This morning I sneezed so hard that Mr Fluffy, who was sitting on my lap, ran away in a panic. The air when I ventured outside prickled against the top of my nose in a way that told me I'd better not spend the day outdoors, even though the sun was shining and once the frost had burned off the grass it was, objectively speaking, a nice day. I wanted to look at the snowdrops and the witch hazel, though, since what's the point of growing winter flowering plants if you don't see them?
I could actually see one of the witch hazels flowering from the bathroom window. First off the block this winter is Hamamelis x intermedia 'Vesna', which has fairly large, amber flowers, showy enough to make an impact seen from a first floor window on the opposite side of the garden. This is an old variety, raised at the Kalmthout arboretum in Belgium in 1954, and unfairly overlooked by the nursery trade, according to Chris Lane who holds a major UK collection (and wrote a book about them). It can't be that overlooked, since I bought a plant. However, I see on Chris Lane's web site that he has cancelled his witch hazel open days for 2018, since due to illness last year he has no young plants for sale. He is an important wholesale grower for the less well known varieties, and I predict shortages in UK garden centres this year. Vesna is the Russian goddess of spring, and her namesake holds the RHS Award of Garden Merit.
The other Hamamelis are in bud or coming into flower. There were a few dark red blooms open on 'Diane'. They are a good colour, but not large. It is another Kalmthout introduction, and Chris Lane reckoned it was the best of the reds when he wrote his book. I have planted the more recent variety 'Livia' in the end of the wood, which is reckoned by some to be even better since the red flowers do not fade as they age, but I think it is finding life a little too shady. I need to do some judicious tree pruning to open the area up. I associate the name Livia firstly with the terrifying Roman matriarch, wife of Augustus, played by Sian Phillips in the 1976 miniseries, and secondly with the equally terrifying mother of mafia boss Tony Soprano, but the witch hazel 'Livia' is named after a junior scion of the Kalmthout de Belder family.
The snowdrops are putting on a brave show in the near end of the wood, along the ditch bed, and in my most recent planting around some of the shrub roses. At yesterday's garden club committee meeting the chairman showed us a very special snowdrop she had bought, with neat, bright green markings on the outside of its outstretched petals. It was so expensive that she only bought the one. It was very pretty, but still my favourite way to look at snowdrops is en masse in drifts in a landscape. I am not planning to plant any more this year. Apart from all the other things there are to do, I feel it is long enough since I started that the existing plants ought to be able to spread themselves to places where they are happy. I know there are areas where I've planted them, two, three, five, or ten years ago, where they have not persisted because it was critically too wet, or too dry, or too dark, or in some way not to their liking. The older clumps in the places where they do like it have grown good and fat, but are flowering well so I see no rush to split them.
Back in 2005 I planted Daphne bholua 'Jaqueline Postill' in the lower part of the garden, and by 2012 it had produced enough suckers for me to be able to pot and root some, a couple of which were planted in the wood at the very edge, right up against the rabbit fence. I hoped that the smell of the flowers would carry up to the front garden, then as the trees around them grew I feared it would be too shady for them to flower at all. This spring one is flowering for the first time, not as profusely as its parent but enough to get the scent. That may be what I have smelled recently near the chicken house. It's enough to make me think that come the spring I should see if there are any more suckers to be had. I am sure that spare Daphne bholua would go down well at some garden society plant stall.