A reminder that if you have any comments, observations etc on any of the articles here, you can add them to the comments box at the bottom of this page. Comments will be uploaded automatically, but will only appear on the website after I have moderated them. As the website is open to anyone with internet accesss, this avoids inappropriate or malicious comments being posted – which unfortunately does happen!
Bob Dyer, Website Manager
A useful plant, but not everyone’s cup of tea – Ficaria verna “Brazen Hussey”
I bought this plant on a visit to Great Dixter well over 25 years ago, when it was inroduced to the market by Christopher Lloyd. Being a lesser celandine it’s one of those plants that once you’ve got it, you’ve got it forever.
The great thing about it is it appears in late Winter/very early Spring bearing its shiny yellow flowers, but its beautiful bronze foliage blends in especially with bark mulch, making the plant much less obtrusive than the nuisance native form, and by early Summer it’s gone without trace until the following year.
Bob Dyer 09/04/21
A selection of my favourite flowering plants in my garden at the moment – from Annie Francis-Fisher.
The Viburnum carlesii ‘Diana’ is a beautiful shrub covered with the most glorious, fragrant flowers. I think I might move it closer to the house in the autumn, then I can enjoy the fabulous fragrance.
The Fritillaria imperialis come back faithfully every year, which is amazing considering they’re at the base of an almond tree, and they’re planted under a thick layer of gravel!
The Prunus incisa kojo-no-mai is one of the first plants to flower every year. It just keeps giving, covered in an abundance of very pretty flowers. I’m sure it used to be fragrant but it’s not this year?
I found this pot of yellow freesias at the back of my mother’s greenhouse last autumn. She had recently passed away, but had left a label so I knew something would eventually appear!
Annie Francis-Fisher 07/04/21
Clematis ‘Fairy’. What a difference a year makes – from Mike Brett
About five years ago we planted a New Zealand hybrid Clematis at the back of a raised bed to somewhat cover a garage wall. We were told when we acquired the plant about thirty years ago that it was probably a cross between C. marmoraria and foetida called C. ‘Fairy’ and when we moved house we took a cutting with us.
The young plant performed well, flowering each year and slowly increasing in stature to about 2m tall until last spring when it was magnificent, producing, we estimated, in excess of ten thousand small cream flowers over several weeks from mid-April. In previous years when we had been able to open the garden for the NGS, flowering had been quite impressive and visitors virtually demanded that I get propagating, but Lockdown prevented anyone appreciating the exceptional display in 2020.
This spring will be quite different. The mild winter had brought on leaf growth and flower buds well ahead of usual and we expected flowering to be earlier this year. However, towards the end of February we had a particularly cold week with heavy frosts that devastated the precocious growth and killed off all flower buds and, although the plant has survived, all the buds were destroyed. We will almost certainly not see a single flower this year.
I am glad that several cuttings were taken as insurance as although this Clematis is quite hardy, it is not bullet-proof.
Mike Brett 27/03/21
Contribution from Gaynor Burrowes:
Stachyurus chinensis “Magpie” 17/03/21
The Stachyurus is one of my favourite spring plants in the garden. It is an attractive shrub with gorgeous racemes of pale yellow bell shaped flowers that appear in late March to early April and is a magnet for the bumblebees. The leaves appear later. My deciduous shrub is about 30 years old now but still going strong. It’s about 8ft tall and wide! In doing some research I found out that mine was a chinensis not a praecox as the chinensis has longer racemes and about 25 to 30 flowers rather than 12 to 18. It is related to the Hazel. Although they are both lovely plants they don’t seem to be widely planted. This may be because in the past it has been said that they require an acidic soil. It is thriving in my neutral to chalky soil, flowers every year (even after the beast from the east) and is completely undemanding. The one in my garden is the variegated “Magpie“ and has been planted in a slight shady situation. I have been told that they are not long lived so I shall have to research how to propagate it because I wouldn’t want to be without one in the garden.
Hellebores, from Paul Ingleton: 10/03/21
Why are we constantly told to weed out self-sown hellebore seedlings because they will be inferior to the parent plants? The picture below shows some self-sown plants. I didn’t sow or plant them and I’ve no idea of their parentage. These are ‘inferior’ offspring but I love them for their delicate, rather more wild and uncomplicated looks. Unlike other hybrids I have bought and lost, these are as tough as old boots, flower reliably and profusely every year and are happy in a deeply shaded corner. The flowers look charming floating in a shallow bowl of water with a few ivy leaves and, because they are so plentiful, you can pick them as much as you want.
Want to know more about which ones are clumpers and which ones are runners (invasive)? Want to know which ones make a good screen? Here are a couple of links to very good guides from Bamboo expert Helen Chen’s website:
Bob Dyer 09/03/21
This is Gladiolus Illyricus flowering away at the moment in a pot in my heated (7°C max) greenhouse. Or should I say I’m pretty certain it’s G. illyricus!
It’s easily confused with G. byzantinus and G. italicus, both of which I have growing in my garden here in Maidstone.
The reason I can’t be 100% certain of its identity is because, whereas I obtained G. byzantinus and G. italicus from reputable bulb specialists here in the UK, I rescued the G. Illyricus from the Alicante region of Spain several years ago, where it was flowering freely on a waste plot adjacent to my friend’s villa – with the bulldozers waiting to move in. The waste ground is now no longer waste ground, but is the site of another villa.
I collected a handful of the wild bulbs and grew them on in a large pot here at home in Kent. They are bulking up now and when I have a decent sized clump I intend dividing them a planting a small number adjacent to the other small Gladioli for comparison. It will be interesting to see if they survive.
G. illyricus is claimed to be growing in the wild here in the New Forest in the UK.
Any Gladiolus specialists on here who would like to comment? If so, please use the comments box at the very bottom of the page
PS: Bringing plant material back to the UK like this requires permission/appropriate phytosanitary certification
Bob Dyer 04/02/21
Epiphyllum Bruno Forster:
I bought this plant as a non-rooted cutting (along with some others) by mail order from The Netherlands about 5 years ago. This is the first time it has flowered. I grow it in bright light, but not direct sunlight, in a hanging pot
Bob Dyer 02/03/21
A cautionary tale from Mike Brett:
Vinca difformis ‘Jenny Pym’ – a pretty flowered thug
We acquired this wolf in sheep’s clothing about three years ago during a garden visit where it was for sale at a very reasonable price on the sales table.
It was planted in a dryish shady spot in our heavy clay soil and it almost immediately duplicated itself close by. Perhaps that should have been a warning to us but we moved the new piece to another shady part of the garden and, sometime later, doubled the invasive tendencies of this plant.
The flowers are a very nice pinkish-purple with a white centre and are plentiful over a very long period. However, in no time thin runners of up to about six foot were being sent in all directions, rooting wherever they touched ground often beside or in the middle of nicer plants that it tries to overpower. Each plant produces numerous runners and the runners produce further runners ad infinitum. Controlling the new plants is easy enough when not muddled up with other plants though time consuming but, once it travels into next door’s garden, you can be sure it will return. Youngsters are very easily potted up.
This plant is an excellent rampaging ground cover subject but perhaps should be confined to its own isolated bed or a hanging basket! We now think of it as a weed.
Why it is sold by well-respected outlets at eye-watering prices without a warning, is hard to say, but perhaps we could all think of other plants in a similar bracket.
Mike Brett 25/02/21
After the arctic conditions of only a week ago, gardens are rapidly coming back to life as temperatures rise and the sun shines. Here are a few plants looking good in my garden at the moment, with the snowdrops finally opening and looking their best. It’s not all snowdrops, though.
Karin Proudfoot. 20/02/21
For those who participated in Helen Picton’s Zoom talk on Michaelmas Daisies/Asters/Symphyotrichum on 31/01/21, here is the comprehensive list of plants that she discussed, kindly compiled by Mike Belton:
The main groups she described are as follows.
‘Margaret Ballard’: from 1956 but still the cleanest, clearest lavender blue.
‘Rosebud’: about 30cm tall, sugar pink buttons.
‘Little Man in Blue’: lavender-blue, 35cm, resilient.
‘Apollo’: 14ins, very good white with a long season; Helen Picton thinks because it carries new buds below those in flower so they are protected from the weather.
‘Winston S. Churchill’: 80cm, purple red but problematic for mildew; better choice is Rufus: purple-red, 90cm.
‘Lassie’ (100cm, pale rosy pink) and ‘Blauglut’ (90cm, light violet), both have a long season.
‘Autumn Rose’: up to 120cm, rich mauve pink
‘Anita Ballard’: pale lavender blue, up to 125cm, likely to need support, from early September.
‘Dietgard’: 35cm, purple-pink flowers in October, perfect for a dome of colour in a 7.5-litre pot.
Height range of this group 90cm to 2m, mildew resistant.
‘Andenken an Alma Potschke’: 90cm, brilliant dark pink, 1970’s style.
‘St. Michael’s’: 120cm, large purple blue, very weatherproof.
‘Purple Dome’: exceptional for group because small, 45cm. Excellent in a really sunny spot.
There is a pink sport of ‘Purple Dome’.
Symphyotrichum lateriflorum var. horizontale: statuesque shape with tiny starlike flowers with prominent red bosses, good dark stems and foliage.
Symphyotrichum ‘Little Carlow’: 120cm, splendid blue flowers, from late September.
Symphyotrichum ‘Prairie Purple’: 130cm, small purple, from September, offspring of ‘Little Carlow’
Symphyotrichum ericoides var. prostratum ‘Snow Flurry’: small white flowers with prostrate habit that looks good cascading over a wall or rocks.
Large flowers from August to October. Several named types, including:
‘King George’: 60cm, large purple blue
‘Rosa Erfullung’: 60cm, pale purple pink.
The link below will take you to Helen’s Old Court Nurseries website:
An article from Zoe Rollings-Mathews:
My garden is full of flowers which I have bought at the Hardy Plant Society’s stall before the cup of tea and lovely Lemon Drizzle cake, but that was over two years ago.
The last two plants I bought there were rare. One was labelled Anemone Purple and was already a foot tall. The other rare plant was also tall, not labelled but looked like a lily.
I proudly put them into my greenhouse where they grew even taller so I placed the one marked “Anemone” close to the house still in its pot. I asked any garden minded friend if they recognised it, and one suggested a Peony. Then a bud appeared and a lovely purple/red flower which looked like a dahlia but the outer petals had a cluster of small petals in the centre. It was not an anemone I was sure, nor did it look like a dahlia, then it never stopped flowering. In the next issue of the Illustrated Garden magazine there were pictures of dahlias plus the “rare purple”. When it was time to plant it out I discovered the root was a dahlia tuber, but which one ?
This year another plant catalogue had a page of dahlias and there were five dahlias called “Powder Puff” all in different colours. Within a few weeks I was unpacking five good sized healthy dahlia tubers which I will keep safely until the Spring and start them off in the greenhouse.
I discovered that the “rare lily” was a Solidaster cambrica of the Golden Rod (Solidago) family.
Solidago cambrica is tall but has a big cluster of small golden flowers, a lovely plant unlike the more common Golden Rod.
This is my plant, below (top left)
Some pictures from the winter garden – by Fiona Chapman
Those little white flowers …
Snowdrops must be among the most instantly recognisable of all flowers, if only because they are in bloom at a time when there is very little else to compete with them; it has often been said that if they flowered later in the year they would go largely unnoticed. Because they flowered in the depths of winter, snowdrops represented ‘hope’ in the Victorian language of flowers, making them especially relevant this year when hope is at last on the horizon.
Galanthus nivalis (left) and Galanthus nivalis f. pleniflorus ‘Flore Pleno’
The ‘common’ snowdrop is Galanthus nivalis, with a double-flowered form, Galanthus nivalis f. pleniflorus ‘Flore Pleno’. They are native to central and southern Europe, from the Pyrenees to Russia and Turkey, and were probably introduced to this country during the late Middle Ages, but are now widely naturalised. They had long been associated with Candlemas (2nd February), when they were carried in procession by young girls and used to decorate churches, which may explain why they are often found at former monastic sites and in churchyards.
Horticultural interest in snowdrops increased during the 19th century, when enthusiasts collected different species from abroad, including G. elwesii and G. plicatus, whose bulbs were also brought back by soldiers from the Crimea. These often hybridised in gardens, giving rise to many new cultivars. In the later 19th and early 20th centuries enthusiasts were exchanging bulbs and writing about them, but this was the only way that rare snowdrops could be acquired until 1952, when the Giant Snowdrop Company produced its first catalogue, and rare and unusual varieties of snowdrops started to become more widely known and available to ordinary gardeners.
Recent years have seen a huge and growing interest in snowdrops, leading to an ever-increasing number of snowdrop events, and hundreds of new varieties. This ‘galanthomania’ is often compared to the Dutch Tulipmania of the 1630s but, although single snowdrop bulbs have sold for over £1,000 on eBay, it’s hard to see this leading to similarly frenzied speculation in the snowdrop futures market!
Below, two galanthophile members of Kent Group write about their favourite snowdrop varieties.
Karin Proudfoot 20/01/21
It’s almost impossible to pick out one particular favourite – as the snowdrop season progresses, a whole succession of ‘favourites’ come and go.
Snowdrops and aconites at The Old Rectory
We were lucky enough to inherit extensive drifts of naturalised snowdrops with aconites when we bought our house over 35 years ago, so when I was bitten by the snowdrop bug and started buying different varieties, I needed to select those that would stand out in a crowd – the large ones, those with distinctive green markings, and the yellow ones, though of course others still slipped in. The very first named one that I ever bought, nearly 20 years ago, was at Sissinghurst, on a Kent Group visit in late winter, and it was labelled as ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’. It was only a few years later that I realised it was not Lady Beatrix, and managed to identify it as ‘Ophelia’, another of the ‘Greatorex Doubles’. It has made sizeable clumps in my garden, and is a really excellent snowdrop; I have since acquired the genuine ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’, but it is nothing like as vigorous as the imposter.
Among the earlier-flowering varieties, some tall ones stand out: ’Gemini ex PC’, and real whoppers like ‘Yvonne Hay’, ‘Fred’s Giant’ and (with local interest) ‘Gravesend Giant’, which all grow to over 30cm. A later-flowering one is ‘Big Boy’, which really does live up to its name, the huge flowers always attracting attention; it also increases well.
G. nivalis with G. ’Big Boy’ (right)
‘Comet’ is one of my favourites, another tall one that makes a good show and bulks up quickly, with large flowers that have a variable green mark at the tip, and handsome grey-green leaves.
Then there are those with conspicuously marked flowers, in particular ‘South Hayes’, ‘Trimmer’ and ‘Trumps’ (a much better doer than ‘Trym’). All have distinctive green markings on the outer segments. ‘Ivy Cottage Green Tip’ makes very attractive clumps, with broad grey-green leaves, but the green tips tend to be conspicuous by their absence!
G. ’Trumps’ (left), G. ‘Ivy Cottage Green Tip’ (centre) and G. ‘Trimmer’ (right)
There are other snowdrops that are special because of their associations. One such is ‘Hunton Giant’, discovered and named by the late David Way, a founder member and former chairman of the HPS Kent Group, who was responsible for sparking off my enthusiasm for snowdrops. He kindly gave me a clump of bulbs which have now multiplied, and it is another whopper, with broad leaves which stand upright and continue to grow after the flowers have finished, often to about 40cm in height.
Galanthus ‘Hunton Giant’
But it is one of the later-flowering G. elwesii hybrids that catches my eye year after year. ‘Natalie Garton’ has the typical broad glaucous elwesii leaves, and large, substantial flowers with well-rounded outer petals, held well above the foliage, that really stand out in the garden. It is also very vigorous and quickly forms good-sized clumps. It’s named for Natalie Garton who died in 1996, and used to distribute it from her garden in Oxfordshire.
Galanthus ‘Natalie Garton’
Karin Proudfoot 21/01/21
Sometimes I’m asked, ‘What is your favourite snowdrop?’ So difficult to answer! According to my husband they are all white flowers with bits of green. Not strictly true but perhaps he has a point. Why do we get so excited about snowdrops? I think it is because they are the harbingers of spring. A promise of things to come in the depths of winter, when the days are dark and dingy.
Back to the original question. My favourite? This varies, so perhaps I am fickle. I love sheets of Galanthus nivalis, such as the spectacular display at Welford Park, naturalised under beech trees, which brings back fond memories of naturalised G. nivalis in woods near my grandmother’s cottage.
Of the double-flowered varieties I love G. ‘Dionysus’, one of the ‘Greatorex Doubles’, raised by H.A. Greatorex in Norfolk during the 1930s; its flowers are very attractive viewed from above, with twin green spots on the base of the outer segments, and it bulks up well; G. ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’ is a neat prolific double. Another ‘Lady’, G. ‘Lady Elphinstone’ is a double with a yellow and white ‘poached egg’ centre, but can take time to settle down.
G. ‘Augustus’ is a robust plicatus with single, seersucker-textured globular flowers. G. ‘Mrs Macnamara’, named after Dylan Thomas’s mother-in-law, is a tall, robust variety and an early flowerer, out before Christmas and lasting for about six weeks. G. ‘Bertram Anderson’, for all its large flowers and apparent vulnerability, has stood up proudly in adverse weather and winds. G. ‘South Hayes’ has a lovely shape like a pixie hat, with outer segments distinctively marked with a central green band, whilst the inner segments have a large green mark across the segment edged with a narrow white border. G. ‘Diggory’ is another with ‘seersucker’ segments, which curve inwards, forming a globular flower. G. ’Grumpy’ makes me smile, with the markings on its inner segments looking like a grumpy face.
G. South Hayes (left) and G. Grumpy
G. ‘E.A. Bowles’ is a lovely pure white ‘poculiform’ flower, which means that the inner segments are elongated so that all six segments are equal in length, giving a very good effect in the garden.
All of the above do well in my garden, which is on clay. I have much more trouble growing the ‘yellow’ forms which I find need better drainage.
As I said: so much choice! Which would I recommend? I think the ones which do well in your soil and bulk up well. One of the first ones I bought was G. ‘Straffan’, an old Irish variety from 1858. It is apparently the third oldest cultivar grown. It has stood the test of time, as has G. ‘S. Arnott’ with its honey scent.
My favourite, if I only had to pick one? Oh dear, I can’t make up my mind! Ok, if pushed, G. ‘S. Arnott’ because it is prolific, honey scented and a ‘good doer’ here. However ask me again and I will have changed my mind!
G. S. Arnott
Anne Smith 20/01/21
Click below to see a short video from our friend and nurseryman, Colin Moat at Pineview Plants, Wrotham Heath:
From member Annie Francis-Fisher:
I just want to share 3 of my favourite winter flowering house plants with everyone.
My Billbergia nutans (queen’s tears) is covered in buds which, when open, produce these stunning flowers
Then there’s the Euphorbia milii (crown of thorns) which is covered in evil thorns, but the constant show of bright red flowers, 365 days a year, make up for that!
My unusual multi stemmed orchid is flowering again, for the second time in a year. The original flowers were pure white, but are now edged with mauve. I love it! Unfortunately I lost the label, so maybe someone can help with a positive ID?
Sambucus nigra “black lace” seed head glistening in the late afternoon rain here in Maidstone
It’s getting cold outside, so here’s a post on an easy to keep houseplant, the Staghorn fern, Platycerium bifurcatum
I bought it as a scruffy, neglected, half-price offering from Notcutts in Maidstone in the Winter of 2017. I mounted it on a piece of wood using nylon fishing line (lots of videos on how to do it on YouTube) and the result below, a year later, in November 2018 shows the plant after feeding once a week with dilute fertiliser solution.
I keep it in the shower where it likes the humidity and warmth
Bob Dyer 10/12/20
The same plant now (below) in December 2020 – with a second, similarly neglected plant, purchased in 2019 below it, attached to another piece of wood)
Melianthus major, showing off its beautiful foliage after early morning rain
The first picture shows the bloom 1 day before opening, the second picture fully open and the third the following morning.
My plant has flowered on and off over the past 4 months, opening in the evening but gone by the following morning. The blooms have a weak, but not particularly pleasant scent, but the spectacular flowers make up for it
Dr Robert (Bob) Dyer