Springtome blossoms never fail to lift the spirits

2008-09-25 00:00

August ended as it began — a long succession of Arcadian days. None of the usual blustery three-day Berg winds. And warm. To the extent that blossom has been duped into attempts at flowering, inevitably to be brought back into line with frosts in September. (And God forbid we have a dreaded black frost in October.)

Regardless of the weather, our flowering quince glows scarlet in a hedge where it alternates with the snowy white blossom of Spiraea argutu. Newcomers to the southern Berg — and there are many — would be well advised to start their new gardens with these two stalwarts, both useful antidotes to winter blues, a malaise that threatens the most hardened resident come August. Spiraea comes in a gradation of white flowerings: from the dainty fairy may, Spiraea thunbergii, through S. arguta to two slightly differing Cape mays. The one with arching stems makes a good informal hedge while the other, standing more stiffly upright, can make an acceptable sort-of-formal hedge with two clippings a year (that’s if one has not the patience to grow a beech or hornbeam or box hedge).

Thinking of box, I do wonder why there has not been more attention paid to our indigenous box. You would think that gardeners (in warmer conditions than ours) who are committed to indigenous planting would want to try it as a hedge. Perhaps nurseries have already cottoned on to this — or is it just not suitable?

An abelia hedge partly encloses our precious clumps of hellebores. They thrive under a large oak tree (in fact two) getting the morning sun with dappled shade for the rest of the day, during their winter flowering. I can never adequately express my fascination for these woodland charmers. They’ve been called insipid by those who favour primary colours in their flowers. To others their muted hues, from cream to apple green, and pink to sultry maroon, some with smudgy stripes, others with smoky smudges, are a constant delight. I wonder if they would hold the same interest if they flowered in midsummer instead of midwinter? The trick to getting a good view of the downturned flowers is to carefully trim off any leaves that obscure them. Be circumspect though, as their fingered leaves have their own green charm through into summer. Rare treats until not long ago, hellebores are now available in a wide variety. Once established they favour each garden with its own unique selection of self-seeded hybrids.

A prunus long extinct in our garden is P. amanogawa (shaped like a Lombardy poplar).

They are now available again and we plan to have two, on either side of a gate. I have just read an article written in 1939 (how quaint the prose seems) where it is spelt in three separate words — ama no gawa. Japanese, I presume.

As blossom time comes into full swing I mourn the loss, during a garden upheaval, of the flowering apricot P. mume. It opened its first shy blossom on July 1 every year without fail. With the smallest breeze, the scent of it filled the whole garden. Happy I am to hear that it is now available from our very own local nursery. And a gift of gorgeous daffodils from Elise and John of this same Heritage Nursery — a huge bunch of them, but just a sampling of the Wordsworthian host they have in their garden — lifted the spirits even further.

• Phyl Palframan is a retired farmer’s wife, living on the home farm, a mother, grandmother, gardener and freelance journalist.

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