flowering beautifully. I grow both fragrans and the more opulent hybrid Viburnum X bodnantse ‘Dawn’. ‘Dawn’ has larger, pinker flower clusters.Both of these winter-flowering shrubs are completely hardy and keep on pushing out blossom from now until February. The flowers go brown if they are hit by hard frost or excessive rain, but there are always replacements. The fragrance on a still winter afternoon can be overwhelming – similar to the spring-flowering viburnums, such as v. carlesii. I am in two minds about it. It can be a little cloying – like the scented soap that elderly great-aunts use. But as a cut flower for the house – when there is little else with scent to be had, it does well. Here is v. fragrans, with its smaller, whiter, blooms:Both of these viburnums need to be kept under control with fairly heavy pruning – cutting out any branches that are getting in the way. They come away again readily from the base, and it doesn’t seem to matter what time of year you attack them. They grow fairly large and throw a heavy shade in summer. Bulbs do OK beneath them, but nothing much else.

Here is my favourite tree:This is Brewer’s Weeping Spruce, picea breweriana. I think the hanging curtains of branchlets are wonderful – and they weep properly, unlike my wretched weeping birch. Unfortunately, this is an extremely slow-growing tree in its natural environment, and probably even slower on my unpleasant clay. With me, it puts on about six inches a year, and does not speed up with age, so although it is about twenty years old, it is barely taller than I am. It comes from  south-west Oregon, so Linnie maybe has several in her garden…?

It’s a good time of year for cotoneaster:This is c.wardii.  Probably my favourite cotoneaster. It has a nice arching habit, flowers that attract bees (and, unfortunately, wasps) and wonderful berries, as you see. The berries seem to come fairly low down on the list of preferred food for blackbirds, and they usually leave them until they have eaten everything else. But once they start, the berries are gone within a couple of days. Thanks to the birds, c.wardii seeds itself readily, just where you don’t want it. C. wardii has no Autumn colour, unlike c.horizontalisC.horizontalis does not always do this – it appears to depend on where it is growing. As you would expect from the name, it is happier growing as a ground-cover shrub, but it is perfectly possible to train it against a wall, and it seems more ready to produce Autumn colour in this case. Maybe it’s the case that shrubs need a certain amount of stress before they really perform in Autumn?

Finally – the larches are golden now. They will lose their needles within the week, but for a brief time they outshine the beech and the birch:

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26 thoughts on “First Frost

  1. The viburnums are so delicate and a subtle shade of pink. I’ve never been a great fan of cotoneaster ( I could plant them next to the neeps) but even I have to admit their colour is astonishing this year. I was photographing larch yesterday against a great backdrop of conifers. I think they are often underrated.

    • I think it has been a strange year for colour. Rowans and birch have been useless. Larch, beech, cotoneaster, azalea and some other stuff have been wonderful. I look forward to you photographs…

      • Um maybe I exaggerated, It’s just one or maybe two of a larch taken whilst out walking the dog. But I photographed cotoneaster (municipal planting near the swimming pool) due to the colour so that may put in an appearance…..

  2. Never heard of Brewer’s Spruce. I see it is also called Siskiyou Spruce. That means it’s from Southern Oregon, a distinct region from the valley where I live. (I like Southern Oregon, for its sunshine but more for its Oregon Shakespeare Festival.) I have a weeping cedar but it is clearly not so melancholy and miserable as your spruce. –Check at your garden center, they likely have anti-depressants for trees. Though it is very pretty in its sadness. And I am pleased to see the larches are coming along. Soon you can start chopping them into cabers…

    • Ah, so Oregon, like Caesar’s Gaul is split into several parts? And the one part knows nothing about the other part – not even about their most beautiful and endangered trees? Seriously, don’t knock this tree until you have seen it. There are a few wonderful specimens growing on the west coast here, but I have to travel a long way to see them. All you have to do is pull on a pair of walking boots…..

      • Walking boots? To get to Southern Oregon? But Kininvie it’s 200 miles away. I have taken your love of your trees seriously though. If I come across a specimen of the spruce I will be certain to add it to my aboretum. And I hope you get a few more birches, they look best in flocks.

        • Well, don’t you have Greyhound buses or something?. And then it’s just a stroll up into the Rockies, or the Cascades or whatever they are called, and I am sure there will be whole groves of picea breweriana to look at and take pictures of to make me envious…. Really, I think you are being a bit feeble here, in the same way you can’t be bothered to move to Alaska so that you can grow giant neeps

  3. Lovely colour, Mr K – though I’m surprised your first frost was so late. I could never quite see the point of cotoneasters but am now a convert what with several growing at the Priory. I’ve been umming about planting and training some c. horizontalis against a wall for a year or so now. I must stop dithering and just get on with it.

    • Good to have you back Dave – I loved your photos of the Forest of Dean. They made me think I need a better camera, or more talent….
      Yes the frost was late – I see you had frost at the Priory a couple of weeks ago. And it is still unseasonably warm during the day, which I hate. Yet again my alpines and primulas are being deluded into thinking it’s Spring, rather than starting to hibernate – and that just means they will be killed when Winter arrives.

  4. Its always good to see the Viburnum flowering in Winter. We had bodnantse ‘Dawn’ and it never looked good in our garden, I think I messed it up with pruning badly. The cotoneaster did normally keep its berries most of the Winter except for one year when we had a large number of redwings visiting, they just loved the berries. alistair

    • Did you have waxwings last winter? I read somewhere that there were flocks of them in Aberdeen… I had one, which visited for a couple of days only…but it was quite a thrill all the same

  5. Wow I like your viburnums! I didn’t know they’re in flower from now on… I don’t think they start before february here. Well now we still have 15°C in Northern Italy, maybe they need a colder climate…

    You have beautiful larches too. I love that tree and the smell of it.

  6. I have images of rampaging viburnums and flocks of birch.

    Nice colour on the cotoneaster, if it’s up the wall, shouldn’t it be renamed verticalitis?

    Just back from the hermitage, thank you for telling the trees to wait for me, still looking glorious. Cels rant booked.

    Life otherwise is soggy here, we rarely get frosts, but we get a few. They don’t hang about in the wind. Sensible.

    • I meant humanist celebrant – darn devices, technology not humanists.

      Ps love V. Dawn, smells so pretty. You got a Cornus mas too? Another favourite winter flowering shrub which smells just divine.

      • I think it’s probably wise of you to avoid Cambo in February….. I hope your celebrant has a loud enough voice to cover the roar or the waterfall!
        I once had Cornus Mas, but it died on me. I suspect the squirrels were to blame, but they claimed it was drought….a likely tale.

  7. Thanks for this! I have been wondering whether I can grow a cotoneaster horizontalis up a fence, and I think I will give it a go having seen yours, it looks great with the autumn colour (the fence I want to cover is opposite my garden window, so I need it to look nice all year round). Do they grow fast? I have a lot of climbers that seem to want to eat the garden, so I’m actually hoping it’s not too speedy!

    • No, not too speedy. But you will have to spend a little time on it encouraging it to grow upwards. It’s a good plan to cut back any shoots that are attempting to revert to the horizontal

  8. Loving the cotoneasters. The problem with reading other peoples’ blogs is you discover all these plants you want to grow but don’t have the space for. I need a bigger garden but then what gardener doesn’t?

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