9th September 2018
Scilla lingulata .
It has been a very ordinary week. Overcast but not uncomfortable, warm but not hot and a light chill in the evening, just enough to add attraction to a mug of hot chocolate.
My experience has been exactly as you might expect from the early part of September however the garden has changed. Autumn has arrived. There are a few buds I have been watching all week
to see which would open first. In the event, they all opened yesterday apart from the Crinum which was 10% open but probably won't open wide until tomorrow.
Scilla lingulata only opened properly yesterday. It had an odd flower the day before but looked a bit like a Christmas present with the sticky tape peeled back. Almost a peek
but not quite. It isn't the first of the autumn bulbs to flower but it is the first to make a show. Acis autumnalis has had odd flowers for a month but it is determined to
remain scattered. When I have planted them in a mass in a pot, only a few have flowered and most have remained leafy lurkers. Scilla lingulata has formed a decent clump over the last few years.
I split the clump up and spread them out, now they are coming back into a dense patch. The blue flowers are a reminder that the little blue bulbs of spring are on the way
and we have only the practicalities of winter to get through. Time to start gathering things up that need to be inside. I do wish I had got around to clearing a bench for the Cymbidium.
9th September 2018
Gladiolus carmineus .
How long does it take to learn anything new? Certainly it takes me longer now than it did when I was younger. My mother once said to me that you had to learn everything you needed by the time you were nineteen.
After that it was too late, you had passed your peak and on the way downhill. There was a wistful but grim acceptance of that in her voice. Once the childhood years had passed nothing
would ever be so intensely important again. I don't agree with her, but I think know what she meant.
I didn't know Gladiolus carmineus until I was in my thirties and I haven't learnt anything. Every year it flowers at around this time and every year it surprises me. It's not part of my
floristic map of the year. I don't expect it. Worse than that, the moment I see it the penny drops with a clang like a birthday remembered just as you see the birthday-ee. Perhaps I should write
it in my diary and spend the start of September peering into the pre-pink pot. Perhaps what my mother was saying was that after nineteen you might know things, or it could just be the madness showing,
you can never tell.
So Gladiolus carmineus, hello. Warmly, sadly, with unspeakable delight.
9th September 2018
Mahonia gracillipes .
Mists and mellow fruitfulness. Wallowing in the experience of it. Mahonia gracillipes offers a prickly antidote to the self indulgence of the season. The long strings of flowers had become
tangled among the leafy stems and I had to unwrap them to get a decent picture. It has to be done very gently because the petals are shed at any sudden shock, which the prickly leaves work
hard to provide.
If the plant is simply shy, why does it always tug at my clothes as I pass. I'm here look, it's me ...
I haven't been looking for Mahonia in the last weeks but I have been warned. I will be watching for the developing flowers, alert for the signs of winter appearing in the shadows and slowly
taking over the garden. I have a Viburnum plicatum that has turned rusty red in the autumn rains. The last pair of leaves on each stem is slightly smaller than the preceeding ones. Between them
there is a rounded terminal bud like a full stop. It has been there for weeks but I didn't recognise its significance until the leaves changed colour. It has put itself to bed for the year.
Beneath the cluster of bud scales and flower stems at the tip of the Mahonia shoots there is a dormant bud waiting in the same way for the suddeen silver expansion of spring. A few deep breaths of
the perfumed autumn air and then everything waits for spring.
9th September 2018
Nerine 'Mrs Goldsmith'.
Thank **** for the bulbs then!
The week has belonged to the bulbs. Most of them have adapted to sleep through the summer and some of them, like excitable puppies, leap from slumber to top speed in a matter of moments.
In the case of the bulbs that means flowering before the end of the year and often before they are garbed in the modesty of leaves. Gladiolus carmineus is so keen to get going that
the flower spikes are naked, the leaves will follow in spring from completely new growths. There is a term for it naturally, they are hysteranthous. I prefer the thing about the puppies.
I listen in the Nerine house for the droning sound of an Indian pipe. The sinuous flower spikes are weaving up out of the ground in a mesmerising way. There must be a snake charmer at work.
When I planted them all in large tubs I was certain that it would be for the best. I have seen so many Nerine growing in small pots because "they like to be pot bound". It's nonsense.
They struggle to survive in small pots, they flower freely as a last desperate attempt to save their genes. It is a wonderful theory, and I have watched the pots with interest for several
years now looking for a sign that I am right. I have to admit, the signs haven't been as clear or as frequent as I would have liked. However, this year the outlook is good. There are a lot
of flower spikes coming up, the place has never looked so promising. Either I am right, or they have enjoyed a particularly warm year.
Oh, yes - er, right.