Tag Archives: Daphne

The Big Chop

Iris K Hodgson

It’s that time again: Valentine’s Day, or just after, when I usually try and chop down my late-flowering clematis to encourage new growth and a splendid crop of flowers later in the summer. The clematis were superb last year, loving the intense heat, and not seeming to mind the prolonged draught, even though they had minimal or no extra watering. It was a lovely sunny day too today, with the heady scent of Daphnes aureomarginata and bholua (Jacqueline Postill) filling the air as I worked – just heavenly! And a few sunny days this week means the early bulbs have started to flower: Iris Katherine Holdgson (above) was nowhere to be seen last weekend, but flowering away when I spotted it on Friday morning.

Daphne aureomarginata
Daphne aureomarginata nestling snugly beneath the apple tree

Today was the first time since my ACL reconstruction op on Christmas Eve that I’ve ventured out into the garden to do any real gardening – so nice to get some fresh air and get my hands dirty again :-). I was mindful that I needed to be careful: 8 weeks in is still relatively soon after the op and there’s considerable potential for damage if I overdo things or twist my knee. As it was, I’d already overstretched the boundaries the day before when pushing a shopping trolley in the sloping car park of my local Waitrose. Who knew that shopping could be counted as a dangerous pursuit?! Lots of ice, ibuprofen, a hot bath and healing cream, plus an evening of rest helped, but I was ultra-careful today, needless to say.

 

After chopping the clematis to within a foot or so from the ground – amazing how much old top growth there is! – I turned to my roses and gave them all a severe haircut as well. They had all reached triffid-like proportions at the end of last year, even the climbing roses I’d cut really hard when replacing the arch in the front garden last March. They suffered no harm at all from being butchered last year, although they did flower a little later. I’m looking forward to an excellent performance from them again this year now they’re restored to their normal size and vigour.

It’s too early to cut down any perennial growth I’d left on over winter to protect new shoots; we could still have a repeat of last year’s Beast from the East, which brought snow and freezing temperatures well into March. However, I did cut Hydrangea Annabelle down to 6″ or so from the ground. It’s a paniculata species and they can happily take being chopped back hard to encourage huge flower heads later in the year. This one also spreads (in the nicest possible way), so I managed to divide a piece for my son’s newish garden now they’ve started to make new beds and take out the existing (boring) shrubs they don’t like. The remaining hydrangeas (mop head and lace cap) I’ll leave until after the danger of frost, as last year’s flowers protect the emerging shoots – as I found out to my cost one year in Scotland, when I trimmed them early, only to have a very late frost in early May, losing all that year’s flowers…..

All in all, a very satisfying couple of hours. And I was definitely ready for a slice of date & walnut cake with my cup of tea when I came back indoors…. This is based on a very simple recipe from my old Be-Ro leaflet. I wonder how many homes have one of these knocking around somewhere, and how many are still in use?!

Date & Walnut Cake

Date and walnut loaf

8oz chopped dates
pinch of bicarbonate of soda
1/4 pt boiling water
3oz butter
3oz light brown muscovado sugar
1 large egg, beaten
8oz self-raising flour
2-3oz walnuts, chopped

Heat oven to 160°C fan/Gas 4 and grease and base-line a 2lb loaf tin.

Place the chopped dates in a bowl with the bicarbonate of soda and add the boiling water. Stir well and leave to stand while you prepare everything else.

Cream the butter and sugar, then mix in the beaten egg. Fold in the flour and walnuts, then finally mix in the date mixture. Transfer to the lined loaf tin, level the surface, and bake for 45 mins – 1 hour, or until nicely risen and no mixture adheres to a skewer when inserted in the middle. Leave to cool and enjoy slathered with butter and accompanied by a piping hot mug of tea.

 

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Happy New Year!

Caterpillar vase blooms December 2015

I always like to keep a record of what’s flowering in the garden over this Christmas and New Year period and there is no shortage of suspects this time round, with the weather being so mild. There’s even a solitary daffodil valiantly trying to flower! I was given the beautiful caterpillar vase pictured above for Christmas and it makes a superb showcase for these unseasonal blooms: hellebores, daphne, viburnum, heather, primroses and even a daisy (Anthemis)! Brilliant blue pansies and cyclamen are putting on a great display in my outdoor pots, and the ornamental quince, Chaenomeles Crimson and Gold, is covered in plump, red buds. I only hope that when the bad weather arrives, as it surely must, these blooms aren’t damaged, but go into suspended animation to continue at a more appropriate time….

Party Frock in flower Dec 2015
Hellebore Party Frock

Today, gloom and drizzle notwithstanding, I managed to escape into the garden for a spot of fresh air and recuperative snipping, cutting back the tired and drooping foliage of some of last year’s perennials: the scruffy stems of helenium, anemones, centranthus, geraniums, peonies and some asters and chrysanthemums were adding nothing to the garden scene and had to go. The hellebores too can lose their leaves at this time of year, all the better to see the emerging flowers and prevent the spread of hellebore leaf spot, which can debilitate the whole plant if you let it take hold.

Double white hellebore Dec 2015
Double white hellebore, grown from seed

Affected leaves need to be put in the garden waste bin or burned, rather than composted, to prevent the spread of this fungal disease in future years. The species hellebores don’t seem to be afflicted, for some reason.

Helleborus foetidus Dec 2015
Helleborus foetidus (or stinking hellebore!)

I also cut down my English roses by half to prevent wind rock – although given the gales we’ve experienced recently, that’s probably shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted… Even my tall Daphne bholua Jacqueline Postill, source of the heavenly scent pervading the back garden at present, received a haircut. I usually trim its new top growth in late spring, after flowering, now it’s reached its desired height of 7 ft, but it has continued to grow in the warm, damp weather and was threatening to overpower its neighbours (and mine!).

Daphne JP flowering Dec 2015
Daphne bholua Jacqueline Postill

In the front garden, Daphne aureomarginata provides the fragrance that assails your nose the minute you step through the gate. It was planted as a small bush between the fence and apple ‘Katy’, but evidently loves its sheltered, if rather dry position, and has grown to a substantial bush some 6 feet across and 4 feet tall –  I’m even thinking of trimming the lower branches of the apple to give it more room!

Daphne aureomarginata Dec 2015
Daphne aureomarginata

Viburnum bodnantense Charles Lamont provides another shot of winter colour on the opposite side of the garden path. Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near as scented as the daphnes, nor even as other bodnantense varieties I’ve had in previous gardens, such as Dawn, but it’s a showy shrub nonetheless with lovely bronze young growth and pale pink clusters of blooms through the winter months.

Viburnum Charles Lamont Dec 2015
Viburnum bodnantense Charles Lamont

It was so good to actually get out in the garden at long last after weeks of constant wet or lack of time due to the hectic pace of work and a busy social life. I’ve still not finished the winter cutback; the grasses will need to be chopped back hard in February/March, but for now I’m still hoping for some proper winter weather to show them off in all their hoar-frosted glory.

Happy New Year to you all! I, for one, am looking forward to the return of the gardening season.