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Last Month in My Garden, February 2017

February 1st was sunny and relatively warm – very different from the day before and a promise of spring. Unfortunately, the HPS Anniversary Open Day did not have the same weather but was cold, so that the snowdrops did not open. (The following day was fine!) It has been a changeable month but, overall, not bad and without the rain that gives the traditional name “February fill-dyke”. Is this a symptom of global-warming and will it lead to water-shortages later?

The day after my Open Day


My Great Garden Clearance continued, removing thick carpets of moss from the borders. On three occasions, I uncovered a Common Newt, lying upside-down so that its yellowish-orange underside was uppermost. Each time I recovered them carefully. It was disappointing to realise that two areas which used to contain several different varieties of snowdrop now have very few. The survivors are on the fringes of the herbaceous planting which suggests that others have been unable to tolerate the dense shade and root-competition. At one time I started to plant duplicate clumps in different places and I should aim to do more this year because I have completely lost at least one variety. Another, that I had thought lost, rewarded me with a single leaf. When snowdrop bulbs apparently die, they must sometimes leave a small piece of healthy bulb because it is not uncommon for a plant to reappear some years later.

The border I started to plant last spring, below trees, still looks very new and sparse but each success brings pleasure. Cyclamen coum have been colourful all month and, although by no means the carpet I am hoping for in the future, are visible across the garden. All the snowdrops planted in that bed have reappeared and ‘Quatrefoil’ has stood out proudly. (It has four outer petals instead of three.) Sadly, the arums have not appeared and I wonder if they have been eaten; about twenty years ago I tried to establish arums in another part of the garden and had to resort to wrapping the tubers in chicken-wire. I have just started to plant up the next new area and have put in arums but kept back some plants for potting because, if the voles/mice eat them, I shall probably not be able to replace them. I could plant them in pond-baskets but it is not easy to make large enough holes between the tree roots. Eranthis have been another disappointment: I put in a few different varieties but ‘Grünling’ only has come up and has not flowered. However, hellebores are looking healthy and promise flowers next month; a paeony is showing fat buds and Pulmonaria ‘Mrs. Kittle’ opened its first flower at the end of the month. The photo shows the 2016 border with the newest planting (on ground cleared several months ago) in the distance. It can be compared to sunnier parts of the garden where hellebores are in full bloom.

Helleborus x hybridus

New borders

Cornus mas

Cornus mas showed a yellow glow by the third week of the month and was in flower a week later. My multi-stemmed shrub is approximately 4 m high and 6 m wide (after thirty years); it has been pruned occasionally to prevent it becoming wider. It has two seasons of interest, because the autumn colour is also good, and I am happy with it. However, many consider that Cornus officinalis makes a better-shaped plant (with a single trunk) and the form ‘Kintoki’AGM has particularly good flowers.

Erica carnea

Late February

Heathers are unfashionable but winter heathers can provide welcome colour. My soil does not suit summer-flowering varieties (which need acid soil) but plants of Erica carnea have proved long-lived; they echo the colours of some hellebores and I like to see colours repeated at intervals across the garden. I am one of a small group of HPS members who have been studying the C18 plant collection of the 6th Earl of Coventry (at Croome Court) and E. carnea now has extra appeal because it was first introduced to Britain by the Earl.

Posted by Margaret Stone

Vist Margaret's garden on one of the NGS open days.

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