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February 2012
Candlemas

The 2nd February is Candlemas in the Christian calendar, and has had significance in folklore for time immemorial. Marking the half-way point between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox the weather at this time is a good predictor of what the remains of winter will be like. Last year I recounted the rhyme:

If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight
If Candlemas brings cloud and rain
Winter won't come again

Then it was mild, wet and windy and yes, winter didn't come again and we enjoyed one of the earliest springs I can remember. 

This year Candlemas was cold and frosty and today (4th) we have snow lying. So I expect a cold spell for a week or so now and a normal spring, slowly warming up through March.  

No need for gloom and doom though. Our garden plants are used to the vagaries of the weather and they will wait patiently for the warmer weather to creep up on us.  

In the meantime, I thought you might like this lovely summer photo of Anthemis and Lavender to warm you up!

Plant Hunters' Fairs

Winter isn't a quite time for gardens and nurseries and even when it is frozen and snow bound outside there is planning to do, arrangements to make and newsletters to be written. 

I have just completed the Spring 2012 edition of the Plant Hunters' Fairs newsletter with news from the fair venues and nurseries to read. You can find it here: www.planthuntersfairs.co.uk

Back in Black

Since fortunes where exchanged in the frenzy for a black tulip, black flowers and foliage have been in demand with gardeners looking for something luxurious, sumptuous and mysterious for their garden.  

Of course the colour isn't always true black. More often it is dark red or purple, especially when the sun shines through the petals from behind and it is a good tip to make use of this shine-through by planting them where the evening sun shines from behind and makes them glow with ruby or wine colours.

Some of my favourites are:

L-R:

Aquilegia Black Barlow - Usually comes true to colour from seed but not always fully double.
Aeonium Zwartkop is a lovely tender succulent growing to form a branched mini-tree like structure. Keep indoors in winter.
Alcea rosea Nigra - simple and sumptuous, the Black Hollyhock is always a favourite. 
Helenium Ruby Tuesday - the search for a near-black Helenium goes on and Ruby Tuesday is the nearest so far but watch out from our new plant Midnight to be introduced in the coming years.

Hemerocallis American Revolution - there are a number of black-red Day Lilies including as well Chicago Blackout, Black Emmanuella, Tuscawilla Blackout and Dominic. The variety "Sir Blackstem" is self explanatory!
Iris Deep Black - again there are lots of black-purple varieties and also iris Chrysographes.
Salvia discolor - lovely black flowers contrasting with the sliver leaves, stems and calyces. Unfortunately dies at the mere hint of cold or wet weather.
Zantedeschia Schwartzwalder- again not at all hardy and somewhat shy of flower but this Calla lily is really stunning.

Propagation time

We like to propagate some plants fresh each spring, particularly those fleshy-rooted perennials that need to be divided such as Helenium and Phlox.  These two are amongst the earliest to be ready to divide and late February is a good time to start in our part of the UK. 

Today Janet has been potting up Heleniums El Dorado and Blanche Royale as well as Hemerocallis.

This year in the Northwest Midlands we have had a generally mild and wet winter and we've noticed that some of the more congested clumps of Helenium are starting to rot off below ground, so it is really important for us to dig them up, divide, clean off any soft, rotten parts and then pot them up.  You can plant them straight out but I like to give them a flying start in pots under a cloche to keep the worst of the rain off of them, but not forgetting to water them when dry.

Similarly Phlox can become too congested resulting in weak flowering.  I've just read in Phlox breeder, B.H.B Symonds-Jeune's 1954 book that Phlox shouldn't be allowed to carry more than 4-6 shoots per clump. At first this sounds over the top, but on more careful consideration it makes sense: more air circulation and stronger growth will result in less mildew and larger heads of flowers.  

When you do divide your Phlox (and this can be done in November as well and any time from late winter through to mid April) you will find a hard, woody core to the plant. This rarely producing healthy growth, so unless it is particularly rare or in short supply I tend to discard this (not onto the compost heap though) and keep the more vigorous outer sections.  

Variegated Phlox are a bit more tricky. Whilst divisions will be variegated, often due to the number of broken roots, you will get a lot of plain green shoots appearing that must be removed. The only sure way to keep the variegation is to propagate by cuttings later in spring and summer.

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