This Month in the Garden (February 2021) with Derek Cox

During December I was pruning a number of shrubs in one of the borders at Syston railway station and one of these was a large evergreen Elaeagnus x Ebbingei, which although planted as a two feet (60cm) tall pot grown plant four years ago had attained the height of seven feet (2.1m) by eight feet (2.4m) in diameter and the lower branches were hanging over the small shrubs in front so had to be removed.

This is a superb shrub for a larger border having leaves which are green on the upper surface and silver on the underside. During October and November this shrub produces numerous tiny white flowers that are often partly hidden by the foliage, but these give off such a sweet fragrance that always makes me feel winter is a long way off.

As with all late summer and autumn flowering shrubs, pruning is best carried out between April and early June, if pruned during the late summer you will be removing the current year’s growth on which the flowers are borne.

Incidentally when the housing estate was built in the fields at the rear of my house the landscapers planted a hedge of x Ebbingei between the new houses and the public footpath between our gardens, I often wonder how the residents of these gardens manage to control this shrub as it has to be pruned and not clipped. Hedge trimmers will leave the existing cut leaves with brown edges. Sarcoccoca hookeriana ‘Purple Stem’ is a low growing compact evergreen which also produces small white highly fragrant flower during late January and February. This has the added attraction of having purple young branches.

I have mentioned in the past of my love of snowdrops and although I have 30 different varieties in my borders, if I had room I would plant more. As I write this many are in flower and seed themselves beneath trees and large shrubs throughout my garden.

Galanthus is the botanical name for snowdrop and one of my favourites, and the easiest to grow is ‘Atkinsii’ which produces its drooping white flowers on 12 inch (30cm) stems.

The foliage of my bluebells was already six inches (5cm) high during January and this makes me wonder will the flowers be produced much earlier than usual. It must be 40 years ago when broadcasting Central Television ‘Gardening Time’ from Ashwood Nurseries Kingswinford West Midlands that I purchased 10 different Ashwood hybrid Helleborus. These have now seeded throughout my garden mainly in the shade of trees and large shrubs, so now I have hundreds of plants that show their buds during late January and produce their white, yellow, pink, red and deep purple flowers during February, March and early April. Many are beautifully spotted with purple or black.

During December we decided that a few winter flowering pansies would brighten up the front of a border, so we went to a number of nurseries and garden centres only to find they were sold out. However, on our meanders we popped into Derry’s Nursery in Cossington to have a chat with my old friend Allan Dayman, who then told me he had stands full of pansies. I purchased two large trays which I planted and now they are giving me winter attraction.

As I walked down a path I also spotted some plants of Callicarpa bodinieri ‘Profusion’ that were massed with blue berries. I first saw this medium sized deciduous shrub growing in a bed at Kew gardens and thought I must have one. Having purchased it I am now in a quandary as to where to plant it.

The week prior to Christmas I received a well packed box from Pomona Fruits and this contained two plants of Malus ‘Laura’. One was a free replacement for my niece Kate and the other a Christmas box for my daughter Louise. On Christmas day Louise’s husband James and myself planted ‘Laura’ in a small bed in their garden.