20th January 2019
Aspidistra attenuata .
It is a strange time of year, a larger reworking of the peculiar week between Christmas and New Year when the world seems to drift in limbo.
In January the garden enters a similar state. The daylength is increasing appreciably, spring can be seen all around but the threat of cold weather remains. The increase in
temperature lags about a month behind the increase in daylength so the garden isn't yet warmer and at any moment an unexpected conjunction of weather systems could drag air from the east
in a spectacular freeze.
As a child, my school had the luxury of an outside swimming pool and therefore felt obliged to make full use of it. I remember the season starting in April at the beginning of the summer term. We would cluster,
shivering, around the edge, dipping in an occasional toe. We were reluctant to get in, forever hoping that it was an elaborate joke at our expense. Eventually a combination of shouted instructions
and the fatalistic resignation of youth would lead us to reluctant immersion.
So it is with spring, lingering on the edges of the garden, a toe in the water, fearful that the immediate future might be very cold indeed. Once again I find myself braced for it, fingers crossed.
The one advantage of age is that this time I'm fully clothed.
Aspidistra attenuata has flowered with clockwork precision. I am glad I kept a division in the greenhouse, the plant in the garden suffered in the last freeze and I can empathise. I want
to stand beside it and swear vigorously at somebody on its behalf but unfortunately it was me that put it out there. Poacher becomes gamekeeper. It doesn't even have the protection of a swimming costume.
20th January 2019
Camellia 'Fairy Blush' .
It's enough to make a fairy blush. Camellia is a funny genus in cultivation, like a bran tub at a village fair. Most of it is filler, but there are occasional delights. The delights in a bran tub
are easy to find, delving fingertips will locate different lumps and textures without difficulty. Among Camellia the process is more subtle. As far as I can tell, the only
way to know the good ones from the duds is to try them. I sometimes rail against the fat smugness of the double C. japonica forms but it is a convenient generalisation.
'Debbie' has an awful synthetic appearance but is very obliging (who could have guessed) while 'Takanini' has overblown double red flowers and is delightful. It makes no sense
(it is possible that I am the nonsense element in the situation). 'Nuccio's Pearl' is wonderful in the subtle colour and precise imbrication of the petals but the outside of the flower
will be decaying before the inside has developed. Complicated things camellias.
This pale pink bloom is unexpected in many ways. It is true that the simplicity of the flowers of Camellia species often appeals to me and this should have been C. lutchuensis
but camellias don't always play by the rules. In New Zealand, the Jury's raised seed of Camellia lutchuensis and this was one of them, unknown offspring of an unexpected father.
It is a good thing, recognised, selected and named by Mark Jury. I don't know, but I assume it was the accidental pollination that made the 'Fairy Blush'.
20th January 2019
Disa uncinata .
Ignorance is more of a habit than an affliction. If softens our overwhelming sense of insecurity to believe we know something and that it will be sufficient to protect us from the chaos.
I generalise, it may just be me but when I see the various madnesses abroad in the world today I don't think I am alone. Inorance is a habit, and it can make life possible.
Disa bring the issue to the fore with a simple brutality. I grow quite a lot of Disa. I like to think I know a little bit about what I am doing. I didn't arrive at
the present condition by accident, I have spent twenty years trouncing my persistent foolishness with regard to the genus. Some might have achieved the same result
by reading all the books and following the advice, I did it through trial, error and an innate obstinacy. I have seen some of the morons who grow Disa and have always felt
fully qualified to join their ranks. Anyway, there aren't any books.
It wouldn't have been possible without ignorance. The latest field guide to the 'Orchids of South Africa' (Steve Johnson and Benny Bytebier) covers the full range of the genus,
which they record as 183 species. I can grow the evergreen ones, eight or ten species at most. The remainder are terra incognita, my ignorance protected me.
I try to expand my knowledge but things are at the "kill it quickly and move on" stage of research. Disa uncinata is the latest trial and it has astonished me by flowering.
It has new shoots appearing at the base of the flower stem, a suggestion of survival though I'm not yet convinced. I bought D. thodei at the same time and I'm pretty sure that is dead.
A winter flowering Disa is delightful, even if it is clinging to life by its fingernails.
20th January 2019
Primula allionii 'Andrew' .
Clinging to life by it's fingernails, its almost as though I knew what I was doing, because it leads directly to Primula allionii. I you are planning a holiday in the next month
or so to that short section of French Riviera that is slowly transitioning into the Italian Riviera then you have an almost impossibly slight chance of running into P. allionii.
It grows on limestone cliffs, usually quite close to rivers, and it seems to particularly favour the inner walls of caves in the cliffs that still murmur with the sound of tumbling streams below.
The habitat is really quite particular. It clings with fragile tenacity to the cave walls.
It is a little charmer and has been cultivated for a long time by alpine gardeners convinced they can match its requirements in a pot in a greenhouse. It turns out that they can,
it's not as fussy as its natural habitat might suggest. If I had to give up sitting by the sea as a hobby I might take up primulicide, I have a natural aptitude. More particularly
I have always have a voracious population of vine weevil intent on thwarting any ambition I may have primulawards. P. allionii is a tiny, perfect little gem. Barely a mouthful.
Having visited its natural habitat I was suddenly struck (if thirty years reflection can be called sudden) at the inhospitability of the environment to vine weevil. It felt like the discovery of
an important missing piece in a jigsaw. The bit that had slipped down the back of the sofa when you sneezed.
Now I grow them in a compost so sharp that a vine weevil would need a death wish to take up residence. I water them yearly with nematodes to make the point more firmly. It is possible that I am succeeding
in a small way. Suddenly the future looks more insecure.
The weather pattern has altered, the long dry spell has ended and showers have spattered the week. Things are on the change.