25th January 2015
Narcissus 'Spring Dawn'
Every now and then the sun comes out and the garden looks like spring. A few more weeks and it might start to feel like it as well. Typically for this time of year the temperature
has started to misbehave. On Friday morning I left the front door before dawn, thankful that the morning was mild. I drove up the road to London for the Myddleton House snowdrop event
and watched the frost on the verge get heavier and heavier. By the time I got out of the car the world seemed to have frozen into a single solid block. Bright sunshine made no difference,
it remained frozen all day. The local news reported the temperatures as minus 9C, the coldest night of winter so far.
So you will understand that when I show a picture of Narcissus 'Spring Dawn' it is meant as a cheering glimpse of the promise to come and a seasonal offering from the south. They
say that spring moves north through the country at approximately walking pace. I found the journey north hard enough in a warm car, if I had to do it on foot I'm afraid you would all have
to freeze for eternity, I'm just not doing it!
25th January 2015
There is a popular theme that runs through the futuristic fiction of the last few decades. Under threat of nuclear catastrophe a few good looking young people and their wrinkled old leader
lock themselves into a survival shelter while the legions of the doomed clamour at the door for admission. Sometimes when I see all the promising young things packed into the greenhouse
I wonder if I might perhaps have missed some significant announcement on the news. I play the role of wrinkled old leader in this scenario, the days of youthfull promise were left behind
when I started to wear gloves and knee pads to work in the garden. It is worth noting that as the drama unfolds the wrinkled old leader is often ejected, and there have been many times
when I have felt like the wasted space in my own greenhouse.
When I re-organised the Aspidistra I managed to fit them in and still have a little corner to spare. The Rohdea and Tupistra were lifted and brought back inside.
It isn't a winter problem, they survive the frost well enough, but we just don't get sufficient summer heat for them to prosper. One summer inside and they are already looking
happier than they have for years. This is the first flower on Tupistra chinensis for a long time and I am hoping for some joyful increase this year in place of the sullen
stagnation of the outdoor life. Smells just like a glue that has been banned from sale to the under 16's.
25th January 2015
Galanthus reginae-olgae ssp. vernalis 'Miss Behaving'
Snowdrops were the reason for my journey to the north. The first snowdrop event of the year and a horde of people with clouded breath and stamping feet. I bought 'Miss Behaving'
at the Myddleton House sale last year. She is a selection of the spring flowering form of G. reginae-olgae from the population growing at Anglesey Abbey. The green tips to the
outer segments are distinctive and she has opened in perfect time for the sale again this year. No sign of increase yet but this year she is well established and the flower is larger,
having recovered from the indignity of being potted and sold.
There are several layers of activity to snowdrop sales. Part of the event is an old fashioned jumble sale where elderly people with sharp elbows and embroidered purses jostle for the best bargains.
Overlying that is a social event where friends, old and new, get together and discuss arcane matters.
This year there was a further layer. A handful of cameramen had arrived to film the seasonal lunacy.
Plant sale as broadcast drama. They stood above us at the top of some steps like train-spotters on a railway bridge. The galanthophile-o-philes. I was enjoying watching them watching us doing our thing. Can I
get away with being a galanthophile-o-phile-o-phile?
I was very happy to buy 'Miss Behaving' last year. This year's trip through the ice felt like an arctic expedition so I was especially happy to arrive home to the relative warmth of Cornwall
with her sister seedling, 'Miss Adventure'.
25th January 2015
Pleurothallis restrepioides 'Dragonstone'
Winter conjures images of snowy fields and singing robins, clean air and woolly mittens. We all have to reconcile that image with the reality of grey roadside sludge and clammy clothing. We respond
by running away either to ski in the snow or to sun in the south. Winter in Britain is best appreciated from somewhere else.
I can't be bothered with winter in the mountains. They are entirely the wrong shape. Flat ones would be much more convenient. In my mind at least, I head for the tropics. Those strange and obstinate orchids
that insist on flowering now and thumbing their noses at the snow through the window. I don't have any heated glass, but I do have a few windows and there are some orchids that will survive the stresses
of the storage-heater tropics.
Pleurothallis is an enormous genus. At times it has numbered up to 1,200 species but at the outer fringes the genus fragments into diversity so the 'acurate' number is always going to be uncertain
(at least until the nuclear catastrophe reduces the whole thing to a manageable archive problem). They have a centre of diversity in the inconveniently mountainous tropics of Andean South America. Some
are heat lovers but some ascend the mountains to high altitudes where it becomes distinctly chilly. Among the high altitude species there are a few that will grow and prosper under my conditions.
Out in the greenhouse in summer and just about frost free in the conservatory through the winter. Unfortunately the only way to discover which will survive is to try them. I have killed a number.
P. restrepioides comes from Peru (good news), Columbia, Ecuador and Venezuela (less good news) at altitudes up to 3,000m. I had a plant of the species that struggled to survive but the selection
'Dragonstone' seems to prefer lower temperatures. It is said that it needs a good chilling in autumn to flower. I don't have a problem with that.