Sylvia Clare’s Column – April 2013

Published: July 31, 2022


Friday April 26th 2013

Oh boy it was cold again today and my poor bees stayed indoors in spite of the sunshine that tried to warm them and me up, but the wind took everything down to low single degrees C once more. However, we were out there come what may trying to get our last areas of wilderness tamed and productive with wildlife taken into consideration. For instance I have left a large patch of garlic mustard growing underneath my grapevine pergola because we use the leaves as a flavouring in our soups, along with the nettle tips, and the orange tip butterfly uses it as a main food source plant. We love the orange tips visiting our garden every spring, later on of course, although they have been seen this early in warmer years and I hope they do not miss the flowers this year although I think the leaves are more important for the caterpillars.

Native Wild Primroses

Primrose Cultivars

Blue Alpine Clematis

With all the spring growth has come the arrival of young rabbits seen hopping around the borders where they venture up from the field next door. We live with them as much as possible and are grateful for the disturbance that our dog inflicts on them, even catching one or two last year. However there are many spring favourites that I just don't bother with because they won't last, they just wont and it saddens me but I believe in gardening with nature as far as possible.

In spite of that we have had visits from the bees to many of our garden glories that are currently flowering their socks off. I have already declared a love of primroses and we have both native wild ones growing in rough grass in drifts as well as clumps of lovely interesting cultivars. Climbing through the slowly opening leaf buds of a black elder is our blue alpine clematis, another favourite combination of colour for impact and contrast. I shall state spring is my favourite season for the flowers but I shall probably go through each month declaring my undying passion for something, such is the plant addiction/passion affliction that so many of us have to live with.

My other favourite climber for this time of year is draping itself around our sitting room windows and although I rarely manage to catch its reputed scent, I do love the little discreet maroon flower clusters hanging down and framing our view out.

Akebia Quinata

Fritillaries with Solomon's Seal

Erthronium pagoda

In an area of partial shade we have a lovely little clump of fritillaries, both snakes-head and white ones, surrounded by drooping heads of Solomon's seal which will follow on with the native cow parsley and Alchemilla that smother this area, a lovely frothy natural patch of garden with a few later shrubs standing proud. I shall talk about them when it is their glory day. In another shrub area under a small Cercidiphyllum tree, a clump of Erythronium pagoda nod daintily and I love these small yellow bells too, so much so that my poor dog Lola is currently not allowed into the garden off lead as they populate the side of a fence which she likes to chase along while my chickens run the other side, safely knowing she is all chase and no catch – we hope. The rabbits also seem to have a false sense of security at the moment but they will learn when I let her off again.

I love interesting shrubs too and was delighted to see my small but thriving Drimys lanceolata flowering for the first time this spring. I wasn't sure how it would fare in our very chalky soil with a tendency to cold winds passing through, but in a sheltered raised bed filled mostly with home-made compost mulched with conifer chippings, it seems to be doing well. I will have to keep it small though to maintain the shelter it needs, not being reliably hardy. Apart from that I also confess I bought a Sophora today, a small tree I have wanted for a long time and saw in a local nursery, a must-buy-right-now moment which I then had to come home and confess to. This is a lovely small tree with glorious yellow flowers on it just at this time of year. I shall grow it on in a larger pot for a while until I decide exactly where it will look it's best, meanwhile enjoying the flowers outside my kitchen door. I have had to make up lots of pots for our courtyard area which is fully paved but needs jollying up for our visitors who are now arriving weekly. Also the garden is planned for their benefits, with many small areas enabling sitting areas for different groups. Some areas are really not doing anything yet as they are too shaded, such as our pond garden which is surrounded by high hedges and trees and has only a few white periwinkle and snowflakes filling the ground, but the woodruff which is use as blanket ground cover is budding up and I am looking forward to this arrival too. Soon all the white clematis, jasmines and shrubs will follow on but for now they are just an array of white stars and bells amidst a sea of green, yes it is a white themed area but not solely.

In sunnier areas there are the last of the smaller narcissi family coming out together with Muscari latifolia, I think a lovely plant combination for colour and contrast.

In a very dry poor soil area we have , or myrtle spurge, with its lovely smoky blue and acid yellow whorls spreading out across some really hard poor chalky clay soil which is held back as a raised bed by a tall stack of sleepers to hold a bank back and allow steps to climb the various levels of this plot. I love it but when researching it recently I discovered that Colorado has classified myrtle spurge as a Class A noxious weed — any landowner with myrtle spurge is legally required to eradicate it. Myrtle spurge is also classified as a noxious weed in the U.S. state of Oregon, subject to quarantine. In August of 2007, it was listed as a noxious weed in Salt Lake County, Utah and since then has been illegal for sale within that county. Well I never. I hope it does not become a problem here though.

Muscari latifolia with Narcissi

Drimys lanceolata

Euphorbia Myrsinites

My final flowering glory to share is my vernal pea which I hope will set seed this year and allow me to propagate it and create a large block planting. It is a lovely little perennial, hardy, easy to grow and so pretty at this time of year.

The final photo is of the view from our garden. Today has been an amazing mix of cold brisk sunshine and stormy black skies with showers and my husband took this photo of the castle at Carisbrooke, looking mean and moody but stunning as a backdrop to our garden.

Carisbrooke Castle

Sylvia Clare

Text and photographs by Sylvia Clare, who has been an HPS member for more than 10 years.