Gossip and glee: first blooms!

Many of you will know that I write a monthly column called “Get Out!” for the Millbrook Times. However for my first contribution to Gossip and Glee I’m going to write about what’s in bloom in my garden. I decided that instead of writing about the joys of nature, I would focus on early spring colour in the garden because during this dark time of Coronavirus we all need some colour, and the Times publishes this week and I didn’t think you’d want a double dose of wildlife. 

The first bloom in my garden is almost always snowdrops. I’m a sucker for all kinds of galanthus! On the heels of the first patches of snowdrops I spotted a single crocus brightening my garden. Sadly chipmunks love my patches of crocus and so the patches disappear. This single crocus in bloom may have been moved by a chipmunk or I may have inadvertently dug some up and moved the soil. Oh how I’d love drifts! This crocus is probably one of the species, Crocus tommasinianus, I think. 

I hope you all have at least a few of the early bulbous iris, Iris reticulata. In a south-facing garden I have a clump of ‘Eye Catcher’ in full bloom. Most of this type of iris are fragrant on top of being colourful. ‘Eye Catcher’ and a good number of other named hybrids are the work of a Canadian plant breeder, Alan McMurtrie. He has been hybridizing Iris reticulata or reticulate iris for more than 30 years. One of the real pluses of his hybrids is that they multiply well. This was a problem with the older varieties. A yellow species in particular, Iris danfordiae, was notorious for disappearing after a couple of years. We all know that disappointment; but it’s nice to know now that it wasn’t our fault.

Iris reticulata Eye Catcher

My neighbour has a Helleborus niger, Christmas Rose, in full bloom. Mine are in bud, except for the largest plant that is still covered by a snowdrift. Obviously I wasn’t thinking when I sited this plant. True it’s right by a path where it can be easily seen; but it’s also where I put a lot of snow when I’m shovelling and build up quite a pile. The common name, Christmas Rose, and the related purple species, Helleborus x hybridus, the Lenten Rose, were obviously named by Brits because their names don’t correspond to our blooming seasons.

I’ve crowed about my Daphne mezereum before. This early blooming, fragrant small shrub is optimistically called “February Daphne”. I love it and like any parent I am proud that my plants come from seed I collected myself in north-east Italy. It has just begun to come into bloom. For some reason the early blooms this year are washed out in colour. But fragrance at this time of year is much appreciated, so I’m not too devastated by the wishy-washy colour.

Daphne mezereum

One other woody plant should be in bloom soon. Cornus mas or Cornelian Cherry is a non-native early blooming shrub or small tree. The blooms are yellow balls of small blossoms. I much prefer it to forsythia. Interestingly in late November when I could finally clean my eavestroughing of leaves I realized I needed to hack branches off my shrubs in order to position the ladder. I decided to try forcing some branches into blooming indoors. I thought it wouldn’t work because I supposed they would need a longer chilling period. Surprise! They bloomed beautifully!

For those interested in alpine/rock garden plants, one of my drabas is just coming into bloom. This is a genus of cushion or bun-shaped plants generally sporting small heads of yellow bloom early in the spring.

The next colour in my garden should be Chionodoxa or Glory of the Snow, followed soon after by the earliest daffodils or narcissus. But in the meantime I often meet my need for colour by looking at the following Internet site. The Scottish Rock Garden Society is world famous. One of its members (and yes, indeed, a Scot) has been keeping a weekly photo record of his garden for over a decade. It will please you and at the same time make you wildly jealous. Check out Ian Young’s Bulb Log Diary

For those gardeners relatively new to this masochistic hobby, don’t be surprised if you experience this: some of your treasures appear from under the snow looking fresh and very much alive yet soon they wilt, brown and simply rot away. This sadly is something most of us have gone through. Many plants seem fine protected by snow, but then the winds, sun and the spring cycle of freeze/thaw seem too much for them. Interestingly it seems very young plants and very old plants are particularly susceptible.

Best wishes to everyone. Stay well. Enjoy the spring.

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