Friday, 22 December 2017

a winter posy

We had guests to tea, and so I wandered around the garden this morning looking for things to go in a small vase to make the low table in front of the sofas look suitably festive.  The garden looked very brown, very drippy, and not terribly festive at all, but I was sure there had to be something.

Holly leaves are the obvious starting point, and I nipped the tips off some side branches of the variegated Ilex aquifolium 'Argentea Marginata'.  This is not an especially rare variety, and if you have ever bought a ready trained variegated standard holly from a garden centre that was quite possibly the one.  The pale variegation runs around the leaf edges, and in young growth is often attractively tinged pink.  I very rarely, if ever, have to trim pieces out that have reverted to plain green, which can be a problem with variegated shrubs.  In general they are less likely to revert if they have a pale band around the margin rather than a white splash in the centre.  I don't understand why that is, biologically speaking, and have just taken a few minutes to dig around on the web before coming up with an article by Anna Pavord, whom I trust implicitly, confirming I'd got it the right way round and wasn't just lucky with this specimen.

Ilex aquifolium 'Argentea Marginata' is a female variety, so theoretically bears berries as long as there's a pollinating male somewhere nearby, but there were none on ours.  I think the birds have already eaten them, so made do with some hips off the rose 'Fritz Nobis'.  This is a largish shrub rose, blooming only once in summer but with a generous display of double pink flowers, followed by nice, round, fairly large, orange-red hips, and good healthy foliage.  The excellent Trevor White will sell you one if you are so inclined.  I planted mine by accident, having ordered (not from Trevor White) the altogether smaller and daintier Rosa 'Fimbriata'.  Both varieties begin with F and I guess somebody got in a muddle.  I planted 'Fritz Nobis' anyway, as it was there, and have grown very fond of it.  It is beginning to sprawl rather, and perhaps I should be brave and prune it hard, and then feed it a lot.

The arrow shaped leaves of Arum italicum 'Marmoratum' are good in arrangements.  You sometimes see them in the little vases of flowers in the Chatto gardens cafe at this time of year.  The leaves are darkish green with an elaborate pattern of pale green stripes inside a plain dark margin, and ruffled edges.  They grow from tubers, which multiply underground to build up into nice patches unless something digs them up and eats them, but that hasn't happened this winter (yet).  I believe they are rich in starch.  For some plain green leaves I nipped the ends out of a few shoots of a Pittosporum which I am pretty sure is 'Wrinkled Blue'.  I wish I was entirely sure, since it appears to be relatively hardy and it would be useful to know which variety it was.  Pittosporum hail originally from New Zealand, and I used to grow more than I do now before the two successive unusually cold winters we had on the trot a few years back.  It is a nuisance when plants that were supposed to be evergreen structural features die on you, or become massively scruffy taking several years to recover fully, and it put me off rather.

The weather had turned the promising pink flowers of Viburnum x bodnantense 'Charles Lamont' to an off-pink shade of fawn, when I went and looked at them closely.  There will be more coming on before the end of winter, but in the meantime I cut a few heads from the winter iris, Iris unguicularis, searching carefully for ones that hadn't been nibbled by snails.  They grow in a dry, rubbly bed against the south end of the house, where they are in sun for much of the day, and they like it there, except that their dense foliage against the brickwork does make a paradise for snails.  I ought to do something about them, either hide some slug pellets down among the leaves, or else go out by torchlight and pick the snails off.  I have seen thrushes in the back garden, which is a good reason not to use pellets, but since I don't like snail hunting I have been putting up with the damage.

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