It rained heavily in the night. I heard it drumming on the roof each time I woke up, together with the shuffling about of the Systems Administrator who has another cold and did not sleep very well. Despite this the SA got up first, and reappeared from the bathroom a moment later to say that the boiler had not come on overnight.
The sky when I got up was leaden. The forecast was for low cloud, then light rain, followed by heavy rain, fog (after lunch), some more cloud, and more rain in the small hours. The relative humidity was forecast to be ninety-nine per cent all day, until mid-evening when it was due to fall to only ninety-six per cent. And that was pretty much what we've had, so far, though it wasn't quite as foggy as predicted. Oh, to be in England now that February's here. It was not a day to be going outside even if you hadn't got a chest infection or a cold, and I found myself quite grateful that I managed to put in a short morning and equally short afternoon's work on the garden yesterday, when it was not so damp. Our neighbour called round with the parish magazine while I was gardening, looking rather grey and small behind the wheel of his Volvo. I asked him how he was and he said he had had bronchitis. That's life in rural north east Essex in winter, just a swamp of respiratory infections.
Looking ahead to warmer or at least drier days, and glossing over the fact that I should be concentrating on pruning and cutting the hedges rather than messing around with even more plants, I put together an order for winter bulbs from Pottertons. They describe themselves as specialist growers of Alpines, Dwarf Bulbs and Woodland plants, and I had an order from them a while back of plants for the railway. That was very satisfactory, and I've kept an eye on their website since, while they have added me to their mailing list. They still send out rather nicely produced catalogues, one of alpines and plants and one (looking ahead) of dwarf bulbs for autumn dispatch. I don't know if that tells you anything about their customer demographic. Older, possibly, conservative with a small c, and not converted to internet shopping and email? Mind you, quite a few bulb companies still send out printed catalogues, the one from Peter Nyssen generally arriving after I've placed my order online. Most shrub and herbaceous nurseries don't bother anymore and stick to the odd promotional email.
Quite a few of the varieties offered bare root by Pottertons were also available throughout the year as pot grown plants, at no greater and in some anomalous cases a lower price than the bare root bulbs. But cyclamen were significantly cheaper now, especially if you wanted several plants, and I ordered three more Cyclamen cilicium to fill in the gap in front of the house. They should arrive at this time of the year with leaves on so I will know which way up they are supposed to go, and can make a careful mental note about any hollows in the tuber or other clues for future reference. I shall plant them with small stakes of some sort alongside, to deter the cats from using the freshly dug earth as a lavatory. In a fit of extravagance I ordered ten C. hederifolium to go in the far shady corner at the bottom of the garden, after toying with the idea of digging up some self seeded ones and trying to make do with what I had. But I like the self seeded ones where they are, and while I am not a great believer in retail therapy I thought that after the dismal non-event of Christmas and the money I must have saved scarcely going out or doing anything for a month I would treat myself.
Mid pink and pale pink Hesperantha, which used to be called Schizostylis, were a snip at £2.20 if you bought three of a variety. The common name is Kaffir lily, a clue to their South African origin, although best avoided nowadays. They are easy going plants, flowering usefully late in the autumn, and despite what most books tell you they will put up with partial shade quite happily. I shall pot up my bare root plants, and drop them into any gaps in the back garden later in the season. It pays to handle them gently when weeding around them or cutting down the old foliage and spent flower stems, since even a light tug can pull the bulb clean out of the ground, but they don't seem to mind if replanted immediately. They don't like it too dry, but if they like your garden they will self-seed and send out stolons.
The creeping, shade tolerant Disporopsis pernyi and Maianthemum dilitatum were likewise cheaper bought as bare root plants than potted, and at £1.30 a go I shall experiment with three of each in the shady corner at the bottom of the garden. Both will tolerate full shade, and one US nursery website even described the Maianthemum as tolerating wet soil. I shall try it in a spot that became absolutely sodden a few years ago when the water table rose in that part of the garden after a particularly wet winter. I lost quite a few plants through drowning, and finding species that will survive through occasional waterlogging without requiring constantly wet conditions is tricky. Some websites warned that the Maianthemum could become invasive, but given how few things want to live in the place where I plan to put it that's a risk that I'll take. If either or both do well I can buy some more, and if they don't the experiment hasn't cost me too much.
Addendum The boiler ran perfectly this morning and is chuntering away normally now, so we are no further towards knowing why it didn't come on last night.