First flowers for the Eucryphia!

The little stick on the right hand side is my Eucryphia nymansensis.  I planted it in November 2015 and I have been nurturing it with attention ever since.  It is one of the favoured plants that gets watered.  It is privileged with extra water because I can’t imagine that it is that happy finding itself in sandy soil that dries out quickly.  The Nepeta stalks covers most of its base and the Gaura does its best to protect it too.

That was why I was surprised to see what I thought could be a flower.  When I saw the brown tip I thought I had missed the flower and it had already started to dry up.  But no, the bud seems to burst its cap to flower.

As the flower opens the cap falls off.  I would have been disappointed to miss my first flowers.

I was very excited to see my first flower open and smell the perfume.  I was not disappointed.

We even had some rain and it did not destroy the flowers which dipped and let the rain run off.

Perhaps this is another reason that the bees love the Eucryphia flowers.  They can act as natural umbrellas.

Apart from the beauty of the flowers and their perfume, the flowers also attract bees.  This year I only had four flowers on my tree but I could see that it was going to be popular with the bees.  I hope it does some growing next spring and produces some more flowers next summer.

with only the Celandines to tell of hope

Gardening is not just about weeding and watering and tilling the earth it is about dreaming of the shape of things to come as a consequence of these menial tasks.  Well, I try to convince myself it is.

I had a design for the bottom of the garden, a woodland glade sheltering spring flowers and providing welcome shade in the summer.  Unfortunately, the area had been left to fend for itself for a long time before we took over.  It had not coped very well.  It had been invaded by brambles that choked the growth of most plants, except the ivy, which managed to see off the rest of the plants and was starting to cover the trees.  There was no choice but brute force and the brambles were cut back and the roots dug out but the ivy has not yet been finally defeated.

However, after the removal of the brambles I could see a natural glade appearing at one end although the level of the soil was low at that part.  This was quickly (relatively) remedied by our neighbour who was creating a pond and had nowhere to dump his soil!

Finally my dream of the woodland scene in spring lit by the yellow Winter Aconites was becoming a reality.  Before actually possessing a garden I had been an avid reader of gardening magazines and I had read several articles on Winter Aconites.  They provide a carpet of sunshine in the dark days and are happy to live under the canopy of deciduous trees. Even the Latin name Eranthis hyemalis, meaning winter flower in Greek fitted in with the theme.

There is a beautiful time lapse film by Neil Bromhall on You Tube showing the Winter Aconites pushing through the melting snow. 

The bulbs of Winter Aconite can be bought and planted in the spring time.

Only I forgot this crucial stage.

Never the less, this spring my woodland glade was covered in a carpet of yellow Winter Aconites.  They do look beautiful and I had to ask myself if I had really planted them and forgotten about it.  Then I thought about the soil from our neighbour’s garden. Then there was more doubt and searching for close-up photographs of Winter Aconites on the Internet.

I quickly realised that my bright yellow flowers, like large buttercups were not Winter Aconite, the leaves are not similar.  This left me with another problem.  What were they?  My kindly neighbours do not know the name of anything you don’t eat so I could get no help there.

I decided to post an identification request on a French web site

I got a rapid reply from a member and could confirm that what I had was Lesser Celandine or Pilewort.

What’s in a name?  But I must admit I was very disappointed. My woodland glade was carpeted with Pilewort, old herbal remedy for haemorrhoids.

It warranted further research.  Ranunculus ficaria , Lesser Celandine in the UK and Fig Buttercup in the States does not get a universally good press.  It is considered an invasive weed in the UK and in some states in the USA.  One suggestion I found was to treat it with a systemic weed killer.

It is not all bad news as it is a native plant in the UK and Europe and provides an early source of pollen for bees just coming out of hibernation. Many people look forward to seeing this bright yellow flower as a sign that spring is on its way.  Good enough reason for me to keep it where it has grown.

It was supposedly William Wordsworth favourite flower and he wrote three poems on the Celandine.

The Celandine has also found its way into English literature, “Throughout the gusty winds of March dust-laden and with only the celandines to tell of hope…”  The Lone Swallow by Henry Williamson.

So I am in good company wishing no harm to my new arrivals.

Another happy ending?

Bee hopeful

I would love to have a garden that was alive with colour, shape and form throughout the four seasons of the year.

I read the gardening magazines and I plant Cornus alba to give me the bright red bark throughout the winter.  I leave the flower heads on the hydrangea and sedum to catch the sparkle of the frost on a winter day.

I plant Sarcoccoca confusa for the evergreen leaves and the perfumed flowers but their perfume is not so strong in the cold winter days.  In total, I am not convinced I am succeeding.

Then I see my winter flowering honeysuckle.  The flowers may be insignificant after the freezing period last month but they are being visited by a constant flow of bees.

I’ve got a long way to go before I reach my goal but at least it’s keeping the bees happy along the way.

I’m just mad about saffron

First saffron flower

At last the glacial cold spell is loosing its grip and the thermometer is rising above zero!  However, the crisp, icy weather and blue skies has been replaced with a thick cloud covering.  Somebody nearby is getting snow. I should be grateful – it could have been worse.  Never-the-less I fret for my plants and it will not be for some time before I will be able to count all the damages.  I doubt whether my saffron bulbs will return this autumn.

I had always nurtured a desire to grow saffron.  I use the saffron to colour and aromatise my rice and the idea to actually produce my own home-grown variety was tantalising.  I had never had the time to consecrate to the finer details during my first years battling in the garden, there was just too much to do.

It was when we went on a trip to the Limousin 2008 that I noticed a mention of an exhibition by a saffron producer in a touristic leaflet. I wanted to explore the region and so set of on the hunt for the saffron exhibition.  Very little information had been provided but after a visit to the local Mairie where they kindly photocopied a local map I had a better idea of where it might be. Furnished with improved directions I headed off in search of my saffron producer. After some time and having exhausted all possible leads I stopped to ask the only human I had seen since leaving the Mairie.  He was tending to something in his field and I approached clutching my tourist brochure and asked him if he knew where the saffron exhibition was that was mentioned in the leaflet.  He seemed quite bemused and pointed out to me that it was September.  Tourists only come in July and August.  I apologised but pointed out that here I was and I was indeed a tourist even if it was September, as he had quite correctly noted.  To my surprise I discovered that I was talking to my saffron producer himself and after our initial misunderstanding and realising we were from the Charente-Maritime he kindly invited us to have a private viewing of his exhibition which he kept in his shed next to his house.  It was not an extensive collection but the visit was memorable by its warmth and shared interest.  As we left he selected six bulbs for me to try in my garden.  I was very touched by the gift which increased my determination to try my own saffron plantation.

My bulbs were duly planted on the 5 September 2008 and much to my surprise all produced flowers the following year!

Such a beautiful crop!  Watching the purple flowers push through and snipping off the stigmas as they opened is such suitable occupation for a lady gardener.  Here, I note, I am fantasising not only of being a gardener but being a lady gardener!

My saffron producer advised me to dig the bulbs up each year and store them in a cool, dry place where they would not be frozen.  I forgot, but the following year I was rewarded for my carelessness by an even larger crop of saffron flowers.  I assumed that our mild winters allowed the bulbs to be left in the soil and I liked the idea of the leaves enjoying our warm, sunny autumns to provide plenty of energy for more bulbs and flowers in subsequent seasons.  I, therefore decided to leave the saffron bulbs in the soil all year round.

The saffron crocus (Crocus sativus ) likes warm, free draining alkaline soil and sunshine, perfect for my garden.  However, it takes 500 flowers to produce 3 grams of dried saffron so I am not yet self-sufficient in saffron.  Only the three red stigmas are used but they air dry easily if left inside before being stored in a sealed container.

Part of last year's harvest

I have been looking forward to my autumn saffron as even from my first harvest of 18 stigmas I was able to make a little saffron rice which I presented with pride to my sister who was visiting.  This year I must make a decision.  Should I buy more saffron bulbs in August or leave my saffron plantation to chance?

Magnolia in winter

The cold snap is continuing and as the sub-zero days increase in number I am becoming anxious as to the eventual effect on the plants.  They have never been subjected to such a continual cold period which is, as far as the forecasts lead us to believe, to continue.

Some of the plants seem to be resisting the cold well and I impressed by my young magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora ).  I knew the thick, tough leaves allowed it to take the hot summer sun and could stand a good measure of drought but they appear to be comfortably accepting the sub-zero temperatures as well.

Looking at the photo taken today the leaves seem to be coping well with their first period of prolonged cold.

Last July my little tree produced its first two flowers which surprised me as I had been warned that they took years to flower and I had bought a very young plant.

I checked on Wikipedia and Magnolias are native of the south eastern United States and are not known to be hardy plants, however, the varieties with leaves which are brown coloured underneath are hardier than varieties with light coloured undersides.  As there are huge magnolia trees in this region I hope that my little one will not suffer to much damage.