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April 2006

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Winter flowers, attractive hellebores and sinking alpine beds

The sheer unpredictability of the Irish climate was again evident this winter.While the rest of Europe suffered under severe snow and ice we enjoyed several premature weeks of spring. I was again reminded of how lucky we are in the range of plants we can grow here. Grass growth started again and my plants forgot about the hard frosts of November. An uncommon, allegedly tender, shrub Westringia fruticosa has a particularly long if unspectacular flowering period. This year it was a very pretty sight right through the darkest days of December to March. This Australian is a member of the nettle family and mine has lavender flowers over greyish foliage. The blue flowered daisy Felicia amoena  has also put on a good show while the correa or Australian fuchsia and sollya, the bluebell creeper, which I worried about in early winter recovered and flowered very well.

I was again reminded of how lucky we are in the range of plants we can grow here.

Convolvulus sabatius is another of those marginally hardy plants which I have grown for many years. It occasionally shows all the signs of death by frost only to shyly pop back up in early summer. So far so good, but I hate to think how things may ‘average out' as the year progresses. On the European mainland concerns about global warming are nowadays muted while here the constant complaints about our terrible climate have quietly died down.

Several clumps of Helleborus orientalis, the lenten rose, have increased and seeded around. The seedlings are variable and all very attractive, varying from almost pure white to deepest plum with intermediate spotting of pink. Black or nearly black forms are much sought after, reminiscent of the frantic search for the black tulip of years back. During February and March they complement the early spring bulbs but have a much longer flowering time. They also have the major advantage that they do not seem to mind when the more robust plants overwhelm them later in the season. In fact they almost completely disappear from view.

I was pleasantly surprised recently to find that the South African Psoralea pinnata which had outgrown a choice position on the south-facing raised bed in the back garden had self-sown. I now feel self confident enough to remove the mother plant and leave space enough for several alpines - for which the bed was originally designed. These raised beds have been given their annual top-dressing with pebbles. This not only makes them fresher looking but also counteracts the slow sinking which inevitably takes place. This despite the fact that when making them I always heap up the filling compost so that it is over the level of the walls. Raised beds which have sunk below the level of the retaining walls giving a saucer effect never look right.

 

 

 

 

 

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