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JEARRARD'S HERBAL


25th February 2018

Helleborus x ericsmithii 'Pirouette'.
An astonishing week in which the weather has been totally dominated by things that haven't happened yet. The forecasters are quite determined that there is a major freeze coming. I have no reason to doubt them, but that has been the whole content of forecasts for a week now. In the meantime it has been sunny and dry. I burnt the bonfire, the first time that has been possible for months. Some of the twigs on it had dried out just enough to ignite (given a suitable prompt).
This morning the window was bright when I woke up, and I thought it might have snowed. In fact I had just overslept and the sun was high in the sky. I'm happy with that version of events though the possibility of snow is getting greater. Through the course of the week the exact time of the cold spell has been receding but the intensity increasing. Opinions seem to have settled a bit. Very cold tomorrow, insufferable by wednesday night.
It looks as though the early spring flowers are going to be in for a hard time. I have grown a lot of the modern intersectional hybrid hellebores. I'm not sury why, I just felt I should give it a go. H. x ericsmithii is the hybrid between H. x sternii and H. niger. It seems to be a better plant than H. x nigercors (H. argutifolius x niger). It is slightly finer in all its parts, more a Hobbit than a Dwarf.
They have all tended to be short lived, running out of steam after a year or two. 'Piroutte' has been the best of them, getting slowly stronger over several years but I feel slightly cheated. The pretty ones have all died and I am left with the Orc.


25th February 2018

Narcissus hispanicus .
My favourite daffodils are those that rise about 5cm above the ground. I seem to be acquiring new daffodils every year and it's nice to have a very simple and objective measure of desirability. I don't do it in the sensible way, peruse the catalogues in August and buy the bulbs when it is easy. No, I wait until spring and buy them growing in pots. It's not as insane as it sounds, most of the really tiny ones come from the alpine growers and never appear in the bulb catalogues.
That was how I stumbled upon N. hispanicus. Back in 2011 I bought it from the AGS show in Exeter, it was an impulse purchase, it just looked so sweet in its little pot. I had no idea what to do with it when I got home so it went out into the garden where there was a space. The following year I was taking Narcissus a bit more seriously and moved it to a suitable space. Since then it has been slowly increasing and producing its large yellow trumpets on short stems. A little over the 5cm ideal but it is cheerful and any supposed fault is easily overlooked.
It is part of the N.pseudonarcissus complex, the plant we all grow is assumed to come from Spain or France but no wild population is known. The recently discovered plant known as N. bujei has been listed as a variety of N. hispanicus and comes from southern Spain so N. hispanicus may still be discovered up a quiet mountain.
In 2011 I paid 5 for a single bulb in a pot and my appreciation for it has grown. This year at an AGS show I was offered a single bulb of the taller N. bujei and discovered that my appreciation hadn't yet grown to 28. I find it fascinating to see these things clarify on the moment. It's taller, it's going in the wrong direction.
Not that it really matters, strong winds from the east mean that none of the daffs are more than 5cm high at the moment. I'm going to wrap up warm and see if I still enjoy them at their most desirable.


25th February 2018

Primula boothii ssp.repens .
The Petiolarid primulas occupy wet alpine habitats in the Himalayas. They have many good features for the grower, not least that they are sound perennials in a genus (and geographical region) that has its share of short lived or monocarpic species. The leaf rosettes can be magnificent and the flowers come in early spring and vary18:30 25/02/2018 from yellow, through pink to (I'm biting my lip at the approximation) blue. Many of the section come from woodland habitats and a number of them are less than 100% hardy. Unfortunately the big problem is an evolutionary one. None of them have the ability to close the stomata on their leaves (slight generalisation) so they dessicate very easily in the warmth, if the sun hits them or if they dry at the root at all. As a result the hardiest of them are grown in the wetter northern counties and the remainder drop dead in summer.
Never one to turn down the chance to kill something unfamiliar (sorry to sound so depressing, but they're forecasting minus 4C in the week) I bought a few plants last spring, felt very smug for a month or so, killed a couple in the summer and am now feeling smug again about the survivors.
P. boothii ssp. repens has an unusual stoloniferous habit and can spread into dense mats where it is suited. My plant is the clone EN.382, introduced by Edward Needham, probably from the Deorali ridge to the south of Annapurna. I keep it soaking wet, under a plastic roof where it faces east but doesn't catch very much of the morning sun. Dessication was not a major problem last year, frost may be more difficult.


25th February 2018

Pterostylis curta .
Pterostylis is a large genus of terrestrial orchids from Australia asnd New Zealand. Many have been introduced over the last several decades, few have established. I don't think they are dificult but they are probably quite particular, unlikely to be entirely hardy and needing a decent dry spell once the spring flowers fade. P. curta is the only one that has really established in cultivation in the UK, perhaps it is simply the most forgiving. I have grown it badly for a long time until I saw a friend growing it in a large window box. I stopped keeping it in a small pot and moved to a large tub, since then there has been no looking back. It seems that it likes moisture when in growth but doesn't like rapid fluctuation in the supply. From time to time I see other species being cultivated, and I think they are slowly spreading around as people get to grips with their needs. There are even a few impossibly rare hybrids being produced.
Pterostylis curta comes from south-eastern Australia and this is almost certainly the source of plants in cultivation though the range extends to Lord Howe Island and New Caledonia.
It has been spring here since November so a touch of wintery weather isn't unreasonable. Spring plants are well underway so I'm hoping that the freeze is less severe than the soothsayers are predicting. The first tree magnolias have started to flower in the village and a serious freeze now would spell the end of the season for them. I should really go out and light another bonfire but the windows are rattling and I have a nice fire in the hearth, so I don't think it is going to happen.