There was a frost this morning. They don't half shorten the gardening day, frosts. I went to Colchester instead to buy tickets for various events that are coming up during 2013 at the Arts Centre and the Mercury. The thermometer had just reached 0.0 degrees when I left the house at half past ten. Scrolling down the Events page of the Arts Centre website in a moment of idle curiosity, after clicking on the site to check what time the box office opens (half past ten) I saw at the very bottom of the list, way after the period covered by the current printed brochure, that Adrian Edmondson and the Bad Shepherds are playing there on 4 December. That was a result, since the last time I checked their website (admittedly a while ago) there was nothing about any future tours, and I did wonder whether he'd got bored with his folk-punk project, but evidently not. The Arts Centre has switched to a new ticket machine that no longer gives the ticket number, so gone are the days when you could see that you had tickets number six and seven (not so reassuring if the gig's less than a month away), but I should think that with ten months and three weeks to go we are among the first to book in this case.
By lunchtime the garden had thawed out, and I wandered down the back to say hello to the witch hazels. The orange flowered varieties were the first to flower, but now the reds are coming out as well, the group of them in their pots making a warm haze in one corner of the top lawn. In the lower part of the garden I found the white flowered Daphne bholua was out, with 'Jaqueline Postill' just opening. The white form is not such a strong grower, but has the same intense, spicy scent. Sarcocca confusa is scented too, a sweet, penetrating fragrance. I made mine look tidier by quickly snapping off the old Kirengeshoma stems that still stood like bleached spears in front of it.
The rounded leaves of Cyclamen coum are coming through. Some of them have particularly nice silvery leaves, and they may even be named varieties, though by now I have no idea what the names might be. I've ordered the odd luxury cyclamen from the specialist bulb growers, but labelling them is hopeless. The border would look like a hamster's graveyard, and the birds would scratch the labels up. Self-seeded Helleborus foetidus are coming up in the borders, and I made a mental note to remove them where they threatened to overshadow the cyclamen. There are a few pale, hesitant cyclamen flowers, but the show hasn't really started.
The garden yields up some of its secrets at this time of year. I never knew there was a bird's nest high in the rambling rose on the wild cherry tree. The areas of border I weeded and mulched with compost in the autumn are looking very brown and plain and I can see with painful clarity every emerging goosegrass seedling. I sprayed a few dandelion rosettes in the border with glyphosate. It's too cold for it to work very effectively, but seeing them clear of other foliage and on a day with no wind the chance seemed too good to miss.
The bottom of the rose bank is horribly wet. Water is lying on the mypex fabric that covers the bank, and running sullenly into the edge of the lawn, and I think it must simply ooze out of the soil. I'm pretty sure that's what killed the wintersweet, which was doing quite nicely, then last year suddenly died. The manager at work confirmed that they don't like too sit wet, which makes them tricky to keep alive and in good health in plastic pots in the plant centre. There are some buds on the Edgeworthia chrysantha. Not as many as on the plants at work that came in from Italy, but some, and at least the shrub hasn't succumbed to waterlogging like its neighbour.
The bark of the Zelkova carpinifolia is starting to peel in apricot patches, like the one I saw and fell in love with at Wisley. I can't remember when that was, but it must have been at least sixteen years ago, since I was on my penultimate City job at the time, and stopped at Wisley for a brief visit on my way back from some working trip. The apricot patches on my tree are still very small, but they are a start. I grew the Zelkova from seed, and am very attached to it. It has always insisted on keeping a many-branched and weaving habit, which I have read is characteristic of the species in this country. Some of the branches have fused where they touch, which in theory is a bad thing to have allowed to happen, since they will press on each other as they grow and set up stresses within the tree. However, it is fascinating to watch.
The red catkins on the Alnus incana 'Aurea' managed to look extraordinarily vivid, given it was such a murky afternoon. This is a delightful tree. I have spoken to unhappy owners who have found them slow, but finding itself unexpectedly sitting in a quagmire, mine has grown rapidly. The leaves would be a stronger shade of yellow in summer if it were in a sunnier position, but it is charming anyway.
The forecast is for it to get colder. I felt rather plaintive, sniffing my daphne and eyeing up the fat buds of the Edgeworthia, in case a blast of freezing weather was about to arrive and bring the display to an end before it had fairly got going.