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.

Multiflora hyacinth ‘White Festival’ AGM

Back in autumn 2019, I planted 50 multiflora hyacinths ‘White Festival’ as a necklace inside my new curved rose beds, each bulb a foot from its neighbours – and thank goodness for that bit of accidental foresight. Here’s what they look like today, 16 March 2023. At least, this is ONE of them.

And this is another one of them.

Can you believe it? Each bulb has increased every year, and if I can count, each of these two neighbours has 19 flower stems pushing through the soil. Amazing.

I’d never grown multiflora hyacinths before, and was a bit sceptical when I received some lumpy bumpy bulbs, especially since they’re rather more expensive than their ordinary brothers and sisters.

But, the first spring, in 2020, just when we all needed a bit of cheering up, up they popped. A couple of bulbs produced 6 stems, all the rest produced 8. And the fragrance, for someone standing in the centre of the semi-circle, was positively heady. They’ve prospered each year since then.

If these bulbs are new to you, forget the normal hyacinths (which someone once described as looking like loo brushes stuck into the soil – and I can’t get that image out of my head.) Instead, think of rather muscular bluebells, just white. Well, you can get them in pink and blue as well, but I like the white ones. Each individual flower is the size and shape of a standard hyacinth flower, but they are more loosely arranged on the stem, and much more natural.

And yet, they aren’t natural. The bulbs are tampered with, to produce the multiflora effect. I didn’t know that.

it is a procedure that takes a full five years. The bulbs are grown for 3 or 4 years, then harvested in July after flowering. In the middle of the bulb is the embryo of next year’s flower.

The new flower is removed by cutting a small hole in the centre of the base plate, which sounds a little bit like a variation of the propagation practice of scooping – removing the whole base plate except for the rim, after which the bulb produces a lot of baby bulbs around that rim.

Instead, though, the multiflora hyacinth-to-be produces small bulbs inside the original bulb. In October, the whole bulbs are planted out, by hand. Machines can’t be relied on to get the bulb pointy bit up (I’m sure we can all relate to that). During the growing season that follows, new leaves start in the base plate between each layer of the bulb, and the young bulbs start to grow.

The summer after, the lumpy bumpy bulbs are ready to harvest. They are more a cluster of satellites living in the same skin, and are definitely different to normal bulbs. And you can see why they’re more expensive.

I’m often asked whether these multiflora hyacinths will eventually revert to normal, full-sized hyacinth bulbs. I’ve no idea, but they haven’t done so far, as you can see from the pictures above. Maybe I’ll find an expert to ask!

Autumn Jewels

We’ve had a bit of a break from looking at our members’ lovely gardens, so I’m going to pick some out in a sort of retrospective. The timing is a bit tricky, because it’s also the start of the Gardening Groups’ Advent Calendar, a daily piece of virtual chocolate which is shared by email. So we might get an odd entry here before Christmas, but I think most of the retrospective will be between Christmas and the start of Spring term in mid-January.

Still, here is a lovely reminder of an earlier part of autumn.

I hope everyone is safe and well.

The Soul of the Rose

John William Waterhouse ‘The Soul of the Rose’ 1908 (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

It’s been a bit of an absence – there’s a lot going on here – and I have a file full of images that people have sent me for the blog. I think a good thing to do would be to have a retrospective of these in the long, dark days of winter.

In the meantime, one of those images gave me pause for thought – and those thoughts turned to John William Waterhouse and his painting ‘The Soul of the Rose‘.

I’m sure we’ve all had a moment like this – the heady scent of a rose catches you as you pass by, and you have to stop and get closer. Was that all that Waterhouse depicted in this canvas? I don’t think so.

There are different interpretations of this picture. Christies, who sold it in 1981 for £1,140,000 have an essay to accompany its illustration on their site. It’s here if you want to read it, under the heading ‘Lot Essay’:


The premise is that it is rooted ultimately in the 13th Century romance Roman de la Rose by Guillaume Lorris. In it, the narrator embarks on a journey with the god of love, who leads him to a rose symbolising perfect love.

Hmmm. That’s not my preferred interpretation.

An alternative comes from the John William Waterhouse website. They, too, have an essay, and you can read it here:


This essay tells us that ‘The somewhat romantic belief of art critics is that the female’s adoration of the smell of the rose in her hand is due to it sparking a memory of a lover, perhaps someone lost or away from her company. This fits with the depicted role of women up to only recently as sensitive creatures who lived in the debt and admiration of their male counterparts.’

Well, maybe, bearing in mind the date of the painting. But this same essay makes, to my mind, a much more important suggestion – that the painting was inspired by Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, ‘Maud‘, published in 1855.

I confess, I’ve never read ‘Maud‘, having been given to understand that it makes ‘Romeo and Juliet‘ look positively cheery. And yet, despite this being perhaps the darkest of Tennyson’s poems, it also contains some of his most lyrical work.

If pressed, I could vaguely recall the first few lines:

Come into the garden, Maud,
      For the black bat, night, has flown,
Come into the garden, Maud,
      I am here at the gate alone;
And the woodbine spices are wafted abroad,
      And the musk of the rose is blown.

The garden in question is that of Harrington Hall, Spilsby, Lincolnshire, not a million miles from here, and that garden certainly saw some activity that inspired the poem.

Part 1 of the poem is here:


You can read all the other parts, too, ( I definitely will be doing that) and there are many of them. But for this discussion, part 1 is the important one.

The garden described is beautiful, and it contains references to many flowers that could be used in planning such a garden – perhaps someone would like a Maud border…

It also contains the important piece:

And the soul of the rose went into my blood,’

And there we have it, I think: the nub of the painting.

Have you ever really allowed yourself to fully enjoy the the fragrance of the headiest rose? To allow yourself to be subsumed by that fragrance and to clear your mind of everything else? Perhaps only the old roses do this, but it seems to me that there is a chemical reaction in the blood, a physical feeling of…delight. Of the ecstasy that we see on the face of the woman in the painting.

No wonder that so many rituals use incense, or that the Romans fragranced their orgies with basketfuls of rose petals, or that Attar of Roses has been around for so many centuries.

That is what I think Waterhouse is showing us. The soul of the rose going in to our blood and working its magic.

This has been a fairly philosophical series of thoughts, but I’m not apologetic!

And the image that got me thinking? It came from one of our members, and it was entitled ‘The Last Rose of Summer’. Here it is:

The Last Rose of Summer

I wonder, could this be ‘Josephine Bruce’, which had a wonderful scent, and this deep red colour, but has fallen out of favour nowadays?

Thanks for listening!

Tuesday Treats

Last week’s Tuesday Treats answers are here:


How did you do?

Hopefully, this is the last week of my long hiatus from teaching. My course starts again next week, online for the Autumn Term, provided I can get onto the last part of the training. There is some performance anxiety here…

The course is enrolling now (anyone and everyone welcome, despite the performance anxiety!), and the first week’s course materials are available to students. That gives me a bit of a teaser. The images up there for the first week’s Nature Table are the ones I would expect to use for here. Today. Hmmm.

Also, I need to consult with the students who have run a mile from the idea of an online course (the way I feel right now, I can’t blame them!) on what to do about Tuesday Treats – the course runs on a Tuesday.

So, for this week, I’m flipping things round again. This is just to keep you on your toes, you realise…

Today, we’ll have a look at a finished project we’ve seen taking shape. I present to you – The Shed! Well done to those gardeners. It looks good enough to host a cocktail party (even socially distanced!)

Isn’t that great!


Tuesday Treats

It’s Tuesday again, and I am overflowing with images! Enough for next week, too, I think, or almost. Let’s see how many I use here.

Last week’s Tuesday Treats on Friday have been edited to show the identities of our mysteries, and you can see it here:


So, today’s Nature Table… See what you make of these:

1 Edited to add:

Japanese anemone, Anemone x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’ AGM. One of the best, discovered in Verdun, France in 1858. Grows to 1.5 metres.

2 Edited to add:

Another Japanese anemone, Anemone x hybrida ‘Pretty Lady Susan’. This is part of the ‘Pretty Lady’ series, from Blooms of Bressingham via Mr. Yoshihiro Kanazawa of Japan.

3 Edited to add:

And yes, another Japanese anemone, Anemone x hybrida, an old planting, name lost in the mists of time.

4 Edited to add:

Arum italicum ssp italicum ‘Marmoratum’ AGM, late summer spike of orange-red berries. ‘Marmoratum’ means ‘marbled’, referring to the white-veined leaves.

5 Edited to add:

Lathyrus latifolius ‘Rosa Perle’ AGM. Commonly known as ‘Pink Pearl’. The only thing these lovely perennial sweet peas lack is a scent. So, grow a few scented ones through them. And yes, the flower on the right is a passionflower, Passiflora caerulea.

6 Both flowers and foliage, please.

Edited to add:

A lovely clump of Cyclamen hederifolium AGM, growing next to a Heuchera.

7 This shrub is flowering for the second time.

Edited to add:

Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum ‘Mariesii’ AGM. Well, that was a mouthful. The gardener tells me this is a second flowering – I think that’s unusual, unless you know different?

8 Edited to add:

The beautiful blue Salvia patens AGM. The image was sent as ‘Blue Ensign’, but I can’t find any reference to that cultivar. However, many names such as ‘Oxford Blue’ swirl around the species itself.

Good luck! Get as far as you can with the name, even if it’s only the genus. Further is good, though. Answers next week.

Edited to add: So, how did you get on? Treat yourself to some virtual chocolates! Well done!

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