I can remember rehearsing for the Mikado (I think I was in the chorus, but am not too sure), when I was about eleven. And that song has been with me ever since. Anyhow, this year really does make me want to sing out Tra La! The snowdrops have only just finished flowering after an amazingly long run of almost two months. The first ones were emerging in the second week of January – which is why I still think they are the best value flowers in the garden. But from now on, the pace begins to quicken.
Last Wednesday was fabulous. I’d just fed the sheep and was about to head indoors and catch up with emails etc., when my eye was caught by a glint of white on a shrub down by the pond. It was the sun shining off the newly emerged catkins of a wonderful pussy willow we acquired about five years ago, and which has now come into its own. I cut it hard back every year, which encourages new growth and a fresh display of catkins. The willow in question also has wonderful bluish decorative bark, which looks like somebody has dipped it in fine flour:
Next to the white pussy willow, but actually planted about fifteen years previously, are two shrubs of the black pussy willow. In my experience this willow is far less vigorous and doesn’t benefit from regular pollarding. So I leave it alone. Maybe that’s why it isn’t always wonderful, but this year I’m delighted to report that it has been superb:
I then took myself and my camera into the wood where the wild primroses were still in flower. They began shortly after the snowdrops and were rather disappointing in January, but little did I realise they were saving themselves for a magnificent display in early March. I’ve never known anything like it. They’re all over the wood, hundreds of clumps, and they light it up. I didn’t know you could, but I can also smell them on the air. And a few picked flowers in a tiny glass of water on the kitchen table last for about five days.
The largest clumps of primroses are in a part of the wood dominated by ash trees, all of which (and we planted about 400 in 1993) are now threatened with imminent death, thanks to Ash die-back disease. So I’ve been turning my attention to the part of the wood where oak trees reign supreme. This is where I was planting those snowdrops I mentioned in a recent post. On my way there, I passed by a clump of Siberian Squills which I am encouraging to naturalise. They seed quite freely and I was careful to buy a couple of pots of plants which were still in flower. Some cultivars can be a bit wishy-washy, with blues that tend more towards Cambridge (light blue) than Oxford. In the matter of squills, but only of squills, I am a firm supporter of the dark Oxford blue. Anyhow, after the recent hard winters they seem to have seeded freely and are forming nice patches below some hazel bushes.
Once in the oak wood proper, I headed past my new patches of snowdrops and remembered briefly how my back had ached after four days of intensive bulb planting. I was heading for a plant we had only discovered three or four years ago. Our garden soil is heavy silty clay and it’s also very wet. These are ideal conditions for growing the popular Summer Snowflake, or Leucojum aestivum (the variety we favour is ‘Gravetye Giant’) and it flowers freely with us, although more in later spring than summer, proper. But the Giant has a more diminutive, and dare I say it, more subtle, cousin, the Winter Snowflake, or Leucojum vernum. As I said, we discovered the plant a few years ago and I can now report it loves our soil, too. It was quite expensive so we bought just six bulbs, which I managed to sub-divide into a dozen and these are now forming small, but free-flowering clumps, which I’ll be able to divide next year. But it’s the flowers. They’re as subtle as snowdrops and twice the size, They are also gorgeous when seen from below. I love their dainty hat- or bell-like shape and they are just large enough to bob about in the wind – which was what they were doing on Wednesday. The sun shone. Birds twittered and my naughty black puppy Pen was behaving herself. A perfect day. Ah, the flowers that bloom in the spring: