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.

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21 thoughts on “Spring like a sine wave

  1. Hi Kininvie
    Beautiful magnolia, and your demanding species primula reminds me of a couple of my more difficult relatives. I am inclined to respond to the virgin IQ issue but on second thought I better not. I think I will leave it for Alberto.

    • Hi Linnie,
      Primulas are indeed like difficult relatives. They all demand different things and expect you to provide for them. But they are not very talkative, which is one small mercy.

  2. What happens if you prune your shrub honeysuckle after flowering, like forsythia and other spring-bloomers? Oughtn’t that give it a chance of flowering the next year again, though perhaps less prolifically? Just a thought.

    It’s a beautiful magnolia; it looks just the way I think a magnolia should look. (I’m not a big fan of the stellata’s narrow petals.)

    • You are probably right, and it could be that I’m lazy. It grows lots of thin shoots which I could well shorten by half and not lose too many flowers. But the temptation would be to attack it with hedge clippers, and then it would be a tangled mess with a nasty haircut.

      • I suspect you could do a fairly simple “tidy-up” once the bloom is spent, cutting away 1/5 to 1/3 of the branches down to ground level and then just tidy up the rest. It will probably reduce next year’s bloom, but will leave you with a less tangly shrub. Do this every 2-5 years and your plant should look both tidier and healthier.

        (Well, it works for the other spring-flowering shrubs I know, anyway… And actually in the long term it increases growth and bloom!)

        • In theory, you are entirely right…..in practice it’s impossible (I’ll need to put up a photograph to show you why ). The chief problem however is that the pruning needs to be done just when there are so many other demands on my time – so it gets neglected.

        • I have the same problem with this lonicera but the scent is so spectacular, a sprig will perfume a room. I find I can viciously attack it with secateurs as the flowers go over, removing whole swathes and half the branches to knee height and it even rewards me by flowering again the same year. A very determined plant, still ugly when not in flower but I’ve now had mine for 30 years and I would be sorry to lose that spring blossom. Love your blog, only just found it. Minety L

          • Hello Minety, and welcome. I’m sure you are right about being vicious with the lonicera, but I fear it is too late for me, as mine has grown into a tangled mass (it’s about the same age as yours) and it’s just not possible to chop out whole swathes without wrecking it..

  3. I thought pruning magnolias a no-no too, Mr K. But a gardening friend told me of one that he had been asked to lop back hard a few years ago. It is now smothered in blooms – so who knows? I thought climate change a slow, almost imperceptible shift – it seems very unfair that it affects you on a daily basis. Dave

    • I happily cut whole branches off my magnolia, bring them indoors and stick them in a big vase, where they flower happily. The fallen petals do make a sticky mess on the floor, though. I’m well used to this climate change business. In the days when it was called Global Warming, I had hopes of making a tropical border, but no – just more rain apparently. At least we never have hosepipe bans.

  4. Dear Mr K, you should stop hoping for this Global Warming, because if it came I’d be better move to Scotland asap, or convert my grass garden to a cactus garden…
    I always look with admiration all your fussy and spoiled primulas but then I desist to grow them here: I already have a primulasister who is fussy and demanding enough!

    As for what Linnie wrote about my virginity, I hope she did not intend to discredit my strong moral and physical integrity.

    • The reference to wise virgins, was of course biblical – which I hope you recognised, Alberto. Something about keeping their lamps refilled with oil when their benefactor came to call, if I remember. As for primulas – not, I think in the Venetian climate, although if you lived in the Alps, their are some good Italian species….

      • To be honest I didn’t see any biblical reference there but now that you told me I remeber… I should have paid more attention when I was a child. I thought you were just kidding me as usual.

    • It’s always worth a try. If it’s any help, my magnolia lives on one of the few bits of free draining ground (i.e. on a slope) I have, in quite good soil. Since most of its feeding roots are close to the surface, it doesn’t have too much trouble from the underlying clay. Just don’t plant it in a waterlogged hole!

  5. Lovely Magnolia, I think it might just be the one I have been looking for, one that will stand our north wind! Love your Primula collection, I manage to grow mine in a shady bog garden so that they don’t get too hot down here in Devon!

  6. Hi, I have just found your blog….whilst searching for information on the Lonicera syringantha, I am considering buying one for my very demanding garden any thing that will grow is a bonus !
    I actually live in the south of France but at 450m and only 2 hours from the pyrenees we get some cold winters and VERY strong winds….lovely summers though ! I was interested to see your temperature fluctuations are similar to ours……today we have a blue cloudless sky at 10C tonight will be below freezing….hard for plants. Our soil is slightly acid and I take note of all wild plants which are already here and try to find their tame cousins…..we have lost a lot of plants and even wild plants like the wonderful mimosas were all killed here last year when we had -10 with strong winds fora 2 week period exactly the time the mimosa was coming into flower. fortunately they are starting to sprout again from the bases. I look forward to seeing more of your garden survivors…..you have some beautiful plants, well done.

    • Hello Jane, and welcome. I think Lonicera syringantha may be OK with you. What I don’t know (and can’t find) is whether it has an aversion to any particular soil. If you are heavily alkaline, it might struggle, but on my acid soil it survives most things that the weather throws at it. Probably worth giving it a bit of shelter until it is estabished. Good luck anyway.

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