February Flowers

Reading time 8 minutes

It’s that time of year when galanthophiles (the polite name for snowdrop bores) start to bombard social media with images of their pearly-white treasures. Whilst I would not go as far as to say ‘they all look the same to me’, it’s certainly the case that one must be a) an ardent lover of winter, b) fiendishly observant, and c) grateful for small mercies if one is to fathom what all the fuss is about. Having a few bob in your pocket also helps, since snowdrops can be an expensive and addictive habit. I neither have the conditions nor the patience to establish great drifts of galanthus at The Watch House, and this year I am unable to leave the house to enjoy the efforts of those who do. There will be a time and a place for snowdrops in my life. For now, I skip through the flurry of photographs on my feed with a level of interest as fleeting as a snowflake alighting on a warm hand.

I may not have an appetite for snowdrops, but the garden certainly isn’t without flowers. Staring out of the dining room window at lunchtime, I notice that Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’ already has buds opening. This is very early, even for Broadstairs. If it continues raining as much as it has been doing, the tiny, clotted-cream flowers will turn brown and drop before they can be appreciated. More flowers will follow in April. Considered slightly tender in the UK, I have seen Rosa banksiae growing wild in the mountains of Bhutan where it is colder, but I suspect drier.

In a small pot on the outdoor kitchen worktop, Iris ‘Pauline’ has produced the first of many elfin blooms. Would I rather irises than snowdrops? Perhaps, but they are fleeting and unreliable in comparison, lasting only a short time and rarely gracing us with their presence for a second year. I treat them strictly as annuals when planted in pots. To witness Iris reticulata blooming on the same grand scale as snowdrops one would need to travel to the mountains of Turkey, Iraq, Iran or Russia. I don’t know about you, but after eleven months of lockdown, any suggestion of travel is mouthwatering. I repair to the library to peruse ‘Flora of the Silk Road’ written by Basak Gardner & Chris Gardner and this only makes matters worse.

Iris reticulata ‘Pauline’

I have been growing Agapetes serpens ‘Scarlet Elf’ in a pot attached to the wall outside the front door for eighteen months. It cannot be grown any other way here, since it’s not remotely lime tolerant. Like me, it’s sickening for a holiday in Cornwall, where I’ve seen it growing wild and tangled in garden walls. Nevertheless, my plant is already starting to produce an abundance of flowers. Each one is an elongated Chinese lantern, delicately marked with a chevron pattern. In common with the snowdrop, agapetes is a plant that demands close scrutiny. If I can keep this one alive, I will track down Agapetes ‘Ludgvan Cross’. This hybrid has ivory flowers, heavily flushed rose, and dramatic markings resembling varicose veins or one’s retina. For more information on agapetes, you can do no better than to visit Strange Wonderful Things.

Agapetes serpens ‘Scarlet Elf’

Those hyacinths that we planted in pots in September and left in a sheltered spot are already a few inches tall, displaying pale green flower buds. We did not finish planting all the bulbs until Christmas. This should reward us with a display lasting several weeks. Every year I complain that we should have planted more hyacinths. Even having tripled our order for 2021, I suspect I might be repeating myself come March. Not everyone appreciates the hyacinth’s regimental flower spikes, but nothing in the world rivals their perfume. I adore them for that, and their waxy, iridescent petals.

Other than a few pinpricks of bright colour, everything is green, and lush green at that. The ferny canopies of Geranium maderense have so far survived the winter, although cold winds last weekend made the leaves limp. After years of worrying, I have concluded that this is a clever evolutionary tactic to stop the whole plant from taking off as if it were an umbrella in a gale. By allowing the leaves to become floppy, the plant reduces its surface area, thereby limiting any damage – or at least that’s my theory.

Geranium maderense foliage in winter, when it’s at its most beautiful ….. and vulnerable.

Isoplexis sceptrum always looks healthier in winter than it does in summer. However, the foliage on one branch is persistently anaemic. Assuming this was a problem with the alkalinity of the soil, I have been using Epsom salts and ericaceous plant food to correct the yellowing, all to no avail. Only recently did it dawn on me that the issue may not be coming from below, but from above: the branch with the sickly foliage is immediately below a bough where our resident collared doves roost. Their alkaline droppings frequently smother the leaves below and I now wonder if their caustic doo-doo is the culprit. If anyone has any experience of such a phenomenon, please do let me know. In the meantime I may experiment with an ericaceous foliar feed to see if that helps.

Isoplexis sceptrum, The Watch House

And so we look forward to another cold, wet weekend. 2021 has not been kind to us weekend gardeners, serving up awful conditions every Saturday and Sunday since New Year. I am done with armchair gardening, online shopping, tidying cupboards and fretting about household repairs. Scrolling through other people’s snowdrop spam is not for me. I want to get outside and get growing again. TFG.

Echium pininana

Categories: Bulbs, Flowers, Foliage, Snowdrops, Weather

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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17 comments On "February Flowers"

  1. I’ve enjoyed the read and the laugh for I am one of those snowdrop bores, posting on Facebook snowdrop groups on a very regular basis – the latest little white thing to open in the garden and, goodness, they are opening in droves these days – and, of course, they are all spectacularly and clearly different and, when anybody asks me how I can tell one from the other, I explain that I look at the labels! Labels are everything. Names are the commodity, for a new name is a new snowdrop and that means sales!

    Apart from the scoffing at the foolish behaviours of snowdrop collectors, they certainly give a wonderful interest to the winter garden, a reason to get outside and, even if there is no possibility of doing any work, because of weather and ground conditions, they give a reason to go out into the garden, to take a walk around and see how they are doing, see what’s in flower etc. A winter interest and worthwhile for that.

    Now, will I recommend a list for you? LOL

    Let’s look forward to brighter days, drier days and active days out in the garden again!

    1. I quite agree, snowdrop lack give us hope and something to concern ourselves with when we’re at a low ebb. They are good for that, and of course pretty too. When I did grow snowdrops up in London I found the labels were very popular with cats, foxes and squirrels, so the names on them rarely related to the varieties they were next to. I liked ‘Seagull’, I do remember that much.

      Looks like we are about to be blasted with snow and ice so that’s going to be fun. I think a few more plants will have to come inside for a brief spell. At least the days are longer and the sun, when it appears, is higher in the sky. Dan

      1. We have managed very little active gardening but it is nice to go outside and walk around to see the snowdrops open. It’s a pleasant pastime in lockdown days. Be good, take care and enjoy the weekend.

  2. Oh, the snowdrop gépek guys! Actually the only things flowering in my garden are snowdrops now. They are cute. I have two types, G. Nivalis ‘Whatever’, and G. Elwesii ‘Whoknows’. But I would literally kill for the opportunity to put my hands on those Iris R. ‘Pauline’ of you.
    And you’re going to throw them away…ah, as if my heart is thrown also…😔

    1. Hah! If I had somewhere I could plant them out after flowering I would do that, but I don’t, so I let them go and start with new ones next year. It’s a bit of a luxury but there we are. Enjoy your snowdrops. They are a sure sign that spring is coming. Dan.

  3. Haha.. I like snowdrops. I have a few because they bloom now. The only other thing in my garden that even threatens to bud are the Hellebores.
    I won’t be surprised to read that you are mucking around in the mud at the allotment next. Hang in there. There will be better weather sometime soon.

    1. I do hope so. We’ve got the prospect of another ‘Beast from the East’ this week. The last one of those caused a lot of damage so we’ll have to see. Not a lot we can do other than move a few more plants into the workshop for protection. Roll on spring …. I can’t wait!

  4. I grow several iris reticulata and they do return in pots! My ‘George’ are over now, but they were flowering in mid-January. Now is the turn of Alida, like a summer blue sky and Pauline and Harmony. I suppose I could become an iris bore! But not snowdrops. I have a teeny clump of the doubles and two singles! I’d love them to spread under the tree, but they take their time! I was shocked to see a Geum in flower yesterday though. And my Hellebore nigers are in bud. I guess we gardeners take whatever is blooming in our gardens no matter what the season and I for one am glad to see signs of life again. I sincerely hope you have a few rolls of fleece for the weekend – sounds like Kent is going to be hit hard by the snow.
    Take care,
    Jude xx

    1. You are welcome to bore me with irises Jude, I love them in all their guises. I like snowdrops, just not enough to go all giddy over them.

      The weather forecast is a bit grim isn’t it? Fleece is a bit pointless here because it’s so windy. We tried once a few weeks ago and it had blown next door within two hours. It does not really work on large plants in full leaf – or at least I can’t make it work. Instead I shall be out there beating off the snow with a stick like Christopher Lloyd did at Dixter, in the middle of the night in my dressing gown no doubt! There’s a vision for you 😂. All the best! Dan

  5. Thank you for another interesting post. I have been following you for almost a year now but only just subscribed ( I am a very timid internet user). Re your article on raised beds – have a look at No Dig Gardening Charles Dowding. Hope the weather improves enough for us all to get outside very soon . Liz

    Sent from my iPhone


    1. Thank you for taking the plunge Liz! Yesterday we spent a good few hours moving plants into the workshop and today I’ve been moving more. The snow has been falling constantly since 7.30am so any further gardening will be conducted from the sofa! Dan

  6. I do not understand the allure of snowdrops either, even though white is my favorite color. I am told that I would appreciate them more if I lived and worked in a climate that inhibited bloom of so many other flowers through winter. I do believe that snowdrops would be compatible with the redwood forests. However, they would get buried by redwood debris. Daffodils barely make it through, and even they get slapped back by what comes down in the storms. I suppose that I should eventually try snowdrops, but I will do so in my own garden, and only on a very minor scale.

  7. Love your posts as always. Thank you for inspiring me to grow Geranium Mandranese. I saw them in bloom at La Mortella in Ischia and never thought it’d be easy here. Looking forward to seeing all our gardens in bloom. Happy gardening x

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