In The Garden: February

With this month’s warm and balmy temperatures, the garden has begun its slow explosion into green, starting of course with the snowdrops and dwarf irises, while narcissi and tulips line themselves up to begin their show next month. So, what is looking good in the garden this month?

Looking Good

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Narcissus ‘Tete-a-Tete’ in a vintage clay pot has come out to see the February sun.

 

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A surprise of crocuses, which I did not plant! I imagine they must have self-seeded from our nearby park, which is absolutely thick with the most beautiful displays.
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Helleborus argutifolus. I adore these subtle shades of lime and the soft rounded texture of the sepals.
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I planted a handful of ‘borrowed’ bulbs from our rented garden in 2015, and last year I divided and spread the clumps, so now this year at last the garden is starting to fill up. Nothing in the garden gives me greater joy to see at this time of year. I am not a galanthophile by any means: I am happy with old faithful G. nivalis. Perhaps one day I will splurge on some different varieties, but right now, these simple flowers couldn’t be making me happier.
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Electric blue Iris ‘Clairette’ saved over from last year’s pots.
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Another spring favourite of mine just coming into bloom. I have a white and a baby blue variety somewhere in the front garden and am awaiting their appearance with anticipation and hope.
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An enormous primrose taken as a seedling from my grandmother’s garden. It needs splitting.
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I am delighted to have spotted my first Anemone blanda, which I planted in autumn 2016 under the cherry tree.
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Iris ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ making a surprise appearance at the back of the back garden. I ought to move these nearer the house as they were almost over by the time I spotted them in the distance through the rain-spattered window.

Jobs

  1. This is the month for sorting and sowing seeds. I stocked up on coir pellets (which I am using for the first time as an experiment) and washed out my seed trays and root trainers to ensure they were fresh and clean of any dirt that could have harboured disease from last year. I sorted my seeds into those that needed planting right away (sweet peas, Calendula, Cerinthe, Aquilegia, Nigella, Antirrhinum), those that could wait a month, and those that needed direct sowing. I had lots left over, which I packaged up to send to friends.
  2. It was a good month for mulching the beds with some left over horse manure, as well as some seaweed that I picked up on our recent walk on Tyninghame beach. I try to collect seaweed whenever I go to the beach (always the loose, dead stuff) as it is so wonderful to spread on the garden or to add to compost.
  3. Early spring is the time for pruning hydrangeas, clematis in groups 2 and 3, and certain other woody shrubs that flower later in the year. img_1902
  4. February is the last opportunity for clipping hedges before bird nesting season begins, after which it is necessary to wait until late July. Last year I had sparrows nesting in our privet hedge, so I took to them with hand shears instead of electric.
  5. Each year I grow a different variety of new potato in reusable deep sacks. I find it deeply satisfying earthing them up, watering them, and then tipping the bag out and finding all the new potatoes among the dark earth, even though our local greengrocer sells delicious new potatoes for far cheaper than I could ever manage to produce them. February is the time to ‘chit’ potatoes so I put mine in egg boxes by our french doors, where it is bright but not too warm.img_1901
  6. A general tidy-up was a satisfying way to spend a Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago, cutting back all the dead stalks and foliage for the compost heap to allow new growth to come through.
  7. Dividing perennials can begin this month if the ground isn’t frozen. I have my eye on a Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’, some Bergenias and a Christmas rose that I would like to split so that I can increase my stock.

February Garden View

At last the front garden is beginning to green over with the fat shoots of bulbs growing in thick clumps all over the beds. Snowdrops are spreading beneath the roses and in small corners.

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The back garden too is changing: no snowdrops here, though I plan to spread some to this garden as soon as possible. However, many bulbs planted both this autumn and the previous one are making bold appearances.

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So that is it for February, a joyful month in the garden as spring begins to break through and cheer us all up after a long winter. I am now thoroughly looking forward to March, when the first species tulips and narcissi will be bringing even more colour to the garden. What have you been enjoying about your garden in February, and what are you looking forward to seeing in March?

Finally, can you see a face in the photo below?

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Snowdrops in inkpots (and warm woollen mittens)

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It is a little known (alternative) fact that Maria von Trapp was a keen galanthophile and collector of small vintage objects, and that the unabridged version of ‘My Favourite Things’ included a line about Snowdrops in Inkpots. I bet you’ll be singing that in your head all day long now.

The snowdrops are on the cast iron mantelpiece underneath a print by Jo Aylward. The penguin is holding a fine country house and he has some topiary on his head. And topiary is my current absolute favourite gardening thing.

In a Vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, and I recommend visiting her page to see what other garden bloggers around the world have found to put in vases today.

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Ceci n’est pas un Amaryllis

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Do you ever forget the names of plants? I do, frequently. I have long conversations in my head that go along the lines of: “What is the name of that dratted plant? It’s on the tip of my tongue, I know it begins with an … M . It definitely begins with an M. Oh yes, it’s an Amaryllis. I knew it had an M in it somewhere.” So it’s twice as hard when said plant has two names, and if I can remember Amaryllis, I can never remember the other name, and vice versa.

At a time of year where there is little floral colour about that hasn’t been shipped in from the Netherlands, these beauties cheer us up no end. The kudos of effortlessly producing such flouncing, extravagant trumpets from a bulb in a pot is too good to pass over, so it’s no surprise that so many of us have at least one potted Amaryllis at home. Except here’s the thing: none of us has a potted Amaryllis at home.

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Ceci n’est pas un Amaryllis. It’s not even a picture of an Amaryllis. What we have in here is in fact a Hippeastrum, except everyone calls them Amaryllis, including purveyors of said bulbs who should know better. A true Amaryllis is a lily-like native of South Africa, and the Hippeastrum that we know and love is from South America. Their taxonomy was under dispute, hence the confusion, until the 14th International Botanical Congress of 1987 settled the matter for once and for all. Thirty years later, Sarah Raven’s website is still declaring that ‘Amaryllis are a tender bulb from Brazil and so need to be grown inside’ without a hint of remorse. Thankfully the RHS, that guardian of botanical rectitude, deals swiftly with our confusion by noting that Hippeastrum are ‘commonly, but incorrectly, known as Amaryllis’. That’s Ms Raven told, though she may be forgiven since she offers such a wide range of beautiful varieties as well as detailed growing advice.

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Many people throw their Hippeastrum bulbs away after they have done their flowering, which is a shame as they can perfectly well be kept year after year with a little care and effort.

Once the flowers have faded (and they die beautifully), the old flower stem should be cut off just above the nose of the bulb, and the plant should be kept fed and watered until the nights are warm enough for it to be put outside. I usually wait for days no less than 14 degrees and nights no less than 10 degrees before putting my tender houseplants outdoors. (Such temperatures usually occur by June for us in coastal Edinburgh.) Once outdoors, it just remains to keep the plant fed and watered in a bright but not too sunny spot, well protected from molluscs. Mine lived in our cold frame for most of last summer, as it proved simply too delicious for the local slug population.

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In late summer, the old leaves can be cut back and the bulb put into dormancy by placing in a cool, dark place for 8 weeks before bringing back indoors to ensure flowering by Christmas. Alternatively, the bulb can be brought back indoors when the night temperatures are starting to drop to below 9 or 10 degrees, and feeding and watering restarted to allow flowering to occur a little later in early spring. The bulb can be repotted every two or three years in well draining but rich compost, always in a pot that is just a little bigger than the bulb itself.

In a Vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden. Do visit her page and see the flowers that she and many garden bloggers across the world have brightened their houses with today.

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February blues (browns)

Despite the title of this post, I don’t mind February at all. It’s a short and snappy month, the days are getting longer, there are lots of interesting jobs to get on with in the garden (tidying up, admiring snowdrops and hellebores, pruning clematis and so forth) and we always manage to get away to the Highlands for a few days—one of the highlights of my year.

But when it comes to finding something for Cathy’s In a Vase on Monday, I am all out of ideas. Actually I have been out of ideas since the New Year. I don’t want a house full of dead sticks any more. I am bored to tears of dried flower heads. And though these pruned-off Hydrangea petiolaris are delicate and pretty in their subdued, monochrome way, I am longing for some colour to bring sweetness and light to our sitting room.

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Whilst I am game for living in the moment and am certainly not wishing my life to be sped up like a video tape, fast-forwarding through the boring bits until we get to the part with the lovely, joyful, colourful spring blooms, my mind can’t help but drift away to images of hazy summer days filled with cornflowers and ammi. And I know many of you are feeling the same: when I posted a picture of a single bloom of last summer’s Ammi visagna on my Instagram yesterday morning, it almost broke the internet.

So here, in lieu of spring, are some origami tulips to brighten your Monday.

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In other news, Edinburgh Garden Diary was selected as one of ‘Twelve Tremendous Gardening Blogs‘ by the kind people at Waltons. Do visit their page and take a look at some of the other wonderful blogs that they featured.

In the Garden: January

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Hasn’t it been a confusing month! While gardeners in some parts of the country have complained of the bitter cold and the lateness of their bulbs, those in other parts have been basking in clement, agreeable, if not exactly seasonable, weather. Here in Edinburgh, I am not sure what to make of the alternating balmy days of 11 or 12 degrees, and the frozen days of one or two below zero. But my bulbs are appearing just as they should, with Galanthus nivalis, the common snowdrop, already flowering in some of the more sheltered spots.

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Looking good

The mild days have brought on some unseasonable growth from all sorts of plants besides the bulbs. Here are the brand new leaves, good enough almost to eat, of my Acanthus mollis. (As you can see, these clement days have also brought out the molluscs from hibernation.)

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New buds are appearing on the honeysuckle beside the front door and the Hydrangea petiolaris:

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And the raindrops look especially becoming on new foliage of Aquilegia:

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The Scarcococca flowered briefly, and quickly produced its shining berries:

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And the seedheads of the hostas are providing elegant hidey-houses for overwintering insects:

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But the stars of the garden are the hellebores:

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Helleborus ‘Winter Bells’
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Helleborus argutifolius

Jobs

1)  I have no greenhouse, and there is no room in the cold frame for tender plants, so I have wrapped hessian protection around my potted pelargoniums and alstromeria to ward off the worst of the frosts.

2) To prevent blackspot, last year’s hellebore leaves can be cut back and composted, allowing the new buds to shine through.

3) Squirrels just love to nip off the buds of emerging bulbs, and I have already found buds of my Iris ‘George’ on the ground. I like to paint on an unappetising concoction of garlic and paprika or cayenne pepper (but not chilli pepper, which can be harmful to wildlife) to put the squirrels off.

4) With all of summer’s growth dead and gone, now is a wonderful time to assess the garden and make any architectural or structural adjustments. I am building an extension to the brick terrace at the back of the house, and thinking hard about which shrubs to add for winter interest and structure.

5) I do not keep the garden too tidy, as a scruffy garden is best for wildlife, and though the jury is out on tidying up dead leaves, I err on the side of messy and leave them where they lie. However, where they are lying too thickly or have formed a mat over new growth, it is good to tidy up the leaves, and any dead or rotting stems that are not providing winter interest.

6) Having tidied up the garden and planned the garden’s permanent structure, now is also an excellent time to order seed for the coming year and make a sowing plan. I have ordered cornflowers, ammi, and sweetpeas, and will start sowing in early to mid February.

7) This is almost the last chance to trim hedges before birds start nesting. In the UK, it is illegal to cut a hedge that might contain nesting birds, which is usually from early spring until mid to late summer.

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January garden view

The following photos show views of the front garden in mid-January, as the first bulbs were emerging from both ground and pots.

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And a view of the back garden, which is still something of a building site, so I have cropped in close!

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So that is it for January, and not a moment too soon, some might say. Things start ramping up in February, with snowdrops and irises in full bloom, and pots just bursting with emerging bulbs. Which jobs have you been getting up to in the garden this month, and what have been your favourite sights?

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First sight of bulbs

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The best thing about January is seeing the first green tips of bulbs appearing through the bare earth. I could spend hours crouching down, scanning for a sight of these precious tiny signs of the year ahead. It makes the hard work of planting them all even more worthwhile.

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Can you spot the bulb?

What with the short days and being so busy during December, this weekend was the first weekend I saw the garden in daylight. At first I could see only a handful of eager muscari (always the first to show, months before flowering). Where were my snowdrops? Had they been eaten? It took some time for my eyes to adjust, and then I started spotting them everywhere, their tiny white heads so desperate to open before half-way out of the ground.

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Snowdrops

My faithful Iris ‘George’ has also come up again, for the third year running. I wonder if they have multiplied?

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Iris ‘George’

Watching the first bulbs appear in January is just about my favourite gardening thing. What’s yours?

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Jolly Christmas vases

Just a very brief post to wish everyone a very merry Christmas! I do hope you are all relaxing after the joy and chaos of Christmas day.

In a Vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden and I do recommend visiting her page to see her Monday vase as well as links to other vases made by garden bloggers across the world today.

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In the garden: December

What with low light levels, compressed daylight hours, and frantic Christmas preparations, December is usually my month off in the garden. However, I still always find time to observe and appreciate the garden, take notice of the few plants that have made a special effort to bring prettiness to a scene that is otherwise bleak, and take some photographs so that I can continue to appreciate the changes, however subtle they might be at this time of year.

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Jobs

What – you mean you don’t have enough jobs indoors at this time of year? Then pour yourself a mulled wine and read a book by the fire, you lucky thing!

Looking Good

The three stars of this month are: my Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, quite the prettiest and most cheerful thing and I wish I had more of them; and the smokebush Cotinus ‘Dusky Maiden’, which has turned the most incredible colours, large puce and fiery coins dangling over the side of their coppery green pot; and Hydrangea ‘Limelight’, which is leafless and bare but for several of its delicate blooms.

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Every week I look anxiously for signs of bulbs pushing up, but save for some enthusiastic muscari in pots, there is no sign of anything yet.

I will leave you with my usual views (none of the back garden this month – it is in slight disarray due to the very slow terrace-building that is dragging ever on) and a couple of my pretty robin who always pops out to see what I am up to. Just photos, Mr Robin, no upturned worms for you today.

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The Midas Touch

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I found this seedhead of Allium schubertii buried under dying tulip foliage many months ago and brought it indoors to dry on the tiny cast iron radiator of my tiny office, where it has been hanging out ever since, waiting for its moment of glory.

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The warmth from the tealight rises and sets the whirligig spinning, its angels and shepherds ceaselessly circling the baby Jesus in his manger.

When you have an enormous spray can of gold paint, suddenly everything you own is in danger of death by gilding. Pretty plants – beware of this can of gold.

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These Café-au-Lait dahlias died beautifully in a jug on my bedside table. I dried them likewise on a radiator, and gave them a dusting of gold, along with some graceful crocosmia seedheads.

The man in the Marchmont Hardware Store also had silver paint for sale… it is important to support local businesses, so I bought a can of that too.

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Not all the ivy got a coating. Green ivy is one of my favourite Christmas decorations.

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In a Vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, and I do recommend visiting her page to see her vase and links to all the other vases made by garden bloggers around the world today.

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Inkpots and foraged autumnal finds

img_1626I coveted these little inkpots when I saw them on an auction site. They will make perfect bud vases during the months when buds are available, but until then I am going to use them for hedgerow snippets, short sprays of evergreens, berry-laden twigs and sprigs of holly. In a month or two, first snowdrops and then muscari will undoubtedly find their way into these darling inkpots. Is anyone else looking forward to seeing the first snowdrops as much as I am?img_1628

In a Vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, and I do recommend having a look at her page to see hers and links to all the other vases created by garden bloggers across the world today.

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