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April 2008

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Fragrant daphnes, easy hellebores, snowdrops and cyclamen

Plants with a nice fragrance are a great bonus to any garden and daphnes are among the best. We are fortunate in being able to grow many of the winter-flowering kinds without any great difficulty. Among the best are Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill' which is a hardy evergreen and the type species Daphne bholua which usually loses its leaves in winter. These started flowering before Christmas and for January to February, these are probably the best winter-flowering scented plants one can grow.

They are adaptable and easy to grow in a variety of positions from full sun to woodland fringe and are very drought-tolerant. These will grow on both limy and also acidic soils and can reach three metres or more. An additional bonus is that they accept pruning well. It remains a very scarce plant because of difficultly in propagation but worth seeking out. Daphne laureola is another adaptable species and the dwarf forms are compact and will flower in March to April. Other fragrant plants I grow for the early part of the year are sarcococca and the free-flowering Coronilla valentina ‘Citrina'.

Several of the daphnes are under-planted with lots of hellebores, all of them Helleborus orientalis types which thrive in raised beds where the soil here is heavy but well enriched with well-rotted farmyard manure. These are now blooming and in spite of last year's wet summer, there is very little leaf spot disease. Over the years I have been given, and have selected, seedlings with good tolerance to this disease. Old leaves are always cut out as late as possible in January and promptly disposed of. This is an additional safeguard and of course helps the visual flowering display greatly.

Snowdrops associate very well with hellebores and daphnes from January with Galanthus atkinsii while the more ordinary Galanthus nivalis will be in bloom from the end of January.

A much more sinister disease to be vigilant for is hellebore black death disease, a virus disease that causes heavy black streaking of the stems and leaves, and which has come into some stocks. Any plants showing symptoms need to be dug out and destroyed promptly. Hellebores on the whole are very easy and relatively trouble free and one of the major features from January to April, taking anything the weather can throw at them. When well established they have many blooms per plant, flowering continuously and providing a feast for the eye in the early months. It is worth while obtaining seed from good plants as these will flower in the third year and the best can then be selected out.

Snowdrops associate very well with hellebores and daphnes from January with Galanthus atkinsii while the more ordinary Galanthus nivalis will be in bloom from the end of January. In other areas of the woodland garden here, there are large drifts of these and they associate very well with yellow winter aconites and in the drier and more sheltered areas with Cyclamen coum in both pink and white colours flowering from mid-January to March.

 

 

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