Spring Beauty

Fritillaria meleagris

Today, I have some lovely pictures that members of the Tuesday Gardening Club have sent for sharing (and I’ve just received some more, but I’ll save those for a day or two!)

These fritillaria meleagris, growing through the grape hyacinths, are such charmers. They are the type species for the genus Fritillaria. I wonder whether the Roman dice boxes, for which they are named, were so pretty?

Daphne odora

Our remaining pictures ae from a different pair of gardeners in the group. Here’s Daphne odora, such a lovely fragrance on a warm spring day.

Chaenomeles japonica

And here’s the gorgeous pillar box red Chaenomeles japonica. Some of them have quite vicious thorns, and some have none at all. I’ve never quite worked out what the difference is.

Multiflora hyacinths

It seems that someone took up my recommendation for these additions to the spring garden… :~))

Correa reflexa

A pretty foreigner, Correa reflexa AGM, or the Australian fuchsia is, of course, not a fuchsia at all, but a member of the Ruta family – the Rues. Someone definitely isn’t going to rue this purchase (pun possibly should be deleted!). From memory, I think these gardeners have had it for at least a couple of years. The RHS describes it as H3, or half hardy, a conservatory or greenhouse plant, but I think it has wintered outside. I must check…


I’m hesitant to query this lovely camellia. The name that came with it was ‘Irrational Beauty’, but I can’t find one of those. I can only find ‘Irrational Exuberance’. I’ll check on that when I see the gardeners lucky enough to have it!


I’ll have to ask about this one, too. It came with the name Narcissus ‘ Lemon Beautiful’. I can’t find that. There is a ‘Lemon Beauty’, but that’s a split corona narcissus with a lemon and white trumpety bit that’s divided and a little curled. These immensely cheerful flowers look rather like ‘Ice Follies’ to me, so I shall have to ask…

Ribes sanguineum

This shrub from North America used to be very popular, but is seen much less frequently now. I’m sure it’s time will come again, despite a lot of people thinking that it smells of cat wee. In that case, the answer is simply to stay a foot or two away! Admire it from afar. It’s so tough and reliable, and such a cheery flowerer in early spring, it deserves to be popular again.

Oemleria cerasiformis

This member of the Rose family is a very early flowering shrub from western North America. It has male and female plants, and it’s the females that carry the berries that give it the common name of Oso berry. It also has a lovely almond scent.

Thank you to members of the Tuesday Gardening Club for sharing their spring beauties with us.

Food for Free

Scarlet Elf Cups

Remember the Richard Mabey book, ‘Food for Free’? All about what you could do with stuff from the fields and hedgerows? I’ve just checked, and gosh, it was first published in 1972. I’ve still got my copy somewhere. I bet it’s a first edition, and probably in good condition. I enjoyed reading it, but foraging was never my thing. Apart from bilberrying on the moors as a child, and later taking advantage of blackberries hanging too high for passing mongrels or drunks to pee on, I prefer to know where my food comes from, even if it’s ASDA, and that it actually is what I think it is. Sorry, all you free spirits…

However, on one of my gardening courses, The Sustainable Garden, there is at least one person who’s made of sterner stuff. The image above is of scarlet elf cups that she foraged.

They’re nice and distinctive, and safe to eat, which is good. The only thing they can be confused with is ruby elf cups, which are nice and distinctive, safe to eat, and only a true expert can tell them apart.

Our fantastic gardener spends time helping in a charity garden, and having foraged these elf cups she cleaned them up – don’t they look lovely? As though they’d been enamelled…

Cleaned-up scarlet elf cups

And then she made lunch for the other volunteers that day – mushroom bolognaise with black bean spaghetti…

Mushroom bolognaise with black bean spaghetti

Doesn’t that look tasty? I might quibble a bit at the ‘mushroom’ label, but fungus bolognaise doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it? So I won’t quibble.

So, well done, that girl, and well done to the volunteers who enjoyed it.

And a surprising well done, too, to the mail order plant company J. Parker. Our gardener told us last term that they are supporting the charity garden, Manchester Mind, and have physically turned an unused part of the plot into a lovely sensory garden, providing the labour, the bits and pieces and the plants. Isn’t that wonderful?

I think it deserves a pat on the back and quick skim through their catalogue!

Term starts again next week, and I think I have just one more vacation blog entry to come.

Thanks for reading!

Just a regular Bank Holiday Monday

The daffodil path, on Good Friday

Today, I and my garden have seen rainstorms, hailstorms and thunderstorms close enough to make the router cut out. So, just a typical Bank Holiday Monday, then. Admittedly, there were some very sunny patches, although few and far between, So, here are a few images from my garden in the last few days, but not today.

The daffodil path is looking lovely, and I keep hoping it will lead me astray, but then I remember it’s supposed to be a primrose path for leading astray. Maybe I’ll get one of those…

The rose beds a week ago, smelling of hyacinths

Even then, the sky was looking pretty moody. I wonder what happened to the break in the hyacinths at the bottom, just by Rosa ‘Lichfield Angel’? Squirrels? Rabbits?

And here we are again on Good Friday, after an overnight rainstorm and high winds. But the roses are enjoying it! And the scent of hyacinth is still wonderful.

The first ladybird this year

A lovely native 7-spot ladybird, sunning itself on the lupin – another Good Friday photo.

Things are coming along. I love spring!

Camellia x williamsii ‘Donation’ AGM

Apparently, there are some 23,000 camellia cultivars. Therefore, when a Camellia and its label become permanently separated, the odds of a stranger (who isn’t a camellia expert) identifying it are pretty slim.

However, there are a very, very few camellias where it’s possible to have a good stab at it, even by a fretful gardening tutor. This camellia is one of those. When our two gardeners moved into this house, the camellia was in the garden, unlabelled, and wildly overgrown. But, when it flowered – wow! And I think I can assure them, with a high’ish degree of confidence, that it’s Camellia x williamsii ‘Donation’, described as both the most popular camellia in the world, and as the most beautiful camellia in the world. It was certainly ubiquitous here in the 1970’s, when this specimen may have been planted.

Beauty is, of course, in the eye of the beholder, but this camellia is definitely something to behold.

Even clipped as a topiary shrub, it still flowers magnificently. It’s garden-worthiness surely comes from its hybrid vigour.

If you’ve visited Cornwall in spring, I hope you visited Caerhays Castle, a magnet for camellia and magnolia lovers across the world. The estate has been in the ownership of only two families since 1379. It was a member of the second family, the Williams family, who bred the x williamsii camellias.

JC Williams and his head gardener produced the first plants around 1923, by crossing Camellia saluenensis and Camellia japonica. The first series of crosses all had single flowers, but they all had the very desirable characteristics of hardiness, vigour, and floriferousness. The parents of x williamsii can still be seen around the walls of Caerhays Castle.

But ‘Donation’ did not come from there, or not directly. Landowners swapped plant material. JC Williams gave a seedling of C. saluenensis to Colonel Stephen Clarke of Borde Hill, Sussex (another garden not to be missed).

Colonel Clarke hybridised the young plant with C. japonica ‘Masayoshi’, and Camellia x williamsii ‘Donation’ was born, in 1941.

Ironically, the original plant at Borde Hill died, but Trewithen Gardens, in Cornwall, had been gifted a small plant and this is the parent of all ‘Donations’.

What makes x williamsii such a very good garden plant?

Camellia x williamsii varieties are entirely hardy and vigorous. Several varieties make good windbreak hedges.

They flower earlier in the season and for longer than the majority of other Camellia japonicas. It is not unusual for them to start opening their first flowers in December and still be producing a decent show in early April. If frost knocks over one set of flowers the next batch is never very far behind. After the March 2018 ‘Beast from the East’, this often took only two or three days.

Endearingly, unlike many C. japonica cultivars, most C. x williamsii varieties tend to helpfully drop their spent flowers to the ground rather than have them dying off on the plant.

Here’s a look at Camellia ‘Donation’ left to grow as it wishes – it’s a picture from Burncoose Nurseries, one of the oldest parts of the Caerhays estate.


Thanks to our two gardeners for sharing their ‘Donation’ with us.

A Tale of Three Compost Heaps

Well, compost heaps and bins, but not to worry.

Back in lockdown (which in some ways feels like a million years ago, and in some ways feels not to have ended at all) I made this blog available to my gardening students, to keep in touch with each other about how their gardens were doing. You can all still see the wonderful images that were sent in!

So, I’m trying that again, not because there’s a new lockdown, but because this term is going to be interrupted by many, many bank holidays. Not that I’m complaining, mind you, but I think we’ll be lucky if we all turn up on the right day, in the right week, and in the same place. So keeping up with the blog might help.

So, since gardening always starts with the soil, and the soil always starts with copious applications of compost, this is a tale of three compost heaps/bins/whatever.

The image above is from one of my students, who is rightly proud of producing lovely crumbly compost from her bins. If I remember what she told me correctly (Sigh. Old age is no place for cissies, especially when it comes to remembering things.) then she reckons the process takes about 12 months after closing the lid on additions for the last time, despite what many pundits say about 3 months or 6 months. I’m with her. 12 months. You can’t hurry perfection, after all.

Her bins gobble up lots of things – twigs, ageing bits of plant, lawn clippings, fruit and vegetable bits and bobs – anything compostable Scrumptious!

The second compost bin has a different story to tell.

When this gardener got to her bin a week or two back, she found a case of breaking and entering – or gnawing and entering, to be precise. A rat had decided it needed new quarters, and had taken a rather large chunk out of the side. Ouch!

Being a feisty sort of gardener, there was no running and squeaking, except from the rat, maybe. Instead, the compost was emptied out, the bin mended and refilled, and back to doing its job of gently nurturing a new batch of compost. Well done, that gardener!

All suggestions gratefully received on keeping the rats out!

And here’s mine. On the left is some good compost hiding under the unrotted stuff. But the bin on the right, which holds last year’s compost, is still full of… last year’s compost. With the heatwave, and reservoirs down to 16%, and a hosepipe ban, watering the compost heap was not an option. The weather people say that this March has been the wettest since 1980-something. Not here, it hasn’t. There must have been an umbrella over my garden for most of the winter.

So, last year’s compost heap is currently going nowhere. And, my lawns were full of moss and thatch. They were scarified a few days ago. It’s clear that The Heap is not in a mood to accept anymore. The rest of the thatch from the front lawn is now sitting in those two daffodil yellow bulk bags, a cubic metre in each. I’m going to need a bigger boat compost heap.

Meantime, I’ll just have to squint at that patch of yellow down by the front hedge, and pretend they’re daffodils.

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