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Fabulous February in the garden
February is such an exciting month if you are are a gardener! One of the highlights is the RHS February Show held at Vincent Square. It’s one of the few London shows left and a great place to acquire new snowdrops from growers like Avon Bulbs and Foxgrove Plants. Many gardeners order and collect their snowdrops on the day while meeting up with friends. Other have large shopping bags and many mysterious bundles, wrapped in newspaper, feature in a pass the parcel (minus music) round the Horticultural Halls.
If you’re snowdropped out, like the Best Beloved, it’s also a good place to remind yourself that there are other spring-flowering plants. Jacques Amand exhibited a range of small irises of the ‘histrioides’ and ‘reticulata’ type. These are unaffected by severe winters and flower by early February, reaching roughly six inches in height. There were two of special note. A new one to me, I. histrioides ‘Sheila Ann Germany’ outshone the better known grey and yellow ‘Katherine Hodgkin’ by having more substantial flowers in sky-blue rather than grey. It seemed a vast improvement. Close by the cornflower-blue ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’ still managed to steal the crown for the best miniature iris ever! Lady B also had a good early double snowdrop named after too. These miniature irises bulk up well in the garden, flowering with the snowdrops, providing that colour contrast so badly needed if you have become afflicted with snow-white galanthophilia. (All available from Broadleigh Gardens — www.broadleigh-bulbs.co.uk/01823 286231.) Broadleigh Bulbs also had a stunning miniature narcissus, ‘Little Gem’. The darker yellow trumpet was flattered by pale-lemon forward-facing petals so there was a wild, windswept look about it. This can be grown in pans or in the garden. It’s widely available and it reaches six inches at most.
The jewelled hepatica display by John Massey’s Ashwood Nurseries contained one of my favourite garden plants, a large species imaginatively dubbed Hepatica maxima. I bought this several years ago and was advised to keep it under cover in winter because it was dubiously hardy. This is beyond my means! My greenhouse space is dedicated to summer ‘tenders’, not miffy hepaticas. I pushed back the frontiers and put it in deep shade with John Massey’s protests still ringing in my ears.
Well John, it has reappeared every year in February with softly hairy leaves framing buttermilk-cream flowers. It apparently has distinctive seeds that are black at one end and white at the other. These are known as ‘panda’ seeds. This lovely woodlander is only found on Ullung-do, also known as Dagalet Island, in Korea.
Crug Farm specialise in introducing new plants from far flung places. The large Sarcococca trinervia (see Looking Good) looked wonderful. It produces fragrant flowers from November to March on their North Wales nursery. However, hardiness may be a problem because it was a collection from a hill station in the Nilgiri Hills of southern India, a tea-growing area. Bleddyn Wynn-Jones advises bright shade with some overhead protection from severe frosts.