Winter- the late effects

This time last year, I was moaning about another soaking midsummer. This year, remarkably, it has been dry, and quite warm. But the effects of a long, cold winter linger one. Some plants – all the alpines and the primulas – enjoyed it. But other things obviously found it just too much:P1010772

This Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ is now officially dead. I thought, perhaps, it might pull back from whatever combination of wind and snow had blasted it – but no. It’s a goner. Six years old, and it just turns up its toes overnight.  That’s gardening for you! Mind you, it’s not the only tree to have suffered: here’s a Scots pine which should be putting on luscious growth like everything else, but is still feeling the effects of a freezing southerly March wind:P1010782

The plant that has suffered most, however, is the wisteria. I shouldn’t be growing wisteria anyway. It’s far too far north, and far too high, but on a whim I planted a wisteria sinensis in the most sheltered spot I could find, and for ten years it has done just fine. But not this year:P1010770
I’ve decided I hate this plant anyway. I’ve pruned it twice a year, every year, even in December, as they tell you to, and it produces pretty blue flowers, as it is supposed to. But not a smidgeon of that heady wisteria scent. Not a single sniff’s worth.

Now here’s an object lesson in compounding folly:
I read lots of learned stuff about wisterias, and concluded that I must have the wrong variety. So I planted another one next door, this time a wisteria floribunda which I believe twines the other way, (so that you can tell the difference). And waited the necessary four or five years for it to flower. And it did.
And it has no scent either.
And, worst of all:P1010771

…it turns out to be pink. This one didn’t even have the grace to get frosted, and it’s too late to take it back to the nursery and claim a refund.
No, I’ve had it with these temperamental brutes, and they can beg and plead as much as they want, but my heart is hardened….

So, I’ll leave you with a primula that is just as temperamental, but flowers beautifully at just this time of year, has an overwhelming fragrance, and repays love and care, unlike some. Primula flaccida:P1010773

In the heat of the day…

I’m about to write a sentence that I very rarely put on paper:

The garden could do with some rain.

Not too much, mind you; just an overnight shower to freshen things up and help my peas to germinate. The soil is quite damp enough a few inches down. But the ‘creek’ is dry, and I do like to have water running through my garden.

Next,  I’m going to complain about the heat. It’s all of 25 degrees today; more in the direct sun; and that means I have to run around with little sunshades (pieces of slate, usually) for all the delicate primulas that wilt at the first hint of hot weather. P1010677

The rest of the garden is enjoying it though:P1010658

This is Ourisia Coccinea, a slowly creeping ground cover plant from Chile. I grow it in slightly peaty soil on a slope, and I have never seen it so good. The bright vermillion flowers, so close to the ground, are a really useful colour – especially since they go so well with the unweeded buttercups.

When it’s too hot to do any weeding, I  can sit in the shade of the Himalayan birch, and admire the effect of  my spring cleaning:P1010656

The blue poppies in the border by my folly are now approaching their loveliest. Last year, they were pretty miserable, but over the winter, they were lifted and the whole border was re-dug, re-drained, and given lavish helpings of compost and leafmould. The poppies are happy again. They will need a year or two to bulk up before they are really spectacular. But still: P1010661

Usually when I plan colour combinations they are ruined by frosts, or pests, or no flowers, or eccentric flowering times or something else. But this year, for once, the ornamental bramble, Rubus ‘Tridel’ is performing, opening its pure white flowers on arching branches behind the poppies: The deep crimson species rhododendrons I had planned as a further backdrop have yet to make any impact – but they will, they will….P1010666

More primulas and some other stuff

So, this weekend it is Gardening Scotland, which is not at all like Chelsea, because it has pipe bands and show gardens made by primary schools, and people selling seafood from Loch Fyne and other people demonstrating steam mops, and best of all a stall all the way from the deep south (ie Nottingham), which is the only place in the world that sells the thornproof red gauntlets without which I could not live. It also has some weird and wonderful plants, such as this calceolaria uniflora.

I took the chance to add to my primula collection. This, Primula reidii var williamsii, is a plant I’ve bought and lost more times than I care to think about. Yet who could resist it?P1010646

Not just the colour, nor the ridiculous disproportion of the flowers, but the heady sweet scent as an additional virtue make this a plant I willingly shell out on whenever I find it, however much I know it is hopeless in the long term. It belongs to section Soldanelloides, and is the only one of that section regularly in cultivation. And no wonder: Professor Richards, guru of primulas, has this to say:

“They are in the main the most maddeningly difficult of all primulas…species which emerge from under the snow in an almost dry dormant state to encounter immediately a torrential and continuous monsoon while growing in a water culture supported by a largely soilless medium of stones and grit, might well prove to be difficult in cultivation.”

I can do the monsoon, but not the six months of snow cover.

Let’s turn to something easier:P1010648

Primula Pulverulenta, about which I’ve written extensively here and here, is a robust candelabra for a damp soil. Normally deep violet, this pink version is ‘Bartley Strain’. I’m not wild about pink on the whole, but this is a delicate colour, well set off by the farina on the stems and by the yellow eye. I only have a few plants, but I can see it making an interesting bloc of colour somewhere – if only I can find a place where it can be delicately pink all on its own, unbesmirched by red or orange competitors

This, on the other hand, I can probably do without:P1010647

This is one of a batch of pulverulenta seedlings I planted out last summer, and its parent has obviously bred with something yellow – in all probability p.chungensis. It’s close enough to the officially recognised cross primula xchunglenta for me to describe it as such (although there are more restrained versions than mine). It’s extremely vigorous, and is shouldering its way past all its properly purple siblings, demanding attention and throwing up more and more flower stems of that….colour. How to describe it?  Orange with a tint of salmon, lightening to fried egg with strawberries? It’s not unimpressive, but it’s not for me. Compost heap, I think, unless anyone out there wants it?

Omphalodes – and others

As a judgement for moaning about how horrible it was to contemplate clearing the weed from the pond, the fates sent a warm, sunny day. So I had no excuse. But at least I had spent the winter months tracking down a new ultra-cheap pair of thigh waders, so my feet remained dry. I shall spare you the horrid details – you can read about it here, if you are so inclined.  But the pond does look a lot better:P1010591

A plant I use extensively for early spring flowering in semi-shaded rough areas is omphalodes cappadocica. It makes a great substitute for forget-me-not, especially since you can totally forget it.P1010592

It’s a tough little perennial plant, spreading slowly on rooting tendrils. It’s quick into growth in spring (normally it would have flowered a month ago)  and it doesn’t seem to mind being partially swamped by grasses and weeds in high summer. The pure blue of its flower is most welcome at a time of year when not much else is in bloom.P1010593

Time to take a look at  another ‘difficult’ primula:P1010594

Primula handeliana. China, 3,000 metres, shade,  forest, ‘moss-covered rocks’. OK, I can do the moss and the rocks, and the shade, but only 300 metres, and I guess that makes the difference! I’ve lost this (twice) over winter, growing it in mossy shade, so I’m now trying it out in relatively well-shaded gravel backed by a grit-heavy compost underneath. We’ll see how we go….if it survives, I shall be very pleased.

It’s just wonderful when a new plant does something unexpected. In my previous post, I wrote about the unfurling leaves of glaucidium palmatum.  But, look – they weren’t leaves, they were flower stems – the leaves are just coming through now. Meanwhile, the flower buds  are pushing outwards as they rise above the soil.P1010587

A very slow spring

It’s still cold. Nine to eleven degrees, and a chill wind from the north-west. We’re at least four weeks later than last year (which was a disaster anyway, with its vicious late frosts).

As I’ve said before, I’m not unhappy. With everything held back, I’ve got on with a lot of things without the usual rush to clear weeds and mow grass. Turned the compost heap, dug new drains in an effort to make the bog garden less of a swamp, cleaned out the strawberries, manured the raspberries. And re-soiled the blue poppy beds, lifted and split their inhabitants. They are looking much happier than they were last year:P1010553

The early primulas are in full flower: Primula rosea enjoys having its roots in running water, but is equally happy in a damp bedP1010550.

I’m especially pleased that my primula melanantha survived the winter. I’ve kept it in its pot (I don’t normally like doing this) and sunk it into a fairly shady spot. It spent the months from September to March in the greenhouse, with only a tiny drip of water once a fortnight. Now it’s pushing out its velvety-black flowersP1010538.

On the subject of black, about five years ago, I stuck a black hellebore (helleborus niger) into the remains of a rotten tree stump under beech trees. The odd leaf appeared, but little else, and I wrote it off as a stupid error. But, lo and behold, the Christmas rose, flowering in May!P1010556

An alpine spring

A couple of posts ago, I wrote that snow in March never lasts long. I was wrong. Slowly, slowly, it is now starting to melt, but is still a foot or so deep in the shady parts of the garden where it drifted in the strong easterly wind.P1010496

Where the daffodils break through the snow, the sun-warmed air reaches into the hole they have made and melts the snow round each plant. Spiky bulb leaves do this, but flatter slow growing plants, such as cushion saxifrages, must wait. My scree bed lies under a cold blanket, except where a rabbit has passed – the sun widening out its tracks, so that it looks as if a gigantic Easter bunny has visitedP1010495.

Since I constantly moan about warm, wet, winters and premature warmth in March, I’m actually happy with all this. It’s exactly what alpine plants need. Of course it is frustrating not to be barrowing compost and splitting blue poppy plants and all the other jobs that are now queuing up, but because of the cold and the snow, it’s less likely that May frosts will wipe out all the young growth, as happened last year.

And, where the snow melts, the early primulas rush into flower. Here is p.sonchifolia, breaking out of its resting bud and eagerly putting out its blooms before bothering to grow a stemP1010485. As you see, the leaves have suffered badly from frost. It’s an irony that many high-altitude primulas can be easily frost-damaged – the snow cover in their native mountains normally keeps them safe. Unfortunately, in Scotland the snow melted before the frosts were past. Such is life.