Archive for January, 2011

I’ve just been stopped in my tracks by the delicious scent of Sarcococca hookeriana (aka Chrismas box, Sweet Box) in my garden. It’s a small slow-growing evergreen shrub with delicate pointed green glossy leaves that likes to grow in shade or semi-shade. It’s even happy growing under trees in dry shade.

In January , this plant produces unassuming small fluffy white flowers which are packed with such a strong and fragrant perfume, that no garden should be without them in winter time.

Sarcococca confusa (above) is very similar in shape and habitat, but has rounder and slightly darker leaves than S.hookeriana. Both plants should be widely available at this time of year in all good garden centres and nurseries and if you have a shady place to fill in your garden, then this could be the perfect plant for you.

P.S. You can read about plants supplying year round scent here

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I’m just about to order Snowdrops for this year, but there is a sizeable debate as to whether to plant Snowdrops (Galanthus) as bulbs in autumn or ‘in the green’ (when the plants are growing) in winter. I’ve always planted mine ‘in the green’ at this time of year as this seems to be the more successful route, but some true galanthophiles say they have more success from bulbs. I think I will try some bulbs next autumn, but the key may be to buying bulbs from reputable suppliers so that they have not become too dried out and are still viable.

If you already have Snowdrops in your garden, you can divide them once they have flowered in February and they will soon clump up again over the next few years. However, if you have space to fill, then order now, so that bulbs will arrive in February at the right time to plant in your garden.

Galanthus 'S.Arnott'

Galanthus nivalis is probably the most commonly grown in gardens, but there are many other varieties to choose from too such as G. ‘S.Arnott’ which reaches about 9 inches, has lovely large, rounded flowers and a delicate scent. The nursey at Great Dixter in Sussex offers several varieties, including Galanthus ‘Atkinsii’, G. ‘Washfield Colesbourne’ and G. ‘S.Arnott’ and prices range from £3-£5 per plant. If you’re into collecting snowdrops, Harveys Nursery in Suffolk sells more than 70 varieties which cost anything from £4 to £35 per bulb! For larger quantities , Jacques Amand have fewer varieties to choose from but at very good prices and this is who I shall be oredering the bulk of my Snowdrops from this year.

If you’re uncertain as to which Snowdrops to plant , then put the RHS spring show dates into your diary. The show takes place in London at the RHS halls in Victoria on February 15th and 16th with ‘some of the UK’s best nurseries showing a spectacular array of spring flowering plants to tempt gardeners’. Not to be missed!

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As the thunder cracks and the rain is lashing at the windows, I thought I’d mention a few books that I like to curl up with on such an inhospitable afternoon.

Anna Pavord’s ‘Plant Partners’ is close to what I regard as plant porn. Sumptuous photographs  make you want to get planting and experimenting instantly and I often reach for this book when seeking inspiration for plant combinations as I plan specific areas of a border for a specific season in the year. Mostly listing perennials, bulbs and annuals with a nod to shrubs and ferns too, I’m still grateful to the friend who bought this gorgeous, informative book for me years (note coffee stains) ago.

Another gift from a friend when I started growing crops on my first allotment, Joy Larkcom is the queen of vegetables. None of the glossy images of the former book, but a wealth of down to earth (no pun intended) knowledge shared, about basics of soil, sowing, pest and diseases and cropping at the front of the book, followed by a very comprehensive alphabetical list of vegetables to grow, supplying information on best soil, when and how to sow, pests and diseases, harvesting times and a range of cultivars for each crop. I wouldn’t want to grow vegetables without it.

This catalogue of perennials, including Irises, ferns and grasses from the Suffolk nursery has been updated a number of times over the last few years and a new version is out in February which you can order now. One of the things I like about this catalogue/book, apart from just being a good read,  is that all perennials are listed in the sun loving or shade loving sections, making life a lot easier when searching for plants for different areas of the garden. Descriptions by Michael Loftus are detailed, witty, full of historical references and very descriptive. Woottens’ website has good images too. I find this catalogue very useful for finding the right variety of a plant for the right place in your garden.

Another veg growing book and a very welcome recent addition to my collection. Written by Mark Diacono from the River Cottage garden collection,  this is a very straightforward book, listing many vegetables alphabetically too, but with gorgeous images for most crops and a heading for each vegetable listing plant group, when to sow and plant out and when to harvest. Very easy to follow and therefore inspirational,  this book also includes somes recipes at the back too.

Finally, another inspirational book that can keep me awake half of the night. Although sadly no longer with us, Christopher Lloyd’s book still is able to convey his passion for gardening and his understanding of how to combine plants to create a stunning garden all year round. Photographs taken from his garden at Great Dixter (still very much alive and continuing to flourish under the guidance of Fergus Garrett) joyfully illustrate his choices of plants that give vibrant colours and playful textures throughout the seasons. If you’re ever stuck for ideas, reach for this book.

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