Spring like a sine wave

Climate change is nothing new in central Scotland. The climate changes daily. Yesterday – snow and 0.5 degrees C. Today, sun and 13 degrees C. Tonight, rain and 4 degrees. The up-down frequency is a bit extreme this year, it has to be said, and the garden is being knocked first one way and then the other. But in the middle of this fluctuation, my miraculous magnolia blooms, as it always does:It’s miraculous because you aren’t really supposed to grow magnolias this far north and 600 feet above sea level. And when I planted it, I thought it would be a shrivelled bush at best, with maybe a blossom every five years. But it seems to have hit a sweet spot, and is now a fair sized tree. On the rare still evening, its vanilla scent drifts through the open windows.It’s Magnolia X loebneri ‘Merrill – one of the hardiest of the magnolia tribe, and probably the only one that would stand a chance of growing here. The flowers are more shapely than the commonly seen  Magnolia stellata and are more fragrant. They say you should never prune magnolia, but I’m forced to do it because it grows close to the house, and it’s never done it any harm. It does have a massive spread of fibrous surface roots, rather like honeysuckle, which means it is almost impossible to grow anything underneath it – even bulbs. But I don’t care. The miracle of its April flowers compensates for any defects….

Another highly scented shrub in flower at the moment is Lonicera syringantha.I have to say I’m in two minds about this shrub honeysuckle. Scent and colour at this time of year is badly needed, but it has the disadvantage of flowering on second year wood – meaning that it is hard to prune if you still want to have any flowers the next year. And if you don’t prune it, it grows in on itself in a massive unshapely tangle. I don’t prune it, and it’s consequently very ugly when it’s not in flower. But since I can’t grow spring jasmine out of doors, this is the next best thing.

Primula chionantha is starting to flower (fractionally early). This is one of the easiest of the crystalophlomis section (used to be the ‘Nivalis’ section – which was a much nicer name), and usually the only one you can find in garden centres.This species comes with both white and purple flowers. They used to be distinguished, the purple-flowered ones being p. sino-purpurea. But the taxonomists have decided they are the same plant – and if you buy one, you just have to take a gamble on the colour. Such is life among the primulas. While this primula is classed as ‘the easiest’ – it does not mean it is easy. Hates being moved. Hates heat and drought. Hates winter damp at its neck. Rots into a slimy mess even if you think you have given it everything it needs. Luckily it seeds and germinates prolifically, so if you are a wise virgin (which I seldom am) you should always have a replacement when one dies on you.

Do fertility symbols help?

Primula chionantha is a wonderful May-flowering primula, but not exactly reliable with me. It suffers from the usual primula hazards of disliking the heat in summer and of rotting at the neck in winter if it gets rain rather than snow. It also dislikes clay, so I have to fuss around with compost and grit. But it does set large quantities of seed, so I try to keep it going that way, if I remember to deal with the seed heads in time.This year, I caught them at the right stage, just when the capsules had turned semi-transparent. A couple of days  drying out in the greenhouse, and I can turn out the seed onto a sheet of white paper:

I sowed it right away, sprinkling it over the surface of a deep trough, which I lined with pea gravel, then filled with a mix of approximately 5 parts peat-based compost to one part John Innes Seed & cutting, which provides a reasonable balance of the gritty stuff to the water-retentive stuff. I used a deep trough, because I won’t transplant any seedlings until they are two years old, and they’ll need space to start putting down their deep roots.

Several primula species need a period of cold before they will germinate (stratification). Serious growers use the freezer compartments of their fridge, but mine is usually full of food, so I prefer to let the Scottish winter do the job. I don’t know whether p.chionantha actually needs stratification – but it will be very foolish if it germinates now.

I think the seeds probably need all the help they can get, so I’ve left them here beneath my Pictish stone, so that the fertility symbol can work its magic on them. The mix in the tray does look vaguely like the ashes of a sacrificed maiden….perhaps the stone will be fooled? More  probably, someone will report me to the police, and I shall have a difficult time explaining things….

Update 22/06/12

As it happened, the fertility symbol encouraged a healthy germination of birch seedlings rather than primulas. I grew tired of picking them out and moved the tray into a shady part of the greenhouse in spring to give the seeds a bit of heat and shelter. The primulas eventually appeared – in sufficient numbers for me to be quite pleased