March 2020 | Berries and flowers and first signs of garden colour

March 2020 | Berries and flowers and first signs of garden colour

Coronaria coping |

At the time of writing this in mid-March we are in the throes of the corona virus confusion and I have to confess, as an older person, to currently not knowing quite what to do.  I listen regularly to world news and, taking what I hear there into account as well as what our own government is saying, my feeling is to stay in the house and limit going out to only the essential trips, food shopping, chemist, doctor etc  I have no idea whether going to the allotment is OK – I would have thought the answer to be yes from the point of view of not seeing many people and not having to be too near to them – but I simply don’t know and no one is yet saying.

I have amused myself thinking through what I might do with myself “confined to barracks” for a lengthy period, I have never been in prison but working as a gardener/garden designer inevitably meant that fortunately I am used to working alone.  My workplaces had lots of life but most of it wasn’t human – robins, worms and the odd fox and sometimes domestic cats would come up behind me and nuzzle silently and unexpectedly against my legs making me jump out of my skin with the surprise furry contact.  On garden design projects there was much more contact with people; discussions with the client, investigating what was on offer at nurseries and negotiating with them but then back to my own company as I did the necessary work and lengthy paperwork which always included creating a guide for the client to later maintain the installation.

I was excited last month at sowing my first seeds indoors – commercial seed onions and some collected seeds from Callicarpa berries – both are now forging ahead.  My own garden offers plenty to do and I would imagine being alone in my garden must be on a par with being alone in my house so if I can’t go to the allotment then seedlings and plants can always go outside in the garden.  The garden needs lots of attention so that will be a call on my time in isolation.

As I look around me I see two very thick books and and a third smaller one waiting to be read for a book club that has now suspended meetings and indeed all contact.  No matter, they are books I am keen to read anyway.  Technology is something any of us in isolation can be pleased to be able to make use of because we can all keep in touch with each other by email.  Personally I have never been gripped by the passion for social media but can see how important to many people.

This week I heard it said that social action is now arguably anti-social action if, like me being a member of a demographic that needs to take care, you are keeping outings limited to food shopping and medical needs only, that much is certainly true.  Today I  realised that keeping your entire existence limited to concerns about yourself and your health feels self indulgent.

Food shopping has been alarming.  Finding nothing to make a meal of on rows and rows of empty shelves – empty except for a printed message saying please only buy what you need- quite hard to square the circle between the official version the supermarkets are putting out and seeing none of the basic provisions on the shelves at 11 in the morning.  However, life always has a funny side and even in dire circumstances I was forced to buy for a fennel and orange salad – a luxury dish I had liked the sound of on Masterchef  which I intended to try out for a special occasion, a rather expensive dish to plump for because of the lack of other vegetables to buy.

Chatting on the phone to a friend living deep in coastal Kent revealed a similar supermarket situation – one woman apparently was overbuying and had a trolley piled high and when confronted by another shopper who asked she might consider others replied that she couldn’t care less.  Brave woman.  The staff apparently then put the excess to entitlement back. The same friend also relates trying to buy some beers for her husband, someone apparently quite particular about beers, and found none.  Then at the end of the aisle she spotted boxes and boxes untouched.  On investigation inside the boxes she found bottled beer a-plenty called Corona – and people muttering they wouldn’t touch anything with a name like that.  Neither would she.

I hope everyone reading this is managing what seems to be our new and different life.  Every good wish to you all. And now back to the March article . . .

Hello and welcome back.  It may be constantly wet and rainy, it may be very cold but the signs of the new season are very much there – my theme for this month.  The big picture above this time is a solitary bee being mesmerised by the delicious fragrance of Lonicera fragrantissima/Winter Jasmine.

Mandarin duck

The multi-coloured Mandarin duck

I heard Penny Anderson, ecologist, in BBC Sounds Tweet of the Day on 12 February last, speaking briefly about the Mandarin Duck.  I later discovered that previously Chris Packham also gave his take on this bird on 20 January 2014 in the same place.  My take on this bird is photographed above and some of the questions I had about seeing this brilliantly coloured water bird on our UK ponds were answered by the Tweet of the Day programme.

I shot my Mandarin duck in Kelsey Park, Beckenham some time ago and see it there every time I revisit that park, swimming with all the standard-looking ducks and drakes, gulls and Canada geese – a colourful intruder in a predominant palette of  beige and brown.

Their existence in the UK is explained by there being a feral population here of around 7,000 that derive from escapees from collections during the previous two centuries.  Despite hailing from the Far East they seem to have established themselves comfortably here and, as is usually the case in the bird world, the female of the species is coloured beige and brown.  They are nearly always seen in pairs, so much so that in the Far East they are a symbol of coupling.

Penny Anderson is visited by a pair every year in her garden.  One year they nested in her trees.  The “song” in the background of Chris Packham’s piece sounded  nothing like a simple duck “quack”.

I have always felt a little sorry for the Kelsey Park Mandarin Duck because it seems to be the only one of of it’s kind in the park.  Or is it?  Perhaps I just don’t recognise the female.  Next time I visit I shall look more closely.

Plant of the month – Viburnum sp

Blue metallic berries of Viburnum tinus
Blue metallic berries !
Viburnum tinus white flower
Viburnum tinus flower

Viburnums are a bit of a gift in the garden.  Because they are startlingly unusual I have always loved the blue metallic berries of Viburnum tinus and for years my favourite shrub has been the Guelder rose or Viburnum opulus and this one I like for it’s larger red translucent berries that look like glass.  Long ago a friend gave me five of the latter for a birthday present (they are often sold in bundles for hedging.)  For lack of space I had to give away three and the two I kept have berried away happily for years.  A couple of years ago I was given another favourite, Viburnum x bodnantense for it’s sweetly smelling pink and white flowers which are surprisingly frost-proof – these have already been and gone for this season; flowering on bare branches which now are sprouting leaves.  I hadn’t realised until writing this how often I am attracted to the Viburnum but then this is a popular shrub genus in the both UK and in north America so millions of people can’t be wrong, can they?

My understanding is that the Viburnum is of mediterranean and north African origin which makes it something of a puzzle why it should cope so well with wet and soggy UK  soil but cope it does and will grow in sun or partial shade.  The genus is very large, upward of 150+ different varieties, so there are plenty to choose from.  Most have pinkish-white to white flowers, usually with flat or rounded heads.  Some varieties are evergreen, some deciduous, several give rich autumn colour.

I decided a couple of years ago to make the very best of the British winter instead of complaining about it – I am not a lover of cold weather – now I begin to notice how attractive I find berries which I barely noticed before.  They stand out, occurring as they do at a grey time of year, with their colour and sometimes quite unusual shapes.  Since I made a conscious decision to be appreciative of the cold season I have seen that the trick is to carefully search out the smaller things.  The only garden I know of that has a section for berrying plants is at Eltham Palace where I shot the hairy red berries on my Home page.

Lilac coloured Callicarpa berries
Callicarpa berries

One of my latest plant acquisitions is a small Callicarpa with lilac berries, (right) small enough now to stay containerised for a few years.  Growing several together is apparently the best way to get abundant fruiting in this shrub that originates mainly from tropical and sub-tropical regions of China so I have collected and planted seed and plan to increase my stock.

The trailing Rosemary and Muscari in my window box (below) are both coming into flower right now.  These two mediterranean plants should get along very well together.  Trailing Rosemary seems to be much earlier flowering than the standard kind or possibly it is because it is in such a sheltered position – I have known it flower in December.

Light blue flowers of trailing Rosemary and Muscari flowering flowers of
Trailing Rosemary and Muscari flowering now.
Oh joy ! The first seeds sown means the life cycle starts again. Picture of sown seeds well wrapped in a polythene cover and close to the window.
Oh joy ! The first seeds sown means the life cycle starts again.

Oh joy!  In early February I sowed my first seeds of the year – indoors and heavily encased in polythene (right) – I always find it exciting to be starting the life cycle again!  Within two weeks of sowing the first onion seeds were showing growth – onions are pretty impervious to cold but they can’t go outside for a while yet.  Yes, I shall decidedly be sticking to growing onions from seed from now on – sown successionally to try to avoid gluts – last year’s crop was probably the best I have ever had.  The variety of seed I am using is Bedfordshire Champion.

Another gardening joy is to see the slow but sure start of the flowering season again – the Camellia below has been flowering steadily since early February with still plenty more buds to come.  The trick with Camellia to site it fairly deep within a bed – on the edge of a path or lawn it just makes an incredible mess with fallen petals later in the season.

Light pink petals with white edges of Camellia in full flower
Camellia – this one flowering since early February

The gorgeous green seed heads of Fatsia japonica

                                                The gorgeous green seed heads of Fatsia japonica

Crystal Palace Park dinosaurs

Last September I posted about Crystal Palace Park which is only a bus ride away from me.  I hadn’t been for a while and I found it is being very well kept up to date offering something for everyone – not a bad idea to copy even in our own smaller gardens.   Perhaps you will have seen the recent news that the giant dinosaur statues in the park have developed worrying cracks and have been put on Historic England’s Heritage “At Risk” register.  Historic England will be working on this in partnership with Bromley council and Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs.  These statues in their natural settings have been much loved by visiting children for decades.

Robert Dex  Evening Standard 27 February 2020

Open Garden Squares Weekend – 6 – 7 June 2020

Sadly the Open Garden Squares Weekend has been cancelled due to current extreme circumstances

“I am looking forward to helping out again at the above week end that I enjoyed very much last year.

For one very special weekend in June, London’s hidden green spaces open their gates for public enjoyment and discovery.

With the purchase of a Weekend ticket, you can explore a huge variety of gardens which are usually closed to the public – and enjoy a host of activities and experiences for all the family.

Open Garden Squares Weekend highlights some of the best gardens and green spaces that make up the rich tapestry of London’s green infrastructure, but there are many others – just as valuable to their communities – which are in decline or under threat of development. Funds raised during OGSW mean that the London Parks & Gardens Trust can continue its work to protect them.”

Today, 1st March, is actually a lovely sunny morning with a clear sky.  A good day for getting out in the garden perhaps?  Do get in touch with any questions or comments.  Bye for now and happy gardening.


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