, ,

So, Daffodils leafing up nicely, check. Tulips poking their snouts out, check. Snowdrops flowering in hearty drifts, yup. For me, the Snowdrop (Galanthus) is a kind of litmus test of the amount of anorak in any gardener. There are some fifty varieties which differ from one another by the merest smear of DNA. You are going to need a magnifying glass and a degree in botany, to be able to tell the buggers apart. If that is what blows your skirt up, now is the time to enjoy them, before splitting the clumps as soon as the flowers fade. Spread them around a little every year and you will soon have a decent display with which to start spring.

Miniature Iris (purple or blue reticulata and yellow dandfordiae) are studding the soil. The bulbs are prone to splitting, meaning that they form tiny offshoots below ground, which may take some years to mature. Planting them deeply is supposed to cure this but in my experience, once they stop pushing up leaves, the miserable ingrates are gone for good. I wish you better luck than me. I have found Iris “Katherine Hodgekin” to be much more reliable. She’s a complex mix of dusty blue and butter yellow, with darker blue splotches over the petals. Look out for the bulbs in autumn but be aware that if you shop in my town, I will be jousting with you for them and I fight dirty.

Primroses are pretty, if you like that sort of thing. Of course I do. I keep different colours in separate areas of the garden. Indigo, mauve, white and green bloom in the front, underneath the whorls of empty Wisteria. I’ve placed yellow, amber and crimson at the far end in the back, from whence they can give out a gaudy shout without being ill mannered about it. I like the doubles especially, for the texture that they impart amongst the drifts of brightness. They all need some shade from midsummer sunshine, so put them beneath bare shrubs now and forget them until they spangle the gloom again next year.

I presume that you have Lenten Roses (Hellebore orientalis) plastering the entire garden in glorious fountains of colour. What do you mean, no? This is a hardy perennial that needs only an autumn haircut with scissors. They grow in my dry soil, so you should have little trouble. The flowers start to show at the end of January and are dancing the can-can around the borders before the bulbs have even got their ballet shoes on.
Darkest Hellebore
You can get any shade of pink from the faintest whisper of a fairy’s tutu to gardener’s black, a slate tinted glaucous plum which looks as if it would mark with fingerprints if you put your grubby paws on the petals.
White Hellebore
Whites are available which froth, spume and scintillate out of emerald, dark green or blue tinted leaves. You can get doubles, bicolours, picotee edged. If you look around you will find freckles and speckles, some subtle, some rowdy but never raucous.
Speckled Hellebore
Once you have more than one, they will get on with planty sex without the need for you to play the madam. They will soon spread their love children about and you have the opportunity to lie on the cold, dew soaked lawn looking up their petticoats, to inspect your free babies’ delights at close quarters. In my opinion, obsession equates with interesting; I don’t care if I look like a voyeur.