This month in the Garden – Feb 2015

Last Christmas we were invited to go to my daughters for a few days – The week before that I decided to plant 24 winter flowering Viola’s in the raised bed fronting my house. The bed in question had become overgrown with Cyclamen hederifloium, which had seeded themselves from plants growing in a six inch (15cm) wide strip of gravel between the house wall and the path fronting the house. Cyclamen hedenflolum formed a large carpet of solid corms, some exceeding six inches (15cm) in Diameter and these not only took some digging out, but also left behind large holes. Luckily, I had 20 litres of Multipurpose compost and the same amount of John Innes no.3 compost. I mixed the two composts together and spread them over the raised bed to fill the holes. This made it easy for me to plant the Viola’s, and my wife was very impressed with the bed.
When we came back from my daughters, I was shocked to see that cats had dug out most of the Viola’s and then used the area as a toilet. Therefore, I rushed to the shed to get out my trowel not only to replant them, but also to bury the dollops of cat muck. Here I must point out that within the last year instead of only having two neighbourly cats visiting my garden, I now have five and consequently the bird population seems to have diminished.
This year, just before Christmas my two foot (60cm) tall bush of Rhododendron nobleanum was in flower, its deep red flowers, although attractive, somehow look out of place in a winter garden. Incidentally, there is a group of this Rhododendron in front of the roadside church at Bardon-on-the-Hill, although it is growing in an exposed position; it seems to flower every Christmas.
Viburnum tinus is a tough, evergreen, winter flowering shrub, which if left unpruned will form a large shrub. I grow a variety of Viburnum tinus named ‘Eve Price’, which from November until March form dome shaped heads of pink flower buds that open into white flowers. I prune this Viburnum back to shape as soon as it has finished flowering. Recently on a visit to my brother Bob’s he took me around his garden to show me a newly introduced Viburnum tinus ‘Liza Rose'(pictured), which he had purchased from Goscote Nurseries. This is an outstanding variety whose red flower buds open into pink flowers – I must have one!
By mid January the main mass of my snowdrops are coming into flower and these are at their best during February and early March. Out of the thirty odd varieties I grow, four have double flowers, but these are not so strong growing as the single flowering forms, but two, ‘Dionysus’ and ‘Hippolyta’ have fully double flowers and over the 15 years I have had them they have never produced any seed.
My Sarcoccoca hookeriana ‘Purple Stem’ starts to produce its thousands of small white flowers from late January until March. This superb, low growing, evergreen shrub fills the garden with its sweet perfume, and its purple young branches add to its attraction.
Many Daphne’s can prove to be very tricky to grow, but I also grow Daphne laureola, which I sometimes curse as it will seed itself in dense shade around the garden, This is a very tough evergreen with large laurel-like leaves and its one redeeming feature is that it produces its small, greenish-yellow flowers during midwinter. I do not know what pollinates this shrub, but it produces a mass of small black berries, which the birds distribute around the garden. Daphne berries are very poisonous, so do not plant where there are very young children. People ask me why, if they are poisonous do they not kill birds? However, it is the seed that is poisonous and birds quickly pass the seed out of their rear end, so it does not have time to kill them.