Coughs and Caterpillars: An Hour in the Garden



It’s all going on in the garden right now. The plants have had a sniff of spring and now they are intoxicated, thrusting out of the ground, sending tendrils hither and thither and scrambling up in search of light and warmth. They’ve discovered the powerful drug that is spring. The energy that was quelled by cold, short days has been unleashed: the advance of the gardening year is unstoppable. Sadly I am not. An hour in the garden this afternoon and I decided that I was neither doing myself nor the garden a lot of good. My cough is incessant – that is annoying – but I am hot and bothered one moment and ice cold the next. Hence I am taking my own advice and sitting down in the garden room to write this post with a nice strong cup of tea.



Most striking this week is the speed with which the daffodils have bloomed. I am already in love with Narcissus ‘Winter Waltz’ (above), which is new to me this year and going great guns outside the front door. By the back door I have two pots of N. ‘Cragford’ grown from bulbs saved last year. Their scent is wonderful. I continue to marvel at the stamina of Correa ‘Marian’s Marvel’ (below), flowering for its sixth consecutive month. So few shrubs possess this kind of staying power. A new, larger pot beckons when the show is finally over: the current one dries out and blows over far too easily.



Plants that looked sallow and sullen all winter are starting to perk up nicely. Calceolaria integrifolia ‘Kentish Hero’ is among them, having spent winter in the greenhouse looking jaundiced and ugly. All of a sudden the foliage is apple green and vigorous again. Dark leaved aeoniums respond instantly to sunshine, turning darker and more lustrous by the day. Unfortunately a convoy of green caterpillars has munched its through most of the leaf rosettes, despite me mounting a weekly patrol. Fortunately Aeonium arboreum ‘Velour’ has escaped the worst of the caterpillars’ chompings and has swiftly regained its handsome colouring.



Keeping with the reddish theme, a Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ I rescued from the garden centre in the January sale is in full bloom. The flowers smell good and are rich in pollen. I know this because I brushed against them this morning and ended up with bright yellow calves. I spied several bees foraging for food as I attempted to capture an image of the mass of tiny flowers. Skimmia will tolerate our chalky soil if planted with lots of organic matter, but generally prefer acid conditions.



Instead of pottering and taking photos I should really be tackling serious jobs, like ridding the back fence of a Hybrid Tea rose that’s been completely overwhelmed by its rampant rootstock and moving the slab of stone that was once our doorstep. The builders steadfastly ignored every instruction to remove it whilst they were working on the house, in the way that only builders can. I now refer to it as ‘the tombstone’, propped against the wall as if age had toppled it and scrubbed out the epitaph. I would make a feature of it were it not precisely where I wish to plant the Magnolia grandiflora ‘Exmouth’ waiting patiently alongside.



Meanwhile the greenhouse is sheltering five healthy new clematis, including pink C. texensis ‘Princess Diana’, purple and white C. texensis ‘Princess Kate, red C. viticella ‘Kermesina’ and white C. ‘Forever Friends’. Having arrived last weekend they have already grown six inches and will need to be planted out before they start clinging inextricably to the staging.

Tomorrow is another day and hopefully there will be more gardening and less coughing to be done. My tea now finished, I think I can hear the doctor ordering a gin and tonic. It’s not just the plants that enjoy being intoxicated.