Timing is Everything

In common with many horticultural periodicals and websites, we like to highlight a ‘Plant of the Month’.  However, with our climate changing so rapidly as witnessed by the past few mild, wet winters, how do you chose such a plant; should it be one that we would usually expect to flower in the month in question, or one that is actually flowering that month, even though we would not normally associate it with that month?

A few years ago, at another HPS Group’s Day Conference I listened to a fascinating talk entitled ‘When will it flower?’.  After an hour, our very erudite lecturer’s conclusion was basically ‘we don’t know’!  I was reminded of this when recently, at the request of his son and daughter, I have been removing plants from our senior member, David Barnes’, garden.  As many of you know he has recently moved to live with his son, and as the fate of the garden is not known, they were keen that some of David’s plants should be rescued.  On March 2nd, the friend who was helping me, came bearing a huge clump of Paeonia mlokosewitschii – ‘Molly the Witch’ to you & me – about 15’’ tall, in full leaf, and covered with buds!  It must have been in a very sheltered spot, as my clump at home – an earlier gift from David – was only just peeping through the ground.

In other years, when we have been preparing to create an exhibit at Harrogate Spring Flower Show, there has always been the agonising problem, what will be in flower for the Show?  As you know, we aim to use as many plants as possible that belong to members, but as amateur gardeners we do not have the facilities of the professional exhibitors who can put their plants into cold storage and then on a pre-planned day, bring them out into a controlled temperature to ensure that the plants flower just in time for the Show.  Not that this always works.

In 2009, I was absolutely thrilled when, for the first time, one of my plants was used on our stand at Harrogate.  It was Epimedium ‘Lilafee’ (fig.1) and was completely smothered with dainty mauve flowers.  Being shallow rooted it had transplanted very easily, without disturbance, only a day or two before the Show.  It was a bit of a squeeze to fit it in to the top of a 3lt pot, and I rather begrudged all the compost that I had to use to fill the pot, but no matter, it looked stunning on the stand and created a lot of interest and admiring comments.

Fig 1: Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Lilafee’

As we were doing Chelsea the following year, it was decided that it would be sent, along with various other plants that wouldn’t normally flower towards the end of May, to a nursery in Norfolk who had agreed to look after them, holding them back or bringing them on, as appropriate, so that they would flower for Chelsea.  However, not even the professionals get it right, and by the time we   got to Chelsea, ‘Lilafee’ was well past her best and never made it onto the stand.

Fig 2: Amelanchier lamarckii

Although not not for use at the Show, each year at this time, I hope that my Amelanchier lamarckii (fig.2) will be in flower to use as part of the Easter flowers at church.  Of course this is not helped by Easter being such a ‘movable feast’, but I think in the more than 10 years that I have had it in the garden, I have managed to use it just once, possibly twice at the most.  It really could do with pruning, but I am reluctant to do so as I am always confident that next year will be the one, and I will be able to cut lovely long branches of the delicate white flowers.  This year with, as I write this, just over a week to go to Easter, it looks as if it may be just about right, but of course, thanks to Coronavirus, there will not be an Easter service at church.  C’est la vie!  However, if I were asked to make a choice, it would still be a contender, in my mind, for ‘Plant of the Month’ for April.

How often have we said, when walking round our gardens with friends, ‘you should have seen it last week’ or ‘in a day or two that will be lovely’?  No matter how we try to control nature, in the end plants will do what they want, but surely it is one of the great pleasures of gardening that there is always something to look forward to.

Sue Gray.

Images courtesy of HPS Image Library

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