A January jaunt in the shade

Contributed by Ginny Oakes

On February 3, 2017

A January jaunt in the shade? Surely that wasn’t what was planned! Stay with me and you’ll find out why.

We had invited Alistair Bayford to speak to us, at our meeting last Sunday, about the Olympic Park but, unfortunately, he was unable to come due to illness. We wish him a speedy recovery. Unperturbed, our committee came up with a devilish plan – to replace the advertised speaker with fellow member, Colin Moat. So, instead of hearing all about the Olympic Park we were taken on a jaunt, dare I say, a romp, through some shady borders in a talk called ’50 Greys of Shade’ (So much to do, so little time!). Of course, the packed house was disappointed not to hear the publicized speaker but perhaps the committee can arrange for him to come on another occasion.

And the replacement was great! “Just what we like.” “I can hardly wait to get out in the garden and get going.” “I loved that idea about raising the middle of the border.” “What was that plant you recommended and have you got one?” were just some of the remarks I overheard from a very enthusiastic audience.

Colin romped through ten bulbs, corms or roots, ten ground cover plants, ten bombproof plants, with plants needing a bit more care and attention making up the 50. However, those numbers should probably be applied to genera as there were many more individual plants mentioned than fifty. There will, of course, be a full report in the next newsletter but I’m including Colin’s plant list here on the website so you can see how many wonderful plants were included.

Digitalis ferruginea gigantea

But he also showed us plants not normally associated with shady places such as Astrantia ‘Star of Fire’, although he thought perhaps semi-shade would suit this particular plant best.

Astrantia ‘Star of Fire’

Eranthis hyemalis

He mentioned some plants usually considered to be shade loving, such as Eranthis hyemalis and Digitalis, including this unusual D. ferruginea gigantea, and the wonderful Podophyllum versipelle ‘Spotty Dotty’, seen in the image at the top of the page, the flowers of which are hidden beneath the leaves.

Podophyllum versipelle ‘Spotty Dotty’

This cultivar is one of many being developed to have more and bigger flowers of good colour and Colin advised that those with ‘Star’ in their name were the ones to look out for.

This is just a taste of all the information and advice contained in ’50 Greys of Shade’. Thank you, Colin. We all really enjoyed your talk.

But that wasn’t all!

The plant sales table was very well stocked for the end of January and many members went home with treasures for their gardens or to grow in pots. Some lovely plants of Geranium sidoides caught my eye and, of course, some very nice snowdrops. I have to admit I was thrilled to acquire a particular one that I’ve wanted for ages. Thank you to the members who brought such good plants for the rest of us to buy.

As usual at our meetings we also had a plant display, which in the depths of winter is very welcome. Perfume was provided by Viburnum bodnantense, Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’, Mahonia ‘Charity’, Hammamelis and Sarcococca hookeriana. Coloured stems of Cornus and Rubus showed how useful they are in the winter garden as did stems of two grasses, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ferner Osten’ and M. nepalensis. Nearly into February and grasses are still standing strong, providing a subtle colour and form amongst the evergreens and bare branches.

Hellebores are not really showing their colour yet but we had Helleborus x ericsmithii ‘Molly’s White’ and, one that took everyone’s eye, H. ‘Silver Dollar’ with silvery-green leaves and purple-flushed stems. There will be quite a few people looking for that plant to add to their collection.

There were also some small single camellias, which had somehow survived the long cold spell we’ve had recently, and another much admired plant, Correa alba ‘Pinkie’. This evergreen shrub grows to about 1metre and has greyish green foliage and small, starry, upward-facing flowers, which are, as the name suggests, tinged with pink.

Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna

I can’t end without mentioning snowdrops. We had a few on the display, Galanthus ‘Dionysus’, a Greatorex double, and two seedlings of G. alpinus. These were grown by Anne Smith from seed collected by Tom Mitchell in Georgia and, although not as obviously exciting as snowdrop cultivars, they are very interesting. The thrill and enjoyment of growing something from seed, especially when it has an unusual provenance, is difficult to explain or evaluate but I hope these two little seedlings, which are quite different from one another, go on to thrive and provide interest and pleasure to anyone who sees them and hears their story.

Galanthus reginae-olgae subsp. vernalis ‘Christine’

I also took along a few flowers of G. ‘Christine’, which I had from David Way under that name as an early-flowering snowdrop. This it certainly is but now I come to look it up in the books, I find it is called Galanthus reginae-olgae subsp. vernalis ‘Christine’! I recognize the reginae-olgae bit from the snowdrop we had in flower at our Christmas party in the middle of December and understand why it might be an early flowerer. The flower shape is, apparently, characteristic of the species but is of better substance than usual. I also read that it was named by Christopher Grey-Wilson for his wife and originated in his mother’s garden, where it had been known as far back as 1970 or before. To me that makes my clump of snowdrops interesting and a bit special now I know a little of their history.

If you’d like some information about species snowdrops, Tom Mitchell’s website is well worth a look.


Thank you to everyone who brought their plants to share with us all.


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