I hope I’m not going too far with the alliteration but it was a very jolly meeting last Sunday. There was a really lovely friendly atmosphere with lots of members doing what they enjoy doing most – talking about plants.

Tim Ingram inspired us to get out in the garden to appreciate our winter plants and plan how we could make future winters even better. He showed us not only snowdrops and hellebores but other plants that grow with them and, very importantly, what we might plant to come after them later in the spring and summer.

The plant sales table was positively heaving, which at this time of year was amazing. Of course there were quite a lot of snowdrops and that’s what drew my attention. Last year we saw Galanthus elwesii var. elwesii ‘Big Boy’, which has flowers up to 48mm long but is not very tall. This year it was another giant that was attracting people’s comments – G. elwesii ‘Yvonne Hay’. Her flowers are not enormous but open wide in warmth to show a strong heart-shaped mark on the inner segments. However, the leaves are very wide and the plant grows to about 37cm so I  will have to find a suitable place where her stature can be appreciated, perhaps alongside a more diminutive snowdrop like G. nivalis ‘Angelique’. This one has delicate flowers, which are almost poculiform, the inner segments only slightly shorter than the outer and with two small green spots at the apex. It only grows to about 14cm – a little gem! I hope that many others of you went home with some treasure.

The plant display was also well supported. Two members brought arrangements of a selection of plants from their gardens.  There were Lonicera ‘Winter Beauty’, viburnum in two varieties, Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ and V. tinus ‘Eve Price, daphne and Sarcococca hookeriana in two varieties, S.h. var humilis and S.h. var digyna, so you can imagine the perfume that assailed the nostrils of anyone approaching the display.

Colour was provided by some beautiful camelias, cornus stems, including Cornus ‘Winter Beauty’, Anemone coronaria De Caen Group and hellebores. Ivy berries and Ribes laurifolium added a more subtle tone but it was Fuchsia ‘Lottie Hobby’ that won lots of hearts and its name was scribbled down many times. This is a half-hardy variety with very small, extremely pretty, dark pink, single flowers. It is very free-flowering and has an upright, bushy habit, reaching a height of 60-90 cm.

Other members contributed the tiny Iris ‘Eye Catcher’ (Reticulata) with flowers in a mixture of yellow and shades of blue, and Eranthis hyemalis ‘Orange Glow’, which its owner admitted didn’t have much of an orange glow. I wondered if it had read the label, which said ‘NOT A SNOWDROP’, taken umbridge and decided not to glow!

But, of course there were a few snowdrops – it was the end of January! One of my favourites, Galanthus ‘Dionysus’, is quite distinctive and catches the eye whether on a display or in the garden. A member admired it and when I told him there were some on the plant sale he hot-footed it to see if there were any left. He soon returned triumphant. I always think it’s really nice to go home with a plant you’ve seen and liked – very satisfying.

Another snowdrop that makes a bold statement in the garden is G. plicatus ‘Augustus’. Named for E.A. Bowles it has chubby, puckered flowers complemented by short, broad leaves.

Galanthus plicatus ‘Augustus’
Galanthus ‘Dionysus’

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Barmstedt Gold’

However, it was a stem of willow that caused the biggest stir among members. Salix gracilistyla ‘Mount Aso’ has the most amazing red catkins and we were all imagining how fabulous it would look in the garden at this time of year. It was unknown to most of us although one member said she had seen it in a flower bouquet and it was, in fact, selected in Japan for the cut-flower trade and named after the largest active volcano in the country. Vermont Willow Nursery has a lot of information and photos on their website. It looks to be a fabulous plant and I have no doubt we’ll all be looking out for it.

Thank you to all the members who took so much trouble to bring something to share with us – it adds such a lot to our events, we all learn a lot, mainly from talking to other members about the plants on the display, and thoroughly enjoy the lovely plants.

As always, members finished the afternoon with delicious tea and cake whilst chatting with friends.

And now we can look forward to our next meeting in February. I do hope there are still some snowdrops flowering – let’s see how many different ones we can gather this year. Hellebores should be at their best so see if you can bear to cut some to bring along. And anything else to go with them – evergreens, winter-flowerers or the first signs of spring – all will be welcome.

I look forward to seeing you there.

Members also admired a plant with small, pointed, dark purple evergreen leaves and, unusually for the time of year, small pale mauve flowers. The label said strobilanthes, which was a surprise. The only one I know and grow is Strobilanthes wallichii, which is a nettle-leaved perennial that I cut to the ground in autumn or winter when it loses its leaves – a very different kettle of fish from the plant before us. As usual the internet came to the rescue. Strobilanthes is a genus of about 350 species in the family Acanthaceae, many native to tropical Asia and Madagascar, but with some species coming from temperate regions of Asia. Most are frost-tender and require protection in frost-prone areas and the plant we had, S. anisophyllus, is one of these, needing a minimum of 12°C. At 1 to 2 m high and 75cm wide I think it would make an ideal subject to have outside in the summer and back indoors once it gets nippy.

Another injection of colour – and perfume – was provided by Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Barmstedt Gold’. Hamamelis are beautiful and fascinating shrubs and we will see a lot more of them at our February meeting when Chris Lane, who holds a National Collection comes to share his extensive knowledge with us. Find out more here.

Salix gracilistyla ‘Mount Aso’