Tiny Spiky Things

Small spiky, leafy plants with green, grey and purple leaves

Tiny carpeting plants in different colours and textures

The first picture fascinates me: the abundant, varied life; the colours and forms; how snugly these carpeting plants fit together; the apparent harmony, nothing swamping the other; how dainty they all are. I’d love to see this natural design translated into a fabric.

The second is a mystery. A fossil of some kind – a coral, though it looks too round for that, or a sea creature? Continue reading

Heyrick Greatorex: The Founding Father Of Snowdrop Breeders

Short, stocky double snowdrops in pink heather

Common Galanthus nivalis doubles growing in heather with a taller snowdrop to the right

Heyrick Greatorex, our first known snowdrop breeder, was responsible for a series of hybrids known as the Greatorex doubles. Unlike the common, bee-made, short, dumpling-style nivalis doubles, Greatorex’s doubles dangle large, skirted flowers from tall scapes. Introduced during the 1940s and 50s (Heyrick Greatorex died in 1954), their vigour has carried most of them through to today… or so we think!

Comments online suggest that Heyrick Greatorex was ‘an ordinary, untrained home gardener’, but whether you’ll accept that depends how you define ‘ordinary’. Continue reading

From The Alpine House at Harlow Carr Gardens: Ten Tiny Treasures

A small primula covered in a mound of flowers

Primula allionii

The northernmost of the Royal Horticultural Society’s gardens, Harlow Carr, has so much to see that most repeat visitors must feel torn about where to go first. Not me – the Alpine House draws me in like a magnet. It’s show time there, whatever stage of the year. The gardeners tend a stock of plants behind the scenes, picking out tiny treasures when they are at, or around, their best for their turn in the Alpine house spotlight. This week our treats included several primulas, some flowering so madly that their leaves were hidden, others wearing their leaves with pride.

Lavender coloured primula with toothed, mealy leaves

Primula ‘Tantallon’

Some of the plants in the Alpine greenhouse are inside because they need protection from cold, wind or rain; others would grow outside just fine. Common species plants are treated as carefully as rare or special cultivars, all raised up on broad, sweeping benches so we can admire them at close quarters. Plants are grown in traditional clay pots, sunk into a mixture of sand and sharp grit to help keep the roots cool and stop them drying out too quickly. Continue reading

Painterly Alstroemerias

White, yellow, pink, purple and orange flowers

I once grew a batch of the ‘ordinary’ orange alstroemerias from seed. They did well, very well, dispersing by any means at their disposal. I should have anticipated that having grown them from seed, they might continue to grow from seed by their own devices.

Modern varieties are bred to have purer colours, to be less invasive, hardier and to repeat flower more prolifically. These alstroemerias were exhibited by Alstroemeria Direct at RHS Tatton Park Flower Show.  Continue reading

Winter Walk Around Bodnant Garden in Wales

Bodnant House dwarfed by a large cedar tree

Only last week I was bemoaning the lack of a Tardis to transport me to a snow-covered Bodnant Garden, near Tal-y-Cafn, Conwy, Wales. The universe did not send me a Tardis, but it did the next best thing. A friend asked us to check out the place his family came from – Dolgellau – and Bodnant just happened to be on our way home.

While the snow in the garden had long gone, heavy white shawls on the Snowdonia mountain range opposite gave Bodnant a wintry feeling. The 130 acres of garden give plenty of scope for walking: you really need some form of season ticket* to make the most of it all.

Yellow witch hazel in a garden with tall grasses, dogwoods and heather

We headed for the winter garden, one of several favourite places at Bodnant, created by clearing azaleas from a neglected hillside rockery. The stems of rubus, cornus, Betula utlis and Prunus serrula provide architecture while witch hazel’s spidery yellow flowers hang eerily in the air. Tall grasses make the most of the light, with spreading plants such as heather, cyclamen, hellebores and irises scattered below.

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Where to See Snowdrops In Lancashire In 2019

Snowdrops with long outer petals

February is snowdrop month for much of the UK. I’ve gathered a list of places you can see snowdrops this month in my home county, Lancashire, with details of their snowdrop open days. If you’re planning to take close up pictures, go sooner rather than later to catch them at their freshest.

For those who live elsewhere in Britain, I’ve added a link at the bottom for you to research local gardens with good collections of snowdrops.  Continue reading

In Praise Of Winter Gardens, Plus A Tip Or Two

Wooden bench amongst winter plants and grasses

Bodnant Garden’s colourful winter garden

I’m a big fan of winter gardens that make the most of plants that look good when herbaceous borders are expanses of mulch-covered dirt. Trees with white trunks such as this Betula utilis var jacquemontii (Himalayan birch) often feature, together with evergreens, light-reflecting grasses, red stemmed Cornus (dogwood), Skimmia, Hamamelis (witch hazel), flowering heather, hellebores, Bergenia, Cyclamen and winter flowering bulbs.

Plants like this seem to shrug off winter weather, but the current cold spell means that the hardiness of plants of all types is being tested in many UK and American gardens.

Some gardeners go to great lengths to keep tender plants alive, wrapping their pots up, covering them with some form of plant blanket, or moving them indoors. Others will only plant what grows. Many of us are somewhere in-between, willing to offer our plant treasures a helping hand if conditions are unusually bad, provided we know what to do.

Overhead view of a pot protected from the frost

A pot of bulbs wrapped in burlap, with a double layer of netting to deter squirrels

Continue reading