This cold winter has been a shock and I wouldn’t be surpised if there’s yet more snow to come. Even now there is some lying in a large patch behind a nearby hedge reminding me of the old country saying that if the snow lies more will come to take it away. The meltwater soaking into my already sodden clay soil means that it is going to take a long while to warm up in spring, so expect a late season, unless the weather performs yet another unpredictable turn and we have a hot dry spring!
It is always a joy when the snowdrops appear, it’s a reminder that spring is not too far away. I have a small clump under a deciduous viburnum, which is increasing year by year. Snowdrops spontaneously produce variation, something that keen ‘galanthophiles’ (the name coined for enthusiastic snowdrop collectors) look out for and many have been introduced into cultivation this way. Some rarer varieties can be very expensive – one was recently sold on ebay for £150, so they are passionate about their plants. One of the best for the garden, is ‘S.Arnott’ with large leaves and flowers, though our native snowdrop Galanthus nivalis is hard to beat. Snowdrops start flowering in September with Galanthus reginae-olgae and its cultivars flowering into November, followed by the early Galanthus elwesii before Christmas. The display peaks in February, the last to flower, usually in late March, are Galanthus nivalis ‘Green Ibis’ or ‘Greenish’. They pose perfectly alongside other small bulbs like cerise flowered Cyclamen coum, Winter Aconite’s and lavender Crocus tommasinianus as companions. I’m looking forward to a visit to the winter garden at Cambridge University Botanical Garden, early this month. It boasts a fine collection of plants for winter interest, from the coloured stems of Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’, slender stems appear deep green, on dull days. Spot lit by the sun they are and backlit they become almost lime; frost highlights their architectural qualities and when it melts or they are wet, the intensity of the colour increases. There are plenty of fragrant plants too, like Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Charles Lamont’, with the largest flower clusters of any of the winter flowering Viburnum’s and pink-purple Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ and the waxy, yellow flowered, Lonicera x purpusii whose fragrances are one of winter’s greatest pleasures.
In the greenhouse it is a good time to buy plug plants of flowers and vegetables, saving time for propagation and reducing your energy costs, it is also time to sprout (or chit) new potatoes. Put them in a tray or egg box with the ‘rose’ end, where all the buds are, at the top, keep them at about 45F and after 4-5 weeks the shoots should be about 2” long and ready to plant out when the soil warms up, just before the last frosts. Keep sheets of newspaper or horticultural fleece close at hand and listen to the weather bulletin’s and cover the young shoots, if sudden late frosts are forecast. Wisteria’s need pruning towards the end of the month, too; side shoots, shortened to six buds in late summer last year, should now be cut back to two buds. While you are outside, firm any newly planted trees or shrubs that have been lifted by the frost. Happy gardening!