Onward in January

We returned from the U.K. with some plants that are a lot easier to source there and with an idea for the empty area created when the large pine tree was cut down.

New border at pine tree

Agreed, it does not look very impressive but it is the thought that counts.  There are four willows of the red stemmed variety Salix alba Chermesina (or Scarlet Willow) planted in a zig zag fashion.  These I hope to coppice so that they become bush-like.  Although willows are reputed easy to root I bought mycorrhizal fungi and added this to help them adapt to their new home.  I am not sure if such a large evergreen tree could have changed the micro-environment of the soil over time and so they might need a helping hand.

I also bought my first Mahonia.  I had steered clear of Mahonias as some can be as prickly as holly so they need to be sited where they will not be brushed against.  This Mahonia is Mahonia eurybracteata subspecies ganpinensis “Soft Caress”, as the name suggests – no spikes but soft frond like leaves!  It was chosen as Plant of the Year at Chelsea Flower Show 2013.  My new Mahonia also benefited from a helping of the same mycorrhizal  fungi so I hope lots of intimate root associations are being made  in this damp warm weather that we are having.

So far, so good but after more reading I found out that my new Mahonia may not be the plant that I am hoping will flower at this time of the year.  I think that it maybe an earlier flowering variety as it is reputed to start flowering in October.  Locally I have seen beautiful Mahonias flowering just now but with the spiky leaves. These were in a park with plenty of space.  I’ll have to find a suitable spot  in the garden as the flowers were fragrant and  full of bees.

Another purchase in the U.K. was Rosa mutabilis from David Austin.  Roses are not my favourite plants but I had seen so many beautiful pictures of it in Christina’s garden (http://myhesperidesgarden.wordpress.com) that I was completely seduced by this rose that flowers over a long season with few thorns and a perfume that attracts butterflies and bees.  However, once again I should have been more careful.  I have bought the variety Rosa mutabilis and not the variety Rosa mutabilis x Oderata.  That means I have bought a rose with no perfume!  For me that’s the best thing about roses, I just hope the bees won’t mind – I expect the pollen and the nectar is just as nourishing for them.  Once again I used mycorrhizal fungi to encourage the new rose to have a healthy supported root system in its new home.

A tall blue Salvia brought over from my friend Linda’s garden completes the border which is now filled in with with summer bulbs and lots of Alliums.

New border

Behind the new border many years worth of dropped pine needles had accumulated.  I used these to mulch over the border hoping that it will prevent weed growth.  There was lots more left after I had finished the border so I was able to use it in other parts of the garden.  It is supposed to be good for strawberries so they had their share too.

hoped for screen

This is the sort of screen I am hoping to create but I suppose it will take two or three years to reach this stage.

Between the stump and the new border there is a barren patch of ground where nothing has grown because the shade of the pine tree was so dense.  I wonder if, now that the ground has been cleared of the pine needles, whether this might be an ideal site for mining bees to make their nests in the spring?  Many types of mining bees like bare, sandy soil with little or no vegetation.

mulched snowdrops

Elsewhere in the garden there is not much floral interest but my first snowdrops have arrived and I have surrounded them with a mulch of pine needles to keep the chickweed at bay.  The weather is rainy and extremely mild with temperatures going as high as 16 degrees Centigrade.

Sarcocca confusa

One of the great successes in the garden is the Sarcococca confusa.  It stands in the shade of a wall and gets very little direct sun but it thrives there and perfumes the corner that it grows in.  After the white flowers come shiny black berries and now I find I am getting a lot of self-seeded plants.  Some of the earlier babies are attaining a reasonable size and I have retrieved some smaller ones and planted them against a wall in the back garden that receives the same amount of light.

Red Admiral 3.1.14

Red Admiral 3.1.14

The winter flowering honeysuckle is still in flower and provides nectar for the bees and over-wintering butterflies on the rare sunny days when the rain stops.

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42 thoughts on “Onward in January

  1. It’s exciting to see that you have snowdrops already–they are one of my favorites. I was a little surprised to see that you have overwinterering butterflies. Nice shot of the Red Admiral.

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    • I love snowdrops too. It is always a thrill when I see the first ones of the year. We often see overwintering butterflies during walks on sunny winter days and they sit on the tarmac to warm up.

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  2. Nice to be able to plant now isn’t it? I would love to find a shady spot for a Sarcococca confusa, they are lovely all year for their folliage and the perfume is a treat in winter.

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  3. A butterfly in January?! Isn’t the weather odd, with all that freezing cold in North America and we in Europe are waiting to see if winter will ever reach us. Still, it’s ideal for your new plants to settle in.

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    • I try not to get carried away by the mild weather. I’ve just seen a photograph I took of the garden under snow last year on 20 February. There is plenty of time left yet for cold weather but it is great to have this spell in January.

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  4. I love reading about your winter garden (so different from mine!). I read somewhere that pines (and their needle drop) can alter soil pH (probably all plants do). But most plants seem to do better with a slightly acid soil, because it liberates some important positively charged ions from the clay/soil matrix so that the plant can take them up. Soil acidity is easily improved of course with compost or acid-based fertilizer. Good luck with the new plantings!

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    • I’ve never tested the exact pH of our soil because we are on an underlying limestone area here. In addition, it is sandy so it needs all the help it can get and I collect all the garden rubbish and every last apple core for the compost. I just hope the pine needles do not contain some nasty resin I don’t know about! Time will tell.

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    • Some people in the UK are having really bad problems with the higher water table and the water taking longer to drain from the garden. The rivers near us are all full but no worse than they frequently are at this time in the year.

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      • Well, hummingbirds are not weather, but I know what you mean.

        One of the few things we don’t like about where we live is that the spring and fall are very short. We’ll have snow all the way into May, and often it snows in September.

        The good thing is that while we have lots of snow, the sun is likely to be out more often than not, and even in cold weather, I seldom wear a coat when I head out. The bad thing is that in the summer it feels like it’s trying to bake me.

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  5. I am familiar with Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon Grape), which grows wild here on Vancouver Island. I looked up photos of the Mahonia you’ve got, and it’s completely different from Oregon Grape, which has holly-like leaves and, yes, they’re prickly. I’m sure you will have a great time watching your new plants settle in and grow.

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  6. That’s beginning to shape up nicely after all your hard work… and a good stock of logs too, I notice. I’d taken against mahonia, and removed a ‘stabbing’ one on the end of a wall last year. ‘Soft caress’ sounds worth investigating, though! RH

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  7. Lots of lovely new plants for the garden. The coppiced willows will be great. It really amazes me that it is possible to bring plants from the UK to France…bringing plant material in to New Zealand from anywhere is forbidden and one of the worst things one can do; penalties are severe…so I am conditioned to do a double take whenever I read about plants being carried across borders 🙂

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    • When we came here at first we were a bit cautious as well, but Europe has different frontiers now. A lot of the garden plants and bulbs are exported from Holland all over Europe to be sold in garden centres. Diseases do spread like Dutch Elm Disease but I believe the beetles came in infected imported timber.

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    • I planted them from dry bulbs but I did not take a note of their names. I love all types of snowdrops and I have also got some tiny frail looking ones that have not flowered yet. I also like the plain white ones as well as the green tipped ones but the doubles do not appeal to me.

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    • I like to think I’m open to ideas and happy to try things out but I do admit to changing my mind about plants in the garden. Some I love then start to hate if they are difficult to control and choke out other plants. Others, like Cerinthe, I did not appreciate much until I noticed how many bees it attracted – so I changed my mind!

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  8. Rosa mutabilis is just beautiful, flowering for most of the year in my garden in Melbourne, Australia. Some of your rain would be nice here – last 10mm fell on 10th December. And I think the names mutabilis odorata and mutabilis chinesis are used interchangeably – there isn’t another version.

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    • Ah, that’s interesting! Perhaps if it is lightly perfumed David Austen has marked it as unperfumed. There is hope yet but I will have to wait until the summer. I notice you have the same surname as my maiden name but I’ve got an “e”.

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      • Also interesting Amelia, are peoples’ sense of smell…
        there are some perfumed roses that Pauline and I can both smell…
        others where one of us only just gets it…
        and very many that one of us cannot, but the other can!!
        Now… tell that to the wine critics!!
        Oh! And I answered your query about “cold Winter weather” on Aig.Vall.W’life….
        by summarizing February 1913 to 1915…

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      • The family story was that the “e” and the absence of the “e” were insignificant over time. Still not sure whether this is true or not. My Scottish roots are from Paisley but a number of generations have past… I will check mutabilis tonight after work for scent but I would not have classified it either with my perfumed or magnificently perfumed roses. And yes, some scents can be very individual. My daughter does not understand my distaste for tomato leaves, although I love tomatoes.

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        • I understand about the tomatoes but I have actually got to like the smell of their leaves recently. I’m not sure about the “e” but I think it would be up to whoever wrote them down in the first place. I was born in Greenock not far from Paisley.

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        • The best laid plans came unstuck last evening. Not a bloom to be seen on my mutabilis. I will report back. I know little about when my family left Paisley for Australia but it may have been before 1900. I’m frustratingly ignorant!

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  9. R mutabilis revisited. First, my observations! The scent of R mutabilis is variable. When freshly picked it can have a lovely sweet tea rose scent. But it does not remain for long in the picked flower. And, unsurprisingly, not everyone can smell it. I took one to a local meeting of heritage rose enthusiasts and found that most did not recognise it as a scented rose – a number were keen to explore for themselves, however. One expert (and he really is probably Victoria’s foremost breeder of roses) said he wouldn’t have recognised R mutabilis as scented but he also mentioned that scent mutates over generations… so there may be different versions of scent in apparently identical roses. My bush is now covered in blooms again – looking great, but for bees, sedum is the object of their desire.

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    • I think this explains the differences I have found when trying to find out more about it. I have now had time to watch it grow and it has a beautiful fine foliage and form. It looks more delicate than my other roses which has stared to charm me. Perfume is strange. The front garden was scented this year with the daffodils/narcissi because of the sunshine and high temperatures whereas other cold, wet years it would be barely noticeable.

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