Thursday, 17 February 2011

The scent of spring

Daffs are appearing, crocuses too. But the snowdrop is king right now. It was snowdrop weekend at the Chelsea Physic Garden. I went with my sister who was unable to persuade her 6 and 8 year old boys that it would be as much fun as kicking a football around the park. I love seeing my nephews but it was probably just as well as there were over 50 varieties in flower to play spot the difference with - not great entertainment for the uninitiated, let alone small boys.
I admire galanthophiles for their sharp eyes.  I reckon I can now tell the difference between Galanthus elwesii (broader, slightly glaucus green leaves) and nivalis (tight clumps of narrow, grasslike leaves). But the subtle differences that the fanatics look for are all in the green markings on the nodding white heads. Can someone tell me why 'S. Arnott' is only £4.50 a pot and 'Alison Hilary' is £20? No wonder someone called their cultivar 'Nothing Special'.
Still they are all undeniably charming and heart-warming on a bright, crisp February afternoon. But the snowdrops weren't the only signs of spring out: buttery bright yellow winter aconites, Iris reticulata in shades of blue and purple and this gorgeous Iris ungularicus that seemed so bold and summery.

And of course, those winter scents filled the air. The best of these and new to me was the gorgeous Stachyurus praecox. Sweet scented and delicate curtain-like flowers. Smells like spring to me.

Meanwhile, it was the RHS show on Tuesday. Inevitably, more snowdrops and daffodils were out in force. But the hepatica was the star for me.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Green fuzzy spring thoughts

I've been hiding from this blog for a few weeks, like I've been hiding from the grey cold of January dormancy. But I'm pleased to announce that it is definitely all starting up again - in the garden at least. My first Iris reticulata has put in an appearance. All the while I've been obsessively checking the progress of my crocuses and snowdrops I'd completely forgotten about these little darlings, so I was surprised and delighted to find two seem to have emerged from nowhere.
On Saturday I headed out of town to West Dean. I drove through country lanes that had just the slightest fuzz of catkin green about them, rather like the nascent shadow of facial hair on a teenage boy's chin, only a lot more promising.
West Dean is gorgeous, even in February, with arguably the most perfect Victorian Kitchen gardens in the country. It fuels many horticultural fantasies of one day moving to a big country garden. So, usually, a visit leaves me feeling full of admiration for Jim and Sarah the head gardeners, and quite disappointed about my own back yard. But yesterday, I couldn't wait to get home. I was completely fired up about gardening in cities and the amazing potential that's just waiting to be unleashed.
I went to hear the brilliant Nigel Dunnett from Sheffield University's Landscape Department, talk about Rain Gardens. Cynics who have only just got over the fact that we might not need to plant drout gardens, might dismiss this as just another fad. But the science of why we environmentally need to green our cities (better flood drainage, cooling temperatures, and more transpiration etc), is undeniably clear, and now the aesthetics are looking incredibly exciting too. Imagine if we drove past colourful meadows instead of grass verges that require endless and pointless mowing? What if our roofs were green and living instead of brown?What if supermarket carparks had imaginative planting, cleverly irrigated by rainwater collected from the runoff. And why don't we plant our street trees above storm drains, and underplant with other shrubs and perennials so they can make use of the water.
Othe countries are leading the way, in Portland, Oregon city councils seem to be a bit further ahead in thinking about how thoughtful landscaping needs to be integrated into town planning. And in Germany developers are taxed on the basis of how much green space they include in their design: greener=less tax. Sounds simple? Here in the UK meanwhile, this thoughtful government is axing CABE, the body that tried to push public landscaping further up the agenda.
I could despair, but refuse to, and think that maybe this is a policy that literally can happen from the ground up; maybe the next phase of guerilla gardening?  I for one, will be ordering my Pictorial Meadows seeds and trying to create a few more colourful spaces and I will set up a group to do more than bulb planting in the graveyard at the end of my road, so we can apply for funding and plant more suitable plants. It's just the beginning.