I’m beginning to sound like my mother in assuring everyone that after the 21st of this month, everything will be on the up – the days are drawing out, and all that. This morning it wasn’t raining, so I had a wander round the garden, and, to be honest, even I with a long gardening history behind me, was surprised at just how much is going on.
Daffodil leaves are already peeking through, and there are well-grown clumps of snowdrops. The lily-on-the-valley scented flowers on the mahonia have so far been left alone by the birds, which have usually decimated them by this time, and the pink, equally fragrant flowers of the Viburnum x bodnantense at the bottom of the garden make a trip to the greenhouse a pleasure.
There is a large, very floriferous magnolia in the garden next door, close to one of our bedroom windows. Already the flower buds are swelling; I worry for it in case a really cold snap later in the winter will harm it, but in previous years, as long as the petal colour isn’t showing, it seems to survive unscathed.
Most years, the winter pansies and violas have taken a short nap by now, but this December they seem not to have notice what date it is, and are flowering better than ever, so there is a lot of colour here, as well as that from the evergreen shrubs, winter heathers, tierellas and heucheras. Long may it last!
New growth buds appeared on the hydrangeas as soon as the old leaves fell off, and, to add to the horticultural confusion, the leaves on the new shoots of the trees I cut hard back earlier in the year haven’t realised what season it is and have only just started turning colour. The sharp frost last week did not affect the fuchsia flowers, and there are still spikes of colour on the antirrhinums I planted rather too late to do much good in the summer.
Unfortunately, I am a true pessimist, and instead of enjoying this display for what it’s worth, I’m already wondering if we will pay for it later on. And to make matters worse, I haven’t had the courage to remove many of my less hardy plants – cordylines in particular – to a warmer place; there are even pelargoniums in full bloom at the base of a sheltered wall. It seems such a shame to start dismantling things when they are looking so good.
In fact, if, like last winter, we do lose a lot of specimens later in the winter, I have planted so many new spring bulbs, in addition to those already established, that I doubt anyone will even notice. I once got a very sharp letter while on BBC’s ‘Gardeners’ Question Time’, from a lady who took me to task for placing such emphasis on hardy bulbs. They were, she said, dreadful, untidy things and had no place in the garden. Madam, years on I still agree to differ.
This year I have made sure that there will be bulbs in flower from when the first snowdrops open until well into the summer, from early crocuses, through chionodoxas, scillas, narcissi and tulips, to those wonderful and underrated bulbs, alliums and camassias. All right, the fading foliage may look less than wonderful, but with careful planning, the plants around this should hide these imperfections. The secret is in making spring bulbs an integral part of everything else in the garden, rather than planting them in isolation.
So, hopefully, once Christmas is behind us, we should move seamlessly into spring and then to summer. Roll on 2013, whatever it brings to the garden.